Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘dave cameron’ tag

Fister acquisition thoughts and fallout

24 comments

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation.  AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

What a steal; Fister joins the Nats rotation. AP Photo/Paul Sancya via cbssports.com

Wow; I got into work today and opened up the Washington Post and saw that the Nationals pulled off what I think is a huge steal of a trade, getting Detroit’s Doug Fister for three fringy guys in Steve LombardozziIan Krol and Robbie Ray.

Taking the very glass is half empty view of the guys we just sent away: we get an accomplished starter for (frankly) two edge-of-the-25 man roster players in Lombardozzi and Krol, and a prospect who I like but who scouts never have really taken to in Ray.  Lombardozzi took a step back this year offensively and despite being the kind of flexible, multi-positional player that teams crave this year (think of how Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist) he was exposed at the plate and may have already shown what his peak is (backup infielder).   Krol flashed up the farm system and looked fantastic in his early MLB appearances, but slumped enough to be demoted back to the minors in search of some consistency; he’s got a great arm but clearly is a one-out lefty.  Robbie Ray is a very young and accomplished starter who has operated in the shadow of his fellow high school draft-class mate A.J. Cole and has mostly out-pitched him, but the scouting reports on Ray seem bearish on his eventual ceiling (4th starter at best?).  

If i’m a Detroit fan, I’m scratching my head here.  A backup infielder, a matchup-lefty with just a few months of MLB experience, and a AA prospect who is probably still 2 years away?  That’s the return for a cost-contained, effective 4th starter for a team who’s oft-repeated mantra is Win now?  I just don’t get this deal for the Tigers.  Yes Fister faces arbitration, and his salary may rise up to the $6-$7M range, and yes I guess Detroit has a ready-made replacement in Jose Alvarez or perhaps Drew Smyly, but why are you trading away depth at a time like this?  Is this simply a money-saving deal?   The team saves somewhere in the range of $6M in arbitration for Fister (paying MLB mins or less for all three guys they got back).  As others have pointed out, the Tigers really must have liked what they saw in Robbie Ray to make him the clear centerpiece of this deal.

Some other quick responses in the Baseball analysis world: Keith Law hates the deal for Detroit with this quote summing it up nicely: “A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”   Jayson Stark thinks Detroit made this deal for payroll relief and seems to indicate that Detroit’s GM Dave Dombrowski is already on the defensive.  Matt Fillippi at HardBallTimes questions Detroit’s mindset.   Grant Brisbee wishes his team (the Giants) could have done this deal.  Dave Cameron says the Nats “stole” Fister in this deal.    So, I’m not being a homer in saying that, on the face of it, this is a fantastic deal.

Fister posted 3.67 ERA in 2013 pitching in front of a horrible Detroit defense in the American League, so you would have to think that he’s going to immediately get that typical 1/3 to 1/2 point improvement on his ERA moving to the NL and facing weaker lineups and pitchers on a regular basis.   Not to mention going from one of the worst infield defenses to one of the better ones.  Meanwhile, despite being called a “4th starter” Fister quietly has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last three years; in Cameron’s fangraphs post he has a list of the top pitchers by various measures over the last three years and Fister easily makes the top 15 arms in the game by most measures.  He’s a 4-WAR arm slotting into a near-replacement level WAR slot (Dan Haren) for half the price.  And the team basically gave away spare parts and a decent but not elite prospect to get him.

Other positional fallout from this for the Nats off-season:

  • Lombardozzi was still penciled in a backup infielder/utility guy.  Does this open up an opportunity for Zach Walters to earn a spot?  Will the team buy a cheap utility guy on the FA market to couple with Scott Hairston?  Does this pave the way for Danny Espinosa to return to the majors?
  • Krol’s departure thins the already thin internal loogy ranks to choose from, which to me indicates that one of two things now happens.  We either try to buy one of the limited remaining professional lefties on the market or we go into 2014 planning on converting a here-to-fore starter (either Ross Detwiler or Sammy Solis) into a left-handed option out of the pen.  Unless we think Xavier Cedeno is the answer.

Summary; Great move by Mike Rizzo, and I have to immediately agree with Law’s sentiment that this easily gives the Nats one of the 2-3 best rotations in either league heading into 2014.  I didn’t think Starting Pitching was an area of greatest need necessarily … but boy he’s upgraded over the 4th starter/$13M experiments the team has been running out for the past two years in a hurry.

 

Lincecum’s deal seems like a massive overpay

6 comments

Lincecum cashes in for 2 more years.  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

Lincecum cashes in for 2 more years. Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

One of the more intriguing FA situations for the coming off-season was resolved incredibly early, with Tim Lincecum signing 2yr/$35M deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants for two more years.  Lincecum also gets a full no-trade thrown in.

$17.5M a year for a guy whose last two seasons looked like this:

- 2012: 10-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.468 Whip and a 68 ERA+.  -1.7 bWAR

- 2013: 10-14, 4.37 ERA, 1.315 Whip and a 76 ERA+. -0.6 bWAR

His fastball velocity, once a strength, rank him 62nd out of 81 qualified starters in 2013.  He was averaging 93-94 with a peak of 99 earlier in his career; now he’s averaging 90.2 and peaking 94.3.  That’s a huge, significant velocity loss that hasn’t been accompanied by any D/L stint or time off.   He’s 29, he’s got incredibly weird (lets call them “unique” to be nice) mechanics and he’s coming off of two seasons where he’s pitched like a 4-A pitcher, well below replacement value.  I’m sorry, but why would anyone believe at this point that he’s got any shot of returning to his Cy Young glory?

Now, you can argue that his more advanced numbers (Fip, xFIP, Siera) aren’t as damning as the traditional numbers I posted above (this is exactly what Dave Cameron does in one of the reaction links located at the bottom of this post).   And you’d be right to a certain extent.   By xFIP for 2013 he’s ranked 29th of 81 qualified starters.   By FIP he’d be ranked 45th, and by SIERA 35th.   None of those are elite placements for the year.  It still don’t make Lincecum a $17.5M/year arm.  And, that’s putting an awful lot of faith in the xFIP, if that’s your argument.  Because we’ve seen plenty of pitchers whose xFIPs always trail their FIPs (and Lincecum pitches in SF, where homers go to die).  And we’ve seen pitchers whose FIP is improved because they get more K’s than ground ball outs (and Lincecum is still a high strikeout pitcher, so his FIP will always look better).   And one final rebuttal; xFIP is an estimator of future performace, not a guaranteer of it.  Look at Lincecum’s career and his xFIP-next year’s ERA link is all over the place.  To blindly look at his 2013 xFIP and predict that he’s returning to form is, well, foolish.  And none of these arguments apologizes for his negative WAR values the last two years; hey Sabre-nerds; you can’t pick and choose stats to approve this and leave out your favorite one.

I wouldn’t have given him half the guaranteed money the Giants just did.  I wouldn’t have even given him a Q.O., because its hard for me to believe someone out there would have given him even $14M guaranteed for 2014.

Here’s another stat line to consider:

- 2013: 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 81 ERA+, -0.1 bWAR.

Comparing this stat line straight up with Lincecum’s 2013, you’d clearly think this pitcher would be more in line to get paid than Lincecum, right?  This stat line belongs to none other than Dan Haren.  Who thinks Haren is scoring a 2 year/$35M deal this off-season?  Who here thinks Haren even gets a 1 year/$8M deal?  Certainly Haren’s not going to get a Qualifying Offer out of the Nats this fall.

Other opinions on the deal: Hardballtalk advised not to “freak out” about the contract, that there’s so much money in the game and blah-blah.  Sorry, this isn’t about salary escalation (if you wanted to talk about that, lets talk about the Hunter Pence deal … a clear example to me of salary escalation for a good but not great player).   Dan Symborski at ESPN hates the deal with pretty good points about the timing, the lack of a Q.O., the lack of a market for him, etc.  Keith Law points out that the contract seems like a “thanks for the memories” contract, not one that will actually help the Giants win.  Gwen Knapp on SportsonEarth points out the sentimentality of the deal.  Dave Cameron points out that Lincecum’s xFIP makes him actaully more valuable than his traditional numbers appear.  Maybe we’re the dumb ones and the Giants are the smart ones.  Rob Neyer tries really hard not to be harsh about the contract.  And lastly unabashed SF homer Grant Brisbee chimes in.

Giants GM Brian Sabean has long had a bad rap in the blogosphere as being one of the poorest GMs in the game.  And then his team went and won the World Series two years out of three.  But moves like this bring back questioning of his competence.  Unless he throws his owner under the bus and washes his hands of the deal, if that’s indeed the case.

Written by Todd Boss

October 25th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Whats eating Stephen Strasburg?

3 comments

What's eating Gilbert Grape? Photo: howtowatchsports.com

Our Ace, and “Best in the League” by many pundits pitcher Stephen Strasburg is now 1-4 on the season with relatively pedestrian (for him) numbers so far (3.16 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.65 xFIP).

So what’s the problem?  Or, more importantly, what is NOT the problem?

First off; I think its safe to say we can ignore his inflated FIP and xFIP numbers for now.  As I pointed out in this April 4th post about my issues with fWAR, FIP focuses entirely on the “Three true outcomes” that a pitcher entirely controls and really does a poor job of measuring pitchers who induce a whole slew of weak ground balls (like Strasburg does).   This is easily seen by looking at the two example cases in the 4/4/13 post to see how FIP measures a guy who strikes out 9 but gives up 5 earned runs higher than a guy who strikes out just a few but gives up zero runs in an outing.

I also do not buy the opinions I’ve heard in various forums and podcasts that hitters are “squaring him up” a lot this year.  You heard this a lot after his 4/19/13 loss to the Mets, when he gave up back-to-back homers to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda in the 6th (two of the three homer’s he’s given up this year, the third being an out-of-this-world chest-high fastball just clubbed out by Evan Gattis).    I don’t buy this because observation has shown that he gives up a TON of bloops, dinks, infield nubbers, etc.  He also has a very low Line-Drive percentage right now; just 14.9% of the balls hit off of him so far this year have been classified as “line drives,” or hard-struck balls.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs had a piece on ESPN talking about Strasburg and the Nats “pitch to contact” strategy that shows essentially that pitch-to-contact guys don’t really throw that fewer a number of pitches than guys who just try to strike you out.   Is Strasburg’s change in style leading to issues for him?  So far it doesn’t seem so: he’s averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start and has been right around 110 pitches each of his last four despite still going deeper into the game.  But his K/9 is absolutely down (from 11.1 last year to 8.0 this year).

No, I think Strasburg’s issues are these three items.

1. Bad first innings.  Tom Boswell had a great piece on this earlier this week, talking about how a lack of a first pitch strike has really cost Strasburg this year.  And he’s right; pretty much the absolute worst thing you can do as a pitcher is to show a hitter your fastball for a ball at 0-0.   Not only does the hitter get the timing down pretty well on your fastball, but he also gets ahead in the count.  Boswell is probably right in saying that hitters are now trying to jump on the first fastball they get, knowing that getting behind in the count against him is near-certain demise; but Strasburg has to make that adjustment too.  He can’t nibble on first pitch fastballs; he has to be smarter than that.

Strasburg has given up 15 total runs in 5 games this year; fully EIGHT of them have come in the first inning.  That just cannot continue.

2. Bad luck; we’ve watched his games, and he’s not exactly getting pounded when he gives up most of these runs.   Check out the game-logs for his losses:

  • April 7th; 6 runs given up to Cincinnati: in the first he gave up his runs after two infield singles and a walk turned into a 2-rbi double, the only well-hit ball of the inning.  He gave up 3 more in the 6th on some better hit balls and had one runner score after he departed.
  • April 13th: 6 innings pitched, zero earned runs and a loss; Ryan Zimmerman threw away a routine 3rd out and the next guy up clubbed a homer.  Yes, he gave up a homer (it wasn’t as if he made a bad pitch there; Gattis just crushed it) but he never should have been in the position in the first place.
  • April 19th: Two more unearned runs in the first when Desmond booted the first ball of the day; a weak dribbler up the middle.  He gave up two more hits in the 1st but only Buck‘s was really a line-drive.   By the 6th inning he gave up two bombed homers; no bad luck there.
  • April 24th: the lead-off double was earned, but the rest of the hits in the first were opposite field shorter line drives, with the required Nationals infield error thrown in to ensure unearned runs contributing to his day.

Only four of his 15 runs allowed were deemed to be unearned, but we’ve watched the games.  Zimmerman’s error against the Braves decided that game.  Desmond’s error against the Mets set the tone.  The team went down 3-0 in the first against both Cincy and St. Louis at a time when the offense was struggling.  Just can’t do that.  Speaking of the offense…

3. Lack of Run Support.  In his five starts, Strasburg’s offense has scored this many runs for him: 2,3,1,1, and 2.  That’s 1.8 runs per game!  Maybe Bob Gibson in 1968 could have gotten wins with that little run support, but certainly not Strasburg.  The Nats YESTERDAY gave Gio Gonzalez nearly the same total run support that Strasburg has gotten all year.

Written by Todd Boss

April 26th, 2013 at 11:12 am

Which NL playoff contenders are helped/hurt by Interleague Schedule?

leave a comment

Spurred into action by this Dave Cameron SI.com piece, where he postulates that Atlanta isn’t as well constructed as other NL playoff contendors (including Washington) for constant intraleague because they don’t have a natural power hitter on the bench (like we do in Tyler Moore and/or Chad Tracy), I asked myself this question:  Which probable NL playoff contenders are going to be helped or hurt by their intraleague schedules this year?

(Note: I’ll skip the obvious answer to Cameron’s above question: who cares how well constructed you are when you start the season 12-1?  And, had Cameron waited about a week to write this the answer may have very well been Atlanta’s out-of-nowhere find Evan Gattis, who clearly can serve as an interleage DH very ably).

Going down the line, looking just at intraleague opponents you get this list (3 game sets unless denoted):

  • Washington: Home to Chicago White Sox, Detroit (2), Baltimore (2), Minnesota.  Away to Cleveland, Baltimore (2), Detroit (2), Kansas City.
  • Atlanta: Home to Kansas City (2), Minnesota, Toronto (2), and Cleveland.  Away to Detroit, Toronto (2), Kansas City (2), Chicago White Sox.

Head to head, you have to say that Washington has a slight inter-league advantage over Atlanta; they have to play defending AL champs Detroit 6 times to our 4, they have to play Toronto four times instead of our Baltimore (a slightly tougher matchup).  The games involving Cleveland and Chicago are probably a wash.  Atlanta’s “natural rival” right now is Toronto to our Baltimore, which likely hurts them this season.

  • Cincinnati: Home to Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland (2),  Seattle, Oakland (2).   Away to Oakland (2), Texas, Houston, and Cleveland (2).
  • St. Louis: Home to Kansas City (2), Texas, Seattle, Houston (2).  Away to Kansas City (2), Houston (2), Oakland, Los Angeles Angels.

St. Louis doesn’t play a single AL team until May 27th, and plays 8 of their 10 away AL games IN A ROW in mid June.  This is a pretty massive scheduling advantage that lets them modify their roster for one big AL road trip and basically not have to worry about the away AL games the rest of the season.  Head to head as compared to Cincinnati, you’d have to give a slight edge to St. Louis again, for getting those two extra games versus Houston.  Otherwise these two slates look pretty even.

Either way they’re both considerably more difficult than what the NL East teams face, thanks to the games against the AL West playoff-calibre teams.   Half their games are against LA, Texas and Oakland while the Nats only have to worry about 4 Detroit games (unless you think that Baltimore is going to be a playoff team again, which I don’t).

  • San Francisco: Home to Oakland (2), Toronto (2), Baltimore, Boston.   Away to Toronto (2), Oakland (2), Tampa Bay, New York Yankees.
  • Los Angeles: Home to Los Angeles Angels (2), New York Yankees (2), Tampa Bay, Boston.   Away to Baltimore, Los Angeles Angels (2), New York Yankees (2), Toronto.

Ouch; the NL West guys have AL East heavy interleague schedules this year.  I’d say that the Giant’s slate is slightly harder; Tampa Bay and the Yankees and four games against Toronto versus three for the Dodgers.  Oakland vs Angels as a natural rival seems like it will be slightly harder on the Dodgers (but, Oakland is starting right where they left off and may be a playoff team at the Angels’ expense again).

But again, either way you have to think the NL West teams are worse off than the NL East teams this year for interleague looking at their slate.

All of this may be helpful to teams trying to get a wild card spot, which we all hope will be Atlanta and not us.  Because we all now know what can happen if you slip to the one-game wild card play-in.  Just ask Atlanta and Texas what happened last year, when two teams who I thought both had the capability of winning it all were knocked out in a coin-flip game.

By the way, today on April 12th, the NL standings after 9 games basically already mirror the above scenarios in terms of Division leaders and wild card contenders.  The only anomoly would be Arizona being in 2nd place by a game in the NL West.  The cream rise to the top quickly it seems.

Written by Todd Boss

April 17th, 2013 at 9:52 am

Span for Meyer; Understand it but don’t entirely like it

38 comments

The team gets the lead-off hitter it has needed for years in Denard Span. Photo Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Twins via twitter

At least Nats fans can start understanding the team’s off-season plans a little more clearly now.  The first domino has fallen.  The Nats acquired Denard Span from Minnesota for Alex Meyer yesterday.

I’ve argued against a center field acquisition for a while now.  Here’s three primary reasons why:

1. I don’t feel the Nats needed a center fielder.  Bryce Harper put up a 17.6 UZR/150 in 715+ innings while showing a plus-plus arm (both statistically and for any casual observers).   He’s just turning 20.  There is no reason to think he cannot ably patrol center for at least the next few years.  I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like its the Yankees approaching Mickey Mantle after his first season in center and saying, “Hey Mick, we like you in center but we have this barely above league average guy At least until point #2 possibly comes to play:

2. Brian Goodwin, along with Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Michael Taylor and any other marginal OF prospect the team has is now effectively blocked for at least the next 3 years and possibly longer.  Span is signed through 2014 (with a very affordable 2015 option), Jayson Werth signed through 2017, and Harper is under team control through at least 2017.   There’s your outfield for the next 3 years guaranteed, 2/3rds of which is locked up for the next 5.  I just feel that the better path would have been to let Harper play CF until Goodwin or Perez seems ready (clearly Godwin is an upper-end prospect who has impressed ever since he was drafted, and the team didn’t add Perez to their 40-man roster just to give him the extra salary) and just make do with a slugger in left field.

3. The loss of Alex Meyer represents the best healthy starter arm in the entire system, a system which is becoming thinner and thinner (with this trade on the backs of the Gio trade I’d guess the Nats are now going to be in the bottom 5 farm systems when rankings start coming out).  You can argue whether or not Meyer was going to stick as a starter (see the “bright side” points below), but inarguably this weakens the farm system in general and further weakens a specific problem that may pop up sooner than later; starting pitcher depth.  If one of our big 4 suffers a spring training injury, it is difficult to see who may step up and be counted on for starts.

This move clearly forces the Nationals hand on Michael Morse, and now the team may end up negotiating from a point of weakness if they need to move him.  The decision path for the team now is clearly “Morse or LaRoche” at first base.  If the team does bring back Adam LaRoche suddenly Morse is without a lineup spot and his trade value diminishes quickly.  If the rumors are true that LaRoche is “only” seeking a 3 year deal, the Nats should stumble over themselves to offer him a 3 year deal (3yrs $40M seems more than fair based on what LaRoche did for us last year) and lock up the plus-defender/middle of the order bat.

This move also cannot be a happy day for Tyler Moore; he’s clearly set on being a backup now in 2013 no matter what happens with Morse/LaRoche, despite promising numbers in 2012.   Well, unless the team fails to re-sign LaRoche AND moves Morse (which I suppose is still possible but would make little sense), which would then install Moore as the every day first baseman.  Between Moore, Morse possibly being out of a position and Goodwin being blocked for years to come, you have to think we’re going to see some more moves involving these players (hopefully to acquire a starter, or some starter depth in the minors).


Now, on the bright side (since I’ve been accused of being too negative in my analysis), I will say the following:

1. We did not give up a ton for Span.  I like Meyer, but I’m afraid he may not stick as a starter.  The scouting knock on him has always related to his tall frame and repeatability of his delivery.  He has a funky leg kick and slightly weird mechanics, further muddying the waters.  Lastly he’s a huge guy and he (at first glance in videos) seems to really throw standing up and doesn’t use a ton of his lower body.  All of this spells “reliever” in his future.  If Meyer tops out as a fireballing reliever, this trade looks even better.

2. Span inarguably fills a need; a high OBP leadoff hitter.  He’s a .357 career OBP guy with speed and who hits lefty, a nearly perfect fit for what this lineup needs at the top.  Leadoff hitters generally come from one of three positions: CF, SS and 2B.  If the team decided it NEEDED a leadoff guy, and with Desmond and Espinosa locked into the SS and 2B slots for the time being, clearly the only place the team could go was a center-fielder.  The USAToday article linked at the top said it best (paraphrasing): this move is as if you bought a new chair for your living room, which forced you to have to move around your furniture.  You didn’t necessarily need the new chair, but it certainly makes your living room look better.  This move enables Werth to move further down in the lineup and return to his power stroke.

3. We didn’t spend good money after bad on BJ Upton or Michael Bourn, who’s 5yr/$75M demands would have been a real waste of money.  Span’s contract is great: 5yrs for $16.5M guaranteed plus a $9M option in 2015.   The Nats acquired a desired resource without appreciably increasing payroll, allowing them to focus (perhaps) on a FA starter.

Initial reaction to the trade in the Baseball World seems mixed, which is great since it probably indicates that this is a pretty fair trade all in all.  Keith Law doesn’t like it of  course, but that’s because Law believes every low-minors big arm is turning into Justin Verlander (Law also thought the Gio Gonzalez trade was a “huge win” for Oakland because they got AJ Cole, the same AJ Cole who put up a 7.82 ERA in high-A this year and was forced to repeat Low-A).  Meanwhile Dave Cameron calls this a “huge win” for Washington, focusing on Span’s numbers and mentioning the same concerns about Meyer that I do.  Rob Neyer pays a complement to Mike Rizzo and the Nats and says the team is well-positioned for several years.  Ken Rosenthal talks about the about-face the franchise has done in the last 3 years in the eyes of potential Free Agents, specifically Zack Greinke, who declined the Nats trade offer 2 years ago but now could be the final piece in building a juggernaut.


Coincidentally, those who think this moves Harper to LEFT field may be mistaken.  Werth’s defense in right has inarguably slipped (he posted a -14.2 UZR/150 in right this year, a significant drop from his previous decent-to-good seasons there).  I think Harper should play right field, with his gun for an arm protecting against 1st-to-3rd runners while Werth should immediately put up great UZR numbers in left.  Possible lineup in 2013 (assuming for now that LaRoche is leaving):

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  4. Harper (L) – RF
  5. Morse (R) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R for good balance.  I could also see Desmond and Werth switching spots in the lineup.  Harper to cleanup may be a bit early, but without adding another lefty bat the lineup could have too many right-handed hitters in a row.

Now, what if LaRoche re-signs?  Then suddenly this lineup has pretty good balance.  With LaRoche in the fold i’d probably go like this:

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Harper (L) – RF
  4. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  5. LaRoche (L) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

That’d be a slight modification over where these guys hit last year, but would give nearly perfect lefty-righty balance.


In the end, you have to give up something you value to get something you value.  The Nats made a good trade, despite my thinking they didn’t need to make the trade in the first place.  They’re an improved team on the field for 2013.

Wild Card Pitching Strategy

leave a comment

Kris Medlen is as close to an automatic win as there exists now. Should the Braves use him? Photo unknown via totalprosports.com

I was listening to the excellent Fangraphs.com podcast last week, hosted by Carson Cistulli and featuring excellent writer Dave Cameron, and Cameron (who writes the blog USS Mariner in addition to his Fangraphs work) proposed an interesting theory for handling a pitching staff in the wild card game.

Conventional wisdom states that the Atlanta Braves (who I’m using as an example here because I think they’re the best bet to advance in a wild card game right now) would throw their unbeatable ace Kris Medlen in the play-in game.  Reasoning: you can’t leave your best starter on the bench in a do-or-die game; you have to try to win it.  So you throw your best guy to win that game and then deal with the consequences the next round.

(Tangent: I’m pretty sure MLB assumed that a side effect of adding a second pitcher would result in a weakened wild card winner, which benefits the #1 seeded divisional winner and gives them an advantage going forward.  I certainly talked about this as a benefit when I lauded the 2nd wild card in this space earlier this summer.   But the roster loopholes in the wild card game that can be exploited as explained below and the first two home games on the road for the higher seeded team are both major issues that need to be addressed asap).

But what if the Braves decided to try something unconventional instead of just throwing Medlen??  Because of the scheduling of the playoffs, the wild card game winner will get a day off between Friday 10/5/12 and Sunday 10/7/12, meaning they could empty their bullpen and have every single guy down there throw his typical limit of innings and still have everyone available on Sunday for the first game of the Divisional Series.  So Cameron’s theory is; don’t start your ace; start your bullpen guys, who (especially in Atlanta’s case) are more efficient at getting guys out on a short-term basis.  Then, after a few innings of relievers throwing, you take a look at the game and decide then if your starter needs to go in.

What if Atlanta were to start some bullpen guys instead of Medlen in a play-in game, then suddenly Atlanta jumps out to a 4-0 lead.  You could then put in a different starter (say, the #3 starter, who could throw on 10/5/12 then be ready on normal rest for game 3 of the NLDS on Wednesday 10/10/12) to finish out the game.   You could keep some bullpen guys in reserve to stamp out any fires, but in theory you could manage a game in this fashion and preserve your best starter.  Plus, a major loop-hole in the playoff roster specification rules means that Atlanta could field a far different roster for just this wild card game than for the rest of the playoffs.  They could leave off basically their entire rotation and add in 4 more bullpen arms and continue parading out fresh arms all night like it was a spring training game.

Here’s a look at Atlanta’s top 7 relievers right now (stast as of 9/24/12):

Name W L W-L% ERA G IP H R ER BB SO ERA+ WHIP
Craig Kimbrel 2 1 0.667 1.08 58 58.1 25 7 7 14 106 374 0.669
Cristhian Martinez 5 4 0.556 4.04 51 71.1 79 33 32 17 64 100 1.346
Chad Durbin 4 1 0.8 3.19 73 59.1 51 25 21 28 46 127 1.331
Jonny Venters* 5 4 0.556 3.46 63 54.2 57 23 21 28 65 117 1.555
Eric O’Flaherty* 3 0 1 1.82 61 54.1 46 14 11 19 45 222 1.196
Luis Avilan* 0 0 2.25 27 32 26 9 8 10 28 181 1.125
Cory Gearrin 0 1 0 1.62 19 16.2 15 3 3 4 19 254 1.14

There’s some serious arms in that bullpen.  Kimbrel is obviously a known quantity and his 106 K’s in 58 1/3 innings are ridiculous.  But it also means he’s almost guaranteed to shut down whoever he may be pitching against (heard a great stat about Kimbrel recently; he has not pitched an inning all year where he gave up more than one hit.  That’s as shutdown as it gets).   Venters has had a slightly “off” season after being unhittable last year, but still greater than a K an inning.   O’Flaherty has been fantastic and could give you an inning.  Younger guys like Avilan and Gearrin don’t have a ton of experience but have performed excellently for the Braves.

Why wouldn’t you start off a game with (say) Venters going against the top of St. Louis’ order, then bringing in someone like Avilan for the 2nd and 3rd (he’s a 2-inning guy).  Bring in O’Flaherty when the big hitters roll around again in the 4th inning, then go with someone like Durbin for the next two innings.  You bring in Gearrin for the 7th and 8th, and then you’ve saved Kimbrel for perhaps 4 or 5 out save in the 8th and 9th.   And by virtue of the one-game roster setting loophole, this is just the first 7 guys out of the bullpen; one could add in 4-5 more arms as need be.

Honestly, I think this is a winning strategy.  Will the Braves (or the Cardinals for that matter) consider employing it?  No way;  Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is well known in the baseball press for being “uber traditional” in the way he handles his pitching staff (lots of complaints about his leaving his best arm out there til it is a “save” situation instead of using him in higher leverage situations).  And the Braves have already manipulated their rotation to put Medlen in line for a wild card start.  Meanwhile St. Louis’ Mike Matheny is a rookie manager and such a strategy as laid out here is basically putting your job on the line for a coin-flip; if it doesn’t work out you’re fired.  Tony LaRussa could have pulled this off; he had enough respect and enough history to be given a pass if he tried something radical and it didn’t work out.  In fact, if LaRussa was still the manager I’d bet this is exactly what he’d do; we are talking afterall about the guy who essentially invented the modern bullpen.

In the end, it’ll be in the #1 seed’s favor if the Braves burned Medlen.  But it’d be great talking fodder if they tried the strategy above.

What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?

6 comments

We all know how good Yu Darvish’s stats are in Japan, but how good is the competition? Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

I’ve been working on this post for weeks; now is as good a time as any to post it.  I’ve always wondered, since we hear so much about players’ tearing up winter leagues or hear wonderful stat lines from players coming over from foreign countries (as we are now in the Yu Darvish mania).  So what is the talent-equivalent of the various leagues outside of the conventional MLB-AAA-AA-A-rookie levels?  I did a bit of digging around, asking questions and came up with the following approximations.  Feel free to debate if you think otherwise.

Foreign Pro Leagues

  • Japan: the Nippon Professional Baseball League rates, by various accounts, as a mid AAA-level talent league.  Baseball Prospectus’ Clay Davenport did a stat-heavy analysis in 2002 and concluded that the NPB was at least AAA level, perhaps close to MLB level.  However, the prevalence of mediocre players from the US going to Japan and being super-stars seems to indicate that Japan is no better than AAA, and may be a bit weaker.  And, not to claim this is about talent levels per race, but there have only been a very small number of Japanese-born players who were really impact players upon arriving here.
  • Cuba: per Dave Cameron (mentioned in a chat, need the link) the “general consensus” is that the Cuban pro league is about a High-A level of talent.
  • Taiwan/China: Taiwan had its own thriving baseball league for a bit, but merged it into the main Chinese league in 2003.  Given the small numbers of Taiwanese-born players who have made it to the majors, and the fact that the league serves mostly as a feeder into the Japanese league, its safe to say that the Chinese league is no better than a high-A level of talent.
  • Korea: As with the Chinese leagues, Korea mostly feeds into the Japanese league.  High-A talent levels.
  • European Leagues: Believe it or not, there are thriving baseball leagues all throughout Europe.  They even have multiple levels of play in certain countries (the Netherlands in particular).  However, based on the levels of talent of players that typically play in Europe, its hard to put the talent levels at anything close to our own Rookie leagues.  In fact, I’d suspect that most European pro teams are no better than a low division 1 college baseball program (such as GW or Catholic U’s teams).
  • Leagues elsewhere: there’s leagues just about every where else; wikipedia searches turn up baseball leagues in Australia, Asia, the far pacific.  I didn’t do any research here, assuming that these leagues are one slight notch above amateur leagues in the US.

Winter Leagues

Davenport also did a bit of analysis on the various winter leagues in 2004; I’ve taken his recommendations and adjusted them based roughly on observation over the past few years, since the winter leagues have been shifting in terms of talent attracted in recent years.

Most players who go to winter leagues fall into one of three categories:

  1. Natives of the country looking to provide support for their home town teams and home leagues (the Nats own Ramos, Flores, Pudge, Severino and Perez being good examples)
  2. Players looking to get in additional work after an injury-filled year curtailed their seasons.
  3. Players looking to work on a new pitch, a new swing or some other experimental part of their game.

So, the talent levels in these various leagues are usually all over the road.

    • Dominican Winter League: Seemingly the “best” winter league, having the most ex-patriots playing in the US.  Davenport’s studies from earlier in the decade showed that the talent level is roughly equivalent to AAA talent, an opinion that I still maintain.  Our own Yuniesky Maya tore up the DWL last winter, but struggled to be just a serviceable pitcher in Syracuse all year.
    • Puerto Rico Winter League : seems to be the 2nd strongest Winter League, but with slightly fewer MLBers than in the DWL.  So we’ll call it AAA level, but weaker.
    • Venezuela Winter League: The talent levels have dropped for a while, ever since political turmoil has taken over the country.  This is highlighted especially close to home in 2011 with the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.  However, Nats farmhand Ryan Tatusko was kind enough to provide his opinion on the talent level and calls it “AAA talent.”   I think at best its a low AAA, as the league is clearly lower quality than Puerto Rico.  This last season’s version of the VWL seemed to be more talented that past versions though; perhaps this league is looking to challenge the DWL for pre-eminence in the winter leagues.
    • Mexican Pacific League: Its really hard to tell; the Mexican summer league is at best A-ball talent, but the winter leagues are quite a bit better, at least per Davenport’s studies.  Now?  I’d guess the MWL has degraded a bit and is probably on a par with Venezuela in terms of talent.  AA-level at best.

 

Other US-based Leagues/Levels

  • Arizona Fall League: the AFL rates somewhere between a AA and AAA level by and large, though for several reasons it rates as a very heavy hitter-league (pitcher workloads and ball-parks mostly).  Most of your pro teams send their top prospects from levels below AA and a number of AA and AAA (and even some guys who have MLB experience).  All told, that equates with a “good” AA league.  And since AA leagues are morphing into being populated with a team’s best prospects while AAA leagues are becoming repositories for “spare parts” for the MLB team, more and more the lines are blurred between AAA and AA in terms of “which team could really beat the other.”  Nationals fans saw this pretty clearly during Stephen Strasburg‘s minor league career; he was hit in AA but absolutely dominated AAA teams that seemed to be populated with backup catchers and backup infielders.
  • Top End Division I College Teams are probably not even as good as a Rookie league team, all things considered.  I had this debate with my father recently, noting that the best Div-1 team this year (South Carolina) was led by a pitcher (Mike Roth) who was a 31st round draft pick in 2011 and only has 11.7 scholarships to use to field a team.  A good chunk of college teams are guys on partial scholarships or are complete walk-ons.  Good college teams may each have a number of pro prospects, but usually only 1 or 2 legitimate prospects.  On the flip side, even a rookie-level team is ENTIRELY comprised of players who were drafted, and will include high school players who signed in lieu of going to college because they were considered good enough at the time to risk signing.  A college team may use a hot pitcher to beat a pro team in a theoretical 3-game series every once in a while, but a team full of professional hitters are eventually going to utterly dominate typical college bullpens, sunday starters and mid-week players.
  • Independent Leagues: probably rates somewhere around a pro rookie-league or slightly higher equivalent.  They’re usually full of guys who got cut from the MLB rosters and a collection of older veterans trying to hang on.  So, the younger players are (arguably) below rookie-league/short-A levels but the veterans are probably in the AAA level, bringing an average to somewhere between a low-A and rookie level quality.

Semi-Pro and Amateur Teams

I’m guessing that when the old Class-B/Class-C/Class-D leagues died out in the 50s, those players then began percolating into what we now see as an improved and thriving College baseball industry, Semi-Pro leagues scattered around the country, and the (now) official Indy league designation.  I always attribute the death of these low-class leagues to the advent of Television, which replaced the (usually) one source of nightly entertainment for small towns across America, which before the mid 50s would have been baseball.

Here in the DC area, there’s a “semi pro” league that is the combination of two long-standing leagues (the “Industrial League” and the “Credit Union” league) that features very good baseball.  Ex division-1 players, ex Pros, good baseball.  Back in the 50s this probably was a class-D level league (assuming that class-B was what has become the rookie leagues and class-C has morphed into the Independent leagues).

Summary

Here’s a table summarizing the above data, along with some clarifications from the comments after-the-fact, in order of best to least quality.

Foreign League US Pro Equivalent Estimate
Japan (NPB) Mid AAA
Dominican Winter League Mid AAA
Puerto Rican Winter League Mid-Low AAA
Venezuelan Winter League Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Pacific (Winter) Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Summer Low AAA/High AA
Arizona Fall League Low AAA/High AA
Atlantic League (Ind) High AA
Cuba High-A
Taiwan/China High-A
Korea High-A
American Association (Ind) High-A
Can-Am League (Ind) High-A
Frontier League (Ind) Low-A
Other Independents Rookie Ball
European (Dutch, Italian) Low Division 1
Other Foreign (Australia) Div II/Div III

Do you agree/disagree with these ratings?  Please feel free to comment and discuss.

 

 

 

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/31/11 edition

5 comments

Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the approaching Hall of Fame nonsense, er I mean news cycle approaching, I’ll throw in a HoFame section.

Nationals In General

  • Transcribed from a radio interview by Tim Dierkes, here’s Mike Rizzo on CF and 1B.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rizzo mention NEXT year’s FA class in terms of looking for talent and it makes you wonder if we don’t already have our entire primary starting 15 set (8 out-field players, 5 starters and setup/closer) for 2012.   I can live with Jayson Werth in CF, since it opens up lots of FA possibilities in RF.  In fact, I smell a separate post coming…
  • Former Nat Lastings Milledge is going to Japan to try to resurrect his baseball career.
  • Scouting-specific SeedlingsToStars.com site looks at Anthony Rendon.
  • The USA Today does an in-depth, position-by-position overview of the team and where it stands.
  • Another Tom Boswell article that I disagree with; he thinks Prince Fielder isn’t “right” for the Nats.   I’m sorry; but Fielder is a run creating machine (he created 35 more runs last year than Michael Morse, by way of comparison, which roughly equates with his 5.2 Wins Above replacement value).  Yes we have LaRoche who is plus defense, but is he going to come back to 2010′s form or is he going to be a lost cause again?  Meanwhile, Fielder looks set to take a shorter term deal and re-try his hand at the FA market when he hits 30.  Wouldn’t you sign him for 3yrs $70M?  You put Fielder at 1B, keep Morse in Left, groom Bryce Harper to play center and keep Werth in right.   For the next 3 years.  How difficult is that?  Boswell talks about where to put Rendon; well; you put him wherever you have a need.  Put him at 2nd and move Espinosa to short.  Or you trade someone to free up room.  This team’s problem isn’t the need for a lead-off slap hitter; we need a big run producer in the middle of the order.  Someone to replace what Adam Dunn gave us for two years.
  • Ryan Tatusko posts his 2011 recap of his minor league season plus his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.  I wish more players were as blogger-friendly as Tatusko.

Hall of Fame Specific

  • A pro Edgar Martinez take with the important quote, “There is a position called DH…”  I have changed my own stance on this issue in recent years, especially when considering relief pitchers as hall of fame worthy.  If you argue that a closer and his 60-70 innings is somehow more valuable to a team than a designated hitter’s 650 at bats, then I’d have to disagree.  On my hypothetical ballot, Martinez is in.
  • Excellent review of active MLB players under HoFame consideration by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.   Also, the comments discussion brings up a number of other players.  He uses primarily career WAR to determine the player’s value, which I’m somewhat hesitant about (in most cases WAR is an accumulator stat, as a mediocre player who stayed very healthy will have a higher WAR than an excellent but shorter-lived career).
  • This article really got to me, to the point where I commented on both the original post by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus and the discussion at TangoTiger‘s InsideTheBook.com blog.  Jaffe’s hall of fame measuring system (called JAWS) somehow has determined that Brad Radke, the middling pitcher for the Twins who had basically one standout season in his career, was a BETTER player career-wise than Jack Morris.  How would any sane baseball observer possibly come to this conclusion?  This is where the modern blogger’s over-reliance on statistics really gets to me.  I have not read into why this system ranks Radke so high while ranking Morris so low but suspect it is due to a reliance on the same calculations that go into the ERA+ statistic (of which Radke’s career ERA+ of113  is better than Nolan Ryan‘s career era of 112).

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Oakland continues to dismantle itself: Boston trades OF prospect Josh Reddick and two other players to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.  This is after Boston acquired Mark Melancon earlier in the off-season; they now have completely remade the back side of their rotation.  Clearly the team is moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, having just traded for his replacement.   Reddick was clearly seen as surplus to requirements, despite putting together a decent 2011 season, but you have to wonder if the team is going to be satisfied with Sweeney starting in RF.
  • Keith Law makes a good point during his analysis of the Bailey move, saying that adding Bailey is a far better move than paying Jonathan Papelbon $50M.  I agree completely and think that anyone who pays $10M+ per year for a guy who throws 70 innings and who only really has about 50% “high leverage” plate appearances (see last year’s splits for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon to see that 57% of Rivera’s plate appearances were in “high” leverage situations as a high, while Papelbon was at 47%) is just wasting money.  Find a hard thrower in your organization (say, like Drew Storen for the Nats), install him as the closer as a rookie, then ride him til free agency and then cut him loose and start over.  Relievers are fungible talents, they come and go, mostly are failed starters since they don’t need the full repertoire of pitches to be successful, and are cheaper to come by.
  • (hat tip to ck of the Nats Enquirer): The Baltimore Sun reports that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder were in the Baltimore/DC area to meet with an owner not named Peter Angelos.  More links on the topic from Federal Baseball.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Why would those two fly HERE and not directly to the city of the owner in question, unless the owner of the team in question was either a) the Nationals, or b) an owner of a MLB team who lives in this area but owns a team based elsewhere, or c) an owner of another team just happened to be in DC for some odd reason (odd because Congress is out of session, which would seem to eliminate most any possibly lobbying reason).  Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam LaRoche can contribute in 2012 and it seems ludicrous to think he can’t at least get close to his 2010 numbers, but Fielder is a 5+ WAR player who probably makes us the favorite for the NL wild card if we sign him, right now.

General Baseball News

  • Wow, two LOOGY articles in the same day.  Bill James answered a question about the evolution of the LOOGY and posted this link describing its birth (apparently by Tony LaRussa in the 1991 season).  I also never knew that the term “LOOGY” was coined by none other than Rob Neyer.  And TangoTiger points to some of the same research.  Mid 30s lefties everywhere have LaRussa to thank for their extended careers.
  • Could you imagine this happening in today’s game?  The first intentional pitch would have resulted in ejections.  Certainly modern umpires would not let a pitcher throw pitch after pitch at an opposing batter.  Clearly these umpires let this game get out of hand.
  • Will MLB step in?  USAToday’s Seth Livingston thinks that the Oakland payroll dumping trades this off-season may get the attention of the front office.  Hard to see why; according to Cot’s the Athletics are only signed up for around $17M of guaranteed contracts in 2012 right now, before a slew of arbitration cases.  They non-tendered 3 of their 10 arbitration cases but kept a couple of their more expensive guys (Cot’s thinks they had 14 arbitration-eligible players; I havn’t cross-referenced outrights and DFAs but know they had 10 arb tender decisions).  Of those they did tender, they have since traded away Sweeney, Gonzalez, Bailey, Breslow and Cahill.  Geeze.  Baseball-Reference thinks they’ll get to $50M in payroll; I wonder if they’ll get to $35m frankly.  And, its looking more and more like this could be something like a 50-win team.  Things could get ugly in the Bay area in 2012.
  • This would be a loss for us prospect hounds: Keith Law is reportedly interviewing for a front-office position with the Houston Astros.  Law takes a very specific, opinionated viewpoint towards player development, drawing from his experiences in the Toronto organization (which itself during his time took a rather college-heavy approach to the draft which ultimately wasn’t as successful as the team wanted, ultimately contributing to the end of JP Ricciardi‘s reign.
  • An interesting exercise; USA Today builds an unbeatable MLB team for the median MLB payroll.  Honestly though, I’m not sure just how challenging this exercise is.  If you gave me $86M (the median payroll they used) you should be able to put together TWO such teams.  There’s enough pre-arbitration and arbitration-controlled talent in the league to be able to do the same task for something approaching a $20M payroll.  A future blog post?  :-)
  • Follow-up on Alex Rodriguez‘s experimental Germany treatment; this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan on the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?  I have had similar discussions; why are Steroids “bad” but Cortisone “good” in terms of usage?  What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??  Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Bartolo Colon got and makes a very good point; the WADA uses 3 categories to define a doping drug and everything we’ve described here can be argued to fit those criteria (except that only HGH and Steroids have been determined to be “bad” by the powers that be).  There’s something inconsistent here.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Seedling to the Star’s scouting report on Braves phenom prospect Julio Teheran.  Teheran’s stock has slipped somewhat in the past two years, especially given the inevitable comparisons to fellow pitching prospect phenom Matt Moore.  While Moore’s 2011 MLB debut was nothing short of amazing (including his 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs), Teheran posted a 5.03 ERA in about 20 MLB innings throughout 2011.  It was bad enough to probably rule Teheran out of the 2012 rotation plans and send him back to repeat AAA.  But if he can put things together, he’ll join an arsenal of young arms in Atlanta that seems set to be their next wave of starters in the ilk of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.


General News; other

  • Baseball meets modern America: Joe Maddon and the rising Latino population in his home town of Hazelton, PA, as written by Joe Posnanski.
  • 67-56?  I’ve never seen a football game with such a ridiculous scoring line.


Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/18/11 edition

2 comments

With more Wild Cards, get ready to see scenes like this more and more. AP Photo via infopop.cc

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, along with other general interest baseball articles, with my thoughts as appropriate.  (Note: these news items are more or less chronological in the Saturday-to-Friday blog post news cycle i’m using, with me going back and adding in clarifying links as needed).

  • Great news: Wilson Ramos was rescued with apparently on 11/11/11 no bodily harm and no ransom paid.  This is a great end to this saga, which really could have gone so much worse for Ramos and his family.  Mark Zuckerman reports on the details of the rescue.
  • Interesting read from Jon Paul Morosi, who interviews an anonymous american player about life in the Venezuelan Winter League.  The player wanted to stay anonymous, but he didn’t seem to really say anything of note that would require protecting his identity.  Better safe than sorry though.
  • Joe Sheehan, writing for si.com, mentions both Bryce Harper and Sammy Solis in his AFL review of players to watch on 11/10/11.  He saw Solis’ 4-inning/9 K game and was impressed.  I would be to if a 6’5″ lefty could throw 94mph and punch out guys at will.  That’s Solis’ “ceiling.”
  • As if it wasn’t enough to do analysis of the current FA crop, Buster Olney apparently was bored and did a year-too-early analysis of the 2012 free agent crop.  I only post this because it corresponds with one of my frequent matras about this off season; don’t waste your FA dollars competing for 2-3 front-line pitchers.  Wait for 2012 when there’s 10-12 good candidates.
  • More BA links related to the Nats top 10 prospects, announced last week.  Here’s the free version of the top-10 with scouting reports, the Organization quick-overview page.
  • BA’s Jim Callis 11/9/11 editorial piece about how the Nats picked “a good time to be bad.”
  • For Yu Darvish fans, yet another scouting reportAnd another oneTom Verducci posted a very well done piece demonstrating how most pitchers from NPB hit “The Wall” 2 years into their MLB careers, also noting that there has never been a single Japanese pitcher to make more than one all-star team.  Fangraphs.com has a bunch more articles on Darvish from a few weeks ago, and BaseballAmerica has some as well for you to find at your leisure.  Side-story: In one of the weekly chats last week (can’t remember which one) a very good point was made about using previous Japanese pitchers as comparisons to Darvish.  The chat-host flat out called it racist.  I have certainly drawn those same comparisons, looking at player’s birth place (as a way of determining NPB-graduates) and asking whether or not there’s ever been a huge success story for a Japanese-born pitcher.  I don’t view this as racist; just factual.  When I point out that there’s never been (for example) a French-born star baseball player, there isn’t a subsequent implication that “there fore all French baseball players are crap.”  Therefore I will continue to point out that Darvish, as a NPB-graduate, comes with risk no matter what his scouting report or genetic make up happens to be.  And my stance is that the risk involved isn’t worth the likely 9-figure price tag.
  • Wow the Marlins are doing some serious FA inquiries.  Rumors this week that they’re talking with Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle AND new Cuban FA Yoenis Cespedes.  Those players alone would probably represent something in the range of $400M of guaranteed contracts.  I just have a really hard time believing that this club, which has sucked revenue sharing money for years and easily transferred it into the owner’s pockets, will suddenly do an about-face and actually spend the money they need to be competitive.  Really hard time believing it until I see it.  Jeff Passan agrees with me.
  • Thanks to DistrictOnDeck for transcribing a few points of the Mike Rizzo-Jim Bowden conversation on mlb radio this week.  I can’t help but taking note of the glaring discrepancy in Rizzo’s double-speak when it comes to pitching.  Despite having his 1-2-3 already being set for the 2012 rotation (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan) and re-signing Wang this week, Rizzo still says that at the same time he wants to “bring in another starter” AND have the likes of Milone/Peacock/Detwiler compete for the 5th starter.  Well, which is it?  Because if you buy another FA starter, there is no 5th spot available.  Not unless we’re about to see a non-tender for John Lannan.
  • Excellent post from David Schoenfeld, in the wake of the Ryan Madson $44M contract being withdrawn, about the value of closers and the need to have a marquee closer at all in the modern game.  In the post, he lists the named closers of the past 10 WS winners, and his point is this; its littered with names of guys who were clearly not elite-level closers.
  • Interesting opinion piece from Jim Breen on FanGraphs about Hard-Slotting.  Breen posits the same opinion i’ve read over and over from Keith Law in the anti-draft slotting camp; they both claim it will “drive players to other sports.”  They use names like Zach Lee, Bubba Starling, and Archie Bradley as recent examples of guys who were legitimate 2-sport stars and were “bought” out of football commitments at major Div-I universities by virtue of the large bonuses they received.  Here’s the problem I have with this stance: where’s the proof?  I just have a hard time believing that these athletes, when presented with a choice, would have a larger-than-slot bonus make up their minds.  You’re either a baseball-first player or not, irrespective of your talents and desires in a secondary sport.  Nowhere in these arguments have I ever seen an interview or a survey where these two-sport stars are actually asked the basic question, “Would you be playing college football if your guaranteed baseball bonus was smaller than what you got.”  Its all assumptions, and this article is no different (posting the assumption that Lee “would not be playing  baseball right now if there was a hard-slotting system.”
  • Good information to know from Dave Cameron‘s fangraphs chat: the BABIP on ground-balls is .235 for ground balls, .130 for fly balls, .720 for line drives.  Cool.
  • Here’s a funny article from Baseball Prospectus on Hot Stove League terminology and how to interpret it.
  • Joe Lemire writes a great piece highlighting the safety issues and general decline of Venezuelan baseball over the past decade, in light of the Ramos kidnapping.
  • I first took note of Tax issues during last off-season’s Cliff Lee sweepstakes, noting that he faced perhaps a 12% difference in salary by taking a deal to stay in Texas versus New York.  Eric Seidman looks at the same issue and more with his great article in FanGraphs titled “Jock Tax.”  Conclusion; taxes for athletes are ridiculously complex.
  • Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 yr/$50M contract.  Well, I guess they’re not going to be re-signing Ryan Madson. The Phillies resign Papelbon basically for the same money they had been paying Brad Lidge, so its not going to directly lead to an increase in their payroll.  But as someone who openly questions the value of closers in general, I have to criticize the move as wasting money on a player they could replace from within for a fraction of the cost.  David Schoenfield agrees with this sentiment.
  • Adam Kilgore has a nice little primer on the upcoming GM and Owners meetings in Milwaukee.  He does some quick Nats off-season planning analysis, and I agree with him that it’s looking more and more like the team is going to pursue someone like Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt, meaning that the Detwiler/Peacock/Milone battle for 5th starter may not actually happen.  This would imply the team is looking to trade these guys, presumably for CF talent.  Lots of moving parts.
  • Si.com’s Jon Heyman broke news on 11/14 from the GM meetings that prospective Houston Astro’s owner Jim Crane has accepted the condition of moving his team to the AL west as a prerequisite to ownership approval.   Interleague blurring, here we come.  ESPN reports that this MLB “demand” was a condition of the sale of the team to Crane.  You have to love Bud Selig and his hard-line ways, given his precious anti-trust exemption.
  • The Nats outrighted both Cole Kimball and Corey Brown from the 40-man on 11/16/11 and lost Kimball to Toronto.  My thoughts here along with a healthy discussion.
  • Courtesy of Craig Caltaterra, a fantastic blog entry just crucifying Peter Angelos.
  • Op-ed piece about proposed draft changes, from ESPN’s David Shoenfeld.
  • Another Collective bargaining agreement fall out: elimination of compensation picks for type-B free Agents.  Probably a wise move; type B free agents are usually not valued nearly as much as a supplemental first round pick, leading to hijinks in the draft system by teams who covet these picks.  Frankly, the revampment to the system that needs to be done is the reliever classification.  How is Darren Oliver, a 41-yr old loogy possibly a type A free agent??  That classification immediately eliminates half the league from even looking at him, and probably the other half as well (meaning they’d be giving up a 2nd round pick at worst).  The union has to be upset at the way their veteran players have their job movement limited by this classification.  Ironically, about 5 minutes after I wrote this, Buster Olney also used Oliver as an example as to why the system needs to change.
  • In the “no surprise here” category, Hanley Ramirez isn’t keen on switching positions should the Marlins, who have been woo-ing every FA out there this off season, somehow acquire Jose Reyes.  Ramirez is pretty much the ultimate non-team player and the Marlins have spent far too long coddling him and cow-towing to his demands.  Good luck EVER getting him to agree to anything that isn’t Hanley-first.
  • Ex-Nats rumors: Jason Marquis apparently has interest from his “hometown” NY Mets for a 2012 contract.  I say that’s great news for the Veteran hurler, who had to be dismayed when he broke his leg in a contract year.  Even if its a non-guaranteed deal, or for significantly less money than he got from us two years ago (2yrs $15M), he deserves another shot.
  • Interesting side effect of MLB’s obscure player transaction rules: by virtue of the Angels only sending Mike Trout down for 17 days instead of 20, the demotion still counted towards his 2011 service time.  This has two implications: Trout officially now has served his rookie season and won’t be eligible for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award, AND the Angels now are in serious jeopardy of exposing Trout to eventual “Super-2″ status.  The first point is a slight shame for Trout, who seems set to rocket into prominence in this league based on his minor league production.  The second point is “shame on the Angels” for not knowing the rules; if Trout is as good as promised, this mistake could cost them millions and millions of dollars.  WP Dave Sheinen did a great study about Stephen Strasburg‘s super-2 status, comparing it to Tim Lincecum‘s, and concluded that avoiding super-2 for superstars can save a team almost $20Million.  Seriously.
  • Why is this news?  The Nats and Ryan Zimmerman, a player who is signed through 2013 havn’t talked about a contract extension.  So what?  This shouldn’t be news until NEXT off-season.  I don’t care that Kemp signed a big deal, or that Braun got locked up for a few more years, or that Tulowitzki signed a ridiculous deal through 2020.  Just because YOU jumped off a bridge doesn’t mean I have to.  If i’m the Nats GM, I wouldn’t sign on for an 8year contract, let alone a 5year, for a guy who has missed significant chunks of the last few seasons through injury until I saw him back at the 155-160 game level.  He’s only 26, but has already had three major injuries (hamate bone surgery, left labrum and this year’s abdomen surgery).  Plus he missed the last couple weeks of the 2010 season with a muscle strain.  That’s a lot of medical on a young guy.  Maybe the musings of some other Nats bloggers on the topic could have some credence.
  • Its official; two wild cards coming in 2013Judge Landis is rolling in his grave.  Actually I’m somewhat ok with this news; I think more needs to be done to mitigate the possibilities of Wild Cards winning the World Series.  If a play-in round is introduced that thins your pitching staff and makes it harder to advance, i’m all for it.  I’m not a 100% traditionalist but I do like to see teams that win the most regular season games actually competing for the World Series, instead of the St. Louis Cardinals sneaking in as a last-second wild card and winning the championship.