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

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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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Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2013 season)

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Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Welcome to the latest installment of  the “Will we ever see another 300-game winner” post.

(Aside; yes I know the limitations of the “win” statistic.  However, nobody looks at a 20-game winner on the season or a 300-game winner for his career and excuses it as a statistical aberration; the pitcher win will continue to be important to players and in the lexicon of the game for years to come, despite Brian Terry‘s #killthewin campaigns).

Of the 24 pitchers in the game’s history to have reached the 300-game plateau, 4 of them have done it in the last decade (they being Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine).  However, there exists a distinct belief in the game that we may not see another 300-game winner for some time, thanks to pitch count obsessions, innings limits, 5-man rotations, NL small-ball managing, match-up relievers and generally a huge rise in bullpen usage over the last 20 years.

In the past year, I’ve collected some topical reading related to this post:

When we first broached this topic (in April 2009), Sabathia was still the best bet (outside of Randy Johnson, who sat at 296 before the 2009 season began), but it didn’t look that good for anyone else to reach the plateau, and a couple of the names we guessed as having an outside shot (Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir) seem like ridiculous choices now.  When we most recently broached this topic (at the end of the 2012 season), we explained some statistical models we and others were using to try to predict who may have the next best shot at reaching the mark.  We concluded that Sabathia and Hernandez were both pretty good guesses at the time to reach the plateau.

How are things looking now?

I maintain a spreadsheet (uploaded to google and/or available via the links to the right of this page) that ranks candidates using a couple of formulas inspired by Jay Jaffe (see 2012′s post for the full thought process behind them).  Basically Jaffe’s prediction models assume that the pitcher can win X games per year after a set age (in Jaffe’s case, his simple formula assumes pitchers win 15 games/year until their age 42 season, a relatively optimistic projection and hence why he self-titles it using the words “blindingly optimistic”).  I’ve used a couple other methods to rank pitchers (calculating average number of wins past the age of 18 or 23, but since some guys get drafted out of HS and debut at 20 or 21 these projections end up looking ridiculous), in order to find candididates to put into the discussion.  I also don’t really even consider a guy until he gets to 50 career wins, so there’s no wild speculation about someone like Shelby Miller (15 wins in his age 22 season) or Jose Fernandez (12 wins in his age 20 season).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of starters right now who are in the conversation of possibly reaching 300 wins in their career and my % chance opinion of getting there.

pitcher age wins % Chance of making 300 wins
CC Sabathia 32 205 75%
Clayton Kershaw 25 77 50%
Felix Hernandez 27 110 10%
Justin Verlander 30 137 10%
Madison Bumgarner 24 49 5%
Trevor Cahill 25 61 5%
Zack Greinke 29 106 5%
Mark Buehrle 34 186 1%
Rick Porcello 24 61 0%
Yovani Gallardo 27 81 0%
Matt Cain 28 93 0%

Thoughts per starter:

  • CC Sabathia remains the pitcher with the best chance of reaching 300 wins, but i’ve downgraded his probability from last year’s 90% to just 75% right now.  Why?  Well read no further than the link about his 2013 decline, where his FB velocity dropped, his ERA rose and he posted a sub 100 ERA+ value for the first time in his career.  He still won 14 games, but his win totals have declined four years in a row.   On the plus side, he’s a workhorse pitching for a team that historically has a great offense, which enables him to get wins despite an inflated ERA (he had 4 or more runs of support in 20 of his 32 starts in 2013 … Stephen Strasburg just started crying).   It still seems entirely plausible he can average at least 10-12 wins for the next 7 seasons and hit the milestone before hanging them up.
  • Clayton Kershaw improves his probability of hitting the plateau from last year to this year based on two factors: First, he has clearly stepped up and is now the pre-eminent starter in the game and seems set to continue to post 16-20 win seasons for the extended future.  Secondly, the Dodgers now spend money like no other, ensuring a winning team that gets Kershaw victories even if he’s not pitching his best.  He was “only” 16-9 in 2013; I would expect him to put up more wins each season in the next few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 160 career wins before he’s 30.
  • Felix Hernandez‘s chances have plummetted; going from 75% last year to just 10%.  Why such a precipitous drop?  Two factors; first he took a noted step back in FB velocity this year, to the point where pundits were questioning his arm strength.  Secondly, he signed a massive deal to stay in Seattle … and Seattle right now is not a winner.  It has a completely dysfunctional ownership and management group and seemingly has no idea how to put together a baseball team.  They’re competing in a division of teams with better management willing to spend more money, and these factors are going to continue to have Hernandez put up the 13-14 win seasons he has been doing for the last four years.  He’s already 27: if he’s doesn’t have back to back 20 win seasons his chances are kaput.
  • Justin Verlander, like Hernandez and Sabathia, also had a curious drop in performance in 2013, leading me to drop his 300-game chances from one in three to one in ten.  At age 30 he has logged just 137 wins and has gone from 24 to 17 to 13 in the last three seasons.  If he can right the ship and get back to the 18-20 game win plateau, he can get his 300-game mojo back, but at age 30 he’s less than halfway there, so chances are looking pretty slim.
  • Madison Bumgarner appears here mostly because of his advanced win totals at such a young age; he already has 49 career wins before his 24th birthday.  He’s averaging 14 wins a season so far, and with a 14 win average in every season between now and his age 40 year he’d hit his mark.  But I have his chances right now at only 5%; its just too early to really tell if Bumgerner will have the endurance and continued success to get there.  Plus, is Bumgarner an elite starter or more in the mold of a Mark Buehrle (i.e., a durable lefty who grinds out 13-14 win seasons for a decade)?
  • Trevor Cahill is in nearly the same boat as Bumgarner, except that I don’t think he’s quite as good.  In fact, Cahill seems like he’s bound for Mark Buehrle territory (see below); an innings eating guy who is always right around the 13-12 mark each season.  If he does this for the next 15 years, he may get close.  I give him a slight chance.
  • Zack Greinke has gone from not even being considered to having a 5% chance.  Why?  Well he’s signed a huge long term deal with a very good team AND he now pitches in both the NL and in a pitcher’s park.   In 2013 he put up a very quiet 15-4 record and I think with his stuff and his health he could put up multiple 16-18 win seasons.  That’d get him to the mid 200s by the time he’s nearing 40 … maybe enough to have him go for it while pitching into his early 40s.  Or maybe not; by the time he’s 40 he’ll likely have nearly $250M in career earnings and may just buy a ranch somewhere.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s career 162 game average W/L record (14-11) is identical to Bumgarner’s.  In his last 5 season’s he’s won 13 games four times and 12 games once.  I have given him a 1% chance of hitting 300 on the off-chance that he pitches well into his mid 40s, continues to put up 4th starter figures and finishes with a career record of something like 302-285.  He doesn’t miss many starts, so perhaps he’s that durable.
  • The last three guys mentioned (Rick PorcelloYovani Gallardo and Matt Cain) are all given 0% chances at this point but are listed thanks to their advanced win totals by their mid 20s.  Cain’s sudden drop off in 2013 (a common theme in this list) has seemingly cost him any shot at reaching 300 wins despite his normal sturdiness.  Gallardo had a 10% chance last year and drops to zero thanks to my having almost no confidence that he is a good enough pitcher to accumulate enough wins going forward.  And Porcello remains essentially a 5th starter who just happened to matriculate to the majors at the tender age of 20.  I can see him having a career similar to Buehrle’s; long tenures of near .500 record. In fact, ironically Porcello’s 162-game average W/L record is identical (14-11) to Buehrle’s … which is also identical to Bumgarner and very close to Cahill’s.  I think there’s something clearly “accumulator” in nature to all these guys.

What has happened to some of the candidates from last year not mentioned yet?

  • Roy Halladay went from a near Cy Young season in 2011 to retirement in just two short seasons.  Shoulder injuries are a killer.  He retires with 203 wins.
  • Chad Billingsly lost nearly the entire 2013 season to injury, scuttling what dim chances he had.  He’s now not even guaranteed a spot in LA’s high powered rotation.
  • A bunch of veterans who already had little chance (but were mentioned anyways) have now retired: Jamie MoyerLivan HernandezAndy Pettitte, and Kevin Millwood.
  • Tim Hudson is an interesting case; he sits at 205 wins, lost a chunk of last season to injury but signed on in a pitcher’s park in SF.   He’s gotten 17,16 and 16 wins the last three seasons in his mid 30s; can he just continue to get 16-17 win seasons and suddenly be looking at 300 wins by the time he’s 42?  Maybe, but he’s going to have to be good these next two seasons.

Thoughts?  Do you care about 300 winners like I do, or is it just an anachronism of baseball history that will go the way of 300 strikeouts, 30-wins and hitting .400?

 

 

 

 

 

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 one-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.

One more reason I hate the WAR stat

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As pointed out in this Hardballtimes story by Matt Hunter, here’s two opening-day pitching lines:

Matt Harrison: 5.2 IP, 6 R, 5 ER, 9 K, 3 BB, 0 HR, 0.2 WAR
Stephen Strasburg: 7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.2 WAR

Wait.  Strasburg’s 7 shutout innings in which he only allowed 3 baserunners is somehow considered an “equal” performance in terms of FanGraphs WAR to Harrison’s 5 2/3 inning 5 earned run debacle??

The reason why (as explained much better in the Hunter link) is because Fangraph’s WAR is based on FIP, and despite Harrison’s line and despite the fact that Strasburg didn’t give up any runs Harrison’s FIP was actually lower than Strasburg’s for the day.  FIP only measures Ks, BBs and Homers, and because Harrison had many more K’s on the day his FIP is better.

Here’s my problem; how can you possibly trust a statistic that is this blatantly wrong on an individual game level?  Both WAR and FIP accumulate over the course of a season to arrive at a measure for a player’s performance, yet clearly they both have significant individual-game issues.  And as Hunter points out (paraphrased),  ”if you can’t trust a stat on a per-game basis, you can’t *really* trust the stat on a full season level.”

I point this out because there are far, far too many stat-heavy baseball writers out there who will literally call you an idiot if you dare use “old time” statistics to measure a player’s season … but who also use the likes of WAR and FIP as the be all-end all replacements.  And that’s where I have a problem.

And all of this is to say nothing of the heavy reliance of defensive stats on WAR, defensive stats which didn’t exist 10 years ago (so how “good” or “bad” are our historical players?) and defensive stats which are admittedly flawed when it comes to doing what they’re supposed to do unless every player stands in exactly the same spot at every position on every play all year?  If your team employs lots of infield shifts (like say a Tampa Bay), guess what?  Your UZR rating looks fantastic.  If you play in a big pitcher’s park and have a fly-ball pitcher on the mound (think San Francisco and Matt Cain), your UZR looks awesome as you chase down lazy flyball after lazy flyball.  Defensive stats can’t take into account first basemen digging out throws or measure nearly any component of catching defense outside of the basic counting stats we already had (errors, caught stealing, passed balls).

I don’t know what the solution is.  But I know it isn’t to claim that WAR is the ultimate player measurement stat that lots of people believe it to be.

Written by Todd Boss

April 4th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Opening Day Starter Trivia

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Sabathia is your current Active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

One of my favorite annual trivia questions amongst my baseball buddies revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters for my readers.  I’ve uploaded my little Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

10 Roy Halladay
10 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Derek Lowe
6 Tim Hudson
6 Felix Hernandez
6 Justin Verlander
5 Aaron Harang
5 Josh Beckett
5 Jered Weaver
5 James Shields
4 Jake Peavy
4 Barry Zito
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Yovani Gallardo

Those players bolded in the list above had 2013 opening day starts and added to their totals.  Roy Halladay‘s difficult spring training cost him his shot at Opening Day and thus CC Sabathia moves into a tie for first.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation (4th starter?).

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander have chances to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Verlander with 6 straight.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-time: Tom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2013: no less than 13 first timers this year, nearly half the league.   Some guys got deserved first-time opening day starts (Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, and R.A. Dickey), some guys got Opening Day starts mostly out of attrition of other worthy pitchers (Jon Niese, Bud Norris, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley and Jhoulys Chacin) and some guys are taking over as the new big-dog of their rotations (Brett Anderson, Chris Sale).

Who seems most likely to break Seaver’s Record at this point? Sabathia, who already has 10 opening day starts, is clearly the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has five years on his current deal.  Question is, if he renews past 2017, can he still earn the #1 spot?   Meanwhile Hernandez already has 6, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s 8 more seasons on his existing 6 opening day starts and he’d only be 34 years of age.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

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 :-)

My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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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.

Ask Boswell 2/25/13 Edition

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When is Anthony Rendon going to be ready for the Majors? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

With the first couple of Spring Training games in the books, its fitting that Tom Boswell did a Monday morning chat on 2/25/13.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the Baseball-specific questions he took.  As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write here before reading his response so as not to “color” my answer.

Q: Given that the Nats know almost every player making the roster out of Spring Training, do the players/coaches approach the 6 weeks differently?

A: Good question; I was taking with someone about this exact topic this weekend.  The 25-man roster is essentially already solidifed; perhaps the only question remaining is whether or not Henry Rodriguez makes it onto the team or does the team carry a second lefty reliever (Bill Bray?).  So I think the answer has to do with looking more at the AAA talent, looking at minor league FA signings like Micah Owings and Chris Snyder to see if they’re going to be better options than the guys we already had slated at AAA.  And the coaching staff gets to look at up-and-coming guys like Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters, and the like.  Boswell reiterates what I said here, naming other ML signings of interest like Chris Young, but also says that this ST has a lot of “wasted time.”

Q: I’ve spent the offseason reading Ball Four to help get my baseball fix. Do you have a sense about how different things are now?

A: It has been a while since I read Jim Bouton‘s seminal baseball book Ball Four.   But the season he chronicles (1969) happened before a number of rather important moments in Baseball history.  Expansion, divisional play, the Designated Hitter, the aftermath of the Curtis Flood and Andy Messersmith decisions (aka, Free Agency) and of course the massive increase of money in the game (both from a revenue stand point and from a player salary stand point).  One thing that seems certain to have changed; players can now earn enough in a season to be set financially for life.  And, the players union’s power is now such that players have the upper hand in a lot of negotiations with the league and the owners when it comes to labor unions.  Boswell notes that managers, coaches and GMs are far “smarter” now than they were in the Bouton era.

Q: How the Nats will do at the gate this year?

A: The season ticket base is back to where it was in 2005 apparently, broaching 20,000 season tickets.  The team averaged 29,269 fans last year.  Clearly the attendance seems set to rise significantly.   I think they’ll average 35,000 a night if they continue to be a first-place club.  Boswell agrees, noting that the team also has a couple of very marketable stars to help with attendance.

Q: Other than obvious injuries, are there any things that can happen in the first quarter of the year that you would find to be troubling?

A: I’d be troubled if Danny Espinosa started off slow.  I’d also be concerned if we saw significant regression out of our WBC participants Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, confirming my fears.  But the most important factor may be the performance of Dan Haren: is he the 2012 Haren or the 2009 Haren?  If he approaches 2009 version, this team may be set for the season.  Boswell notes they have a tough early schedule, that winning 98 games is tough, and that we should be patient.

Q: Gio Gonzalez; did he or didn’t he?

A: I think the prevailing opinion in the sport now seems to be that he did NOT take or receive PEDs from the Miami clinic, and that he was an unfortunate bystander.  His passing a surprise PED test given two days after the scandal seems to have also bolstered his case.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Are the Nats a 98 win team again, or was last year a fluke?

A: Barring a significant injury in the rotation, I think the Nats are easily a 98-win team and perhaps better in 2013.  Statistical WAR “proof” offered in this space back in January, and that was before the LaRoche re-signing and the Soriano pickup, both of which marginally should improve the team a few wins.  Most national pundits that I’ve read think the same thing, that this team could win 103 games.  The various estimator stats out there (Zips, Pecota, etc)  the team much closer to 90 wins, but those predictors are by and large incredibly conservative.  Boswell also says it comes down to health of the rotation.

Q: How would you rate the Nats starting rotation, spot by spot, compared to the rest of the Major Leagues?

A: Spot by Spot, its hard not to think that each of our guys are each at least in the top 5 by position in the league.  Drawing from my Rotational Rankings post from January 7th, 2013, I’d say that:

  • Strasburg is clearly among the best arms in the game (in the discussion along with Verlander, Kershaw, and Hernandez).  He’s not as accomplished as this group of course, but his talent is unquestionable.
  • Gonzalez matches up as a top 5 number two starter (other candidates: Greinke, Hamels, Lincecum or Cain, depending on who you think SF’s “ace” is).
  • Zimmermann is traditionally underrated but is at least a top 5 number three starter (along with Scherzer, Johnson/Morrow, Bumgarner, Lee and Moore).
  • Haren on potential could be the best number four starter in the game, though Buehrle, Miley, and Lynn could also fit in here.
  • Detwiler is often mentioned as being the best number five starter out there, and its hard to find competitors (best options: Zito, Romero, Garcia, and whoever Oakland and St. Louis settle upon for their #5 starters).

Boswell seems worried that these five guys can handle the workload all year, only really trusting Gonzalez in terms of repeatability.

Q: What future do you see for Anthony Rendon, and when will he debut in the majors?

A: I have been of the belief that Zimmerman should move to 1B for Rendon at some point.  But with LaRoche signed for two years, that won’t happen for a while (2 years, perhaps 3 if we pick up his 2015 option).  So now i’m starting to come around to the the possibility of Rendon pushing someone else off their position.  The most likely candidate seems to be Espinosa at 2B.  Despite having Lombardozzi on the 25-man, Rendon is a higher-potential player.  If Espinosa starts slow, and Rendon starts fast, I could see Rendon getting called up in June and starting to get reps at 2nd while Espinosa goes on the DL for his shoulder.  Otherwise, a Sept 1 call-up seems in order.  Boswell predicts a post-all star game call-up.

Q: Is there any way the Nats can stop Detwiler and Gio from pitching in that baseball ‘classic’? I see a disaster waiting to happen. Luis Ayala was never the same after getting hurt pitching in that thing.

A: There’s no way legally the team can prevent either guy from pitching, since neither suffered any injuries in 2012.  And yes I agree (as discussed in this space on 2/11/13) this is bad news for the Nats.  Washington has never had a pitcher play in the WBC who didn’t regress badly, and the stats seem to show that most every pitcher who does participate in the WBC pitches poorly the next two seasons (links in my post).   Boswell says cross your fingers.

Q: Do you think Bryce has it in him to be National League mvp?

A: Yes I do.  MVP voting generally starts with the “Best Player” on the “Best Teams” and creates a short list from there.  It is why it is relatively easy to predict the MVPs.  If Washington is the best team in the league and makes the playoffs again, and Bryce Harper has a break out season, it won’t be hard to see him getting serious MVP consideration.  Now, let me also say that a “Harper for MVP” prediction is NOT the same as predicting that Harper is set to become the best player in the game.  That’s not what the MVP measures.  If the question was, “Is Harper set to become the best player in the National League” i’d then say, “No, he’s a few years away from that distinction.”  Boswell thinks it may be a bit early.

Q: How many wins per year would you estimate a a stellar defense adds to a teams win total over the course of a season?

A: I’m sure there’s a good statistical answer for this, based on the percentage of WAR added by defense.  But it seems like a very difficult answer to come by.  Boswell says “a few.”

Q: Any reason to think he’s NOT going to be the GM for a long time?  Because I can’t think of many others who have done as good a job in all of baseball.

A: I can see no reason for Rizzo not to be the GM for at least the next 4 years.  His next big challenge will be dealing with the inevitable payroll demands of Harper and Strasburg (both of whom project to be $25M players) while also keeping a competitive team on the field.   2017 could be an interesting year for this team; Strasburg projects to hit Free Agency that year, and Harper should be in his 4th arbitration year.  They already have Zimmerman and Werth at $14M and $21M respectively in the 2017 year, with possibly another $40-$45M out the door to keep Harper and Strasburg.  They better start working on the farm system again.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just mentioned how Rizzo’s options have yet to be picked up.

Q: How is Ramos looking thus far? 100%? Suzuki is a professional and seems to be a good guy, do you get a feel for how well he and Ramos interact? How great would it be to generate some power/runs from the catcher spot this year.

A: I’ve been assuming that the catcher job is Suzuki‘s to lose for now; its still early but no word has come out negatively on Ramos‘ recovery.  Either way, yes it would be nice to get some production out of the #8 hole.  Suzuki was pretty good after he came over here, but Ramos healthy was a middle-of-the-order bat.  Boswell suggests that Ramos stop blocking the plate.

Q: If Rendon tears it up after September call-up, what does the Nats 2014 infield look like?

A: Wow; hard not to say Rendon replaces Espinosa like-for-like right now.  But, just as Desmond broke out in his 3rd full time season, so could Espinosa.  It could make for a log jam.  Lets hope for the best, hope for a rebound Espinosa season and a good-problem-to-have situation of having to trade a strength to make way for another strength.  Boswell has no idea where Rendon will play if he merits a call-up.

Q: I think the Nats, and Danny Espinosa are whistling past the graveyard if they think a completely torn left rotator cuff will not seriously affect Danny’s play. Your take?

A: A fair assessment.  I too believe a torn rotator cuff absolutely has to be affecting his swing, especially from the right side.  I think Espinosa should have gotten the thing surgically repaired in the off-season.  I wonder how much the team knew of the injury, because when it was reported in the off-season it sure seemed like a surprise.  Boswell says its a concern and that Espinosa should take more days off.

Q: Is McCatty working with Strasburg on correcting his inverted W delivery? Strasburg also has footstrike issues, as he tends to plant his foot and then whip his arm, which puts a ton of strain on his shoulder. I’m concerned if he doesn’t correct this, his shoulder will give out this season or next. Are the Nats worried about this? Are they working on cleaning up his delivery at all?

A: I’m beginning to think that this whole “Inverted W” thing is a bunch of BS.  Keith Law stated as much when prompted in a chat recently; he says that the problem with the Inverted W theory is that its difficult to “state” with authority that certain pitchers do or don’t have the phenomena.  And its true; if you see some shots of Strasburg he has it, in others his arms are more bent behind his back.  Its the same with Gio Gonzalez (I can show you stills of him landing with his arms clearly in an “inverted W” position and you don’t hear anyone talking about Gonzalez’s mechanics.   The leading inverted-W site on the internet (Chris O’Leary‘s page linked here) uses an opportunisitic example set of pitchers with that motion, but I can find plenty of examples of guys who have similar mechanics but zero soft-tissue injury history (on the Nats two quick examples are Drew Storen and Craig Stammen).  Meanwhile one of his examples was John Smoltz … who only threw 3400 MLB innings in his career and basically didn’t miss a start until he was 32.  Not the best example of proof that his mechanics were somehow “awful.”  I think the entire phenomenon is an observation of coincidence, that pitchers get injuries all the time no matter what their mechanics, and that we need to move onwards.  Wow; Boswell thinks exactly what i think; these proofs are nonesense.