Nationals Arm Race

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

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Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query Baseball-Reference.com for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

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

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom 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 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.

 

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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Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

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I'll bet you don't know who this is, but I think he's baseball's best GM.  Photo AP via mail.com

I’ll bet you don’t know who this is, but I think he’s baseball’s best GM. Photo AP via mail.com

I was listening to a baseball podcast this past week about General Managers in baseball and heard an interesting fact; it has now been more than two years since an MLB General Manager has been fired.  Sure enough, the last GM fired was Houston’s Ed Wade in November of 2011.  There is a GM with less service time (Rick Hahn of the White Sox), but he rose to take over the job for long time GM Kenny Williams, who was promoted to executive VP of the team.  So all in all there’s been decent stability among baseball executives in the shorter term.

I’ve had a draft version of a “GM Rankings” post written for nearly three years.  Why so long?  Because I started the post, got distracted, and then no less than seven general manager positions were filled/replaced in two very hectic weeks following the end of the 2011 season.  There’s no way you can judge how well a GM has done with just a few months on the job, so there was no point in trying to rank the GMs when a quarter of them were un-rankable.

Well, now we’re two plus years onwards from October 2011, each of those seven new GMs has had two seasons and three off-seasons to show their vision, and I think its time to revisit my rankings.

Below is an attempt to rank the GMs, #1 to #30.  Beware: this is a massive post.  6,000+ words.  I may have over-done it a little bit.

To me, a successful GM balances several factors all at once:

  • Winning at the major league level (obviously).
  • Total payroll outlay (in the context of free agency and use of your payroll budget)
  • Player development/Farm system rankings
  • Trades and industry opinion and reaction on moves made to build your team

Now for the caveats to keep in mind to the above GM goals:

  1. Purposely NOT winning on the field: In some cases you get carte blanche to purposely be awful on the field after years of mis-management and get a pass (see Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs, along with several other teams to a lesser, less obvious extent).
  2. Payroll discrepancies/Major market GMs: To me, generating the best or 2nd best record in baseball with the largest payroll isn’t proving anything.  In fact, if you do NOT make the playoffs despite such a massive payroll (as the Red Sox didn’t do in 2010 and the Yankees didn’t do in 2012), then if anything you’re really failing as a GM.  So payroll versus success counts heavily to me.  As you’ll see below with the rankings of the GMs from the profligate teams.
  3. Farm system usage caveats: In some cases you sacrifice your farm system to make acquisitions to help you win now (like what the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2011 and what Toronto has done for the last couple of years).

I created a GM rankings spreadsheet where I track all sorts of interesting information that you use to judge GMs (the link is also along the right hand side of the blog), and where I tried to quantitatively judge the 30 GMs.  The spreadsheet has GM tenure, market size, ownership meddling factors, Farm system rankings, 2012 and 2013 payroll versus W/L rankings, plus my attempts to quantify three facets of a GM’s job: MLB success, Trades and FA moves and the Farm system.  I will freely admit; i am paying significantly more attention to performance over the past three  years than performance over the past 10.  Maybe that’s fair, may be not.  But it hurts a long-time GM like Brian Cashman who guided his team to the playoffs year after year (but, see Cashman’s write up for my reservations on GMs of massive payroll teams).

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

  • The Elite: The best GMs in the game, who have balanced payroll, on-field success and development the best.
  • The Excellent: a group of ten or so GMs who are all excellent at what they do and are mostly interchangeable up and down the order.
  • The Middle-ground: a group of  GMs that happens to include three of the biggest spender teams and the bottoming-out teams that are difficult to judge.
  • The Concerning: GMs who for various reasons are struggling right now.
  • The Underperforming: the bottom few GMs who for various reasons are easy targets for bloggers based on their moves and their teams.

It is really hard to rank these guys 1 to 30 without someone nit picking the order, but I would argue with you if you told me that some one in the bottom tier was actually “good.”  It wasn’t as easy to do these rankings as I thought it would be; in fact every time I’ve come back to this post i’ve ended up moving around the GMs, to the point where I’m just declaring victory and publishing.  I like the top and bottom of these rankings, but if you wanted to argue that the guy I’ve got ranked 22nd really should be 18th, then I probably won’t disagree.

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

1. John Mozeliak, St. Louis.   What more can you say about the model franchise of baseball and its leader/architect?   The #1 farm system last year, a huge percentage of its players home-grown, in the playoffs three of the last four years, a win and a runner-up in that time, and all while maintaining a payroll outside the top 10 in the league.  This team survived the FA loss of the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) by returning to the playoffs the subsequent year and leading the league in wins in 2013.  Can’t ask for much more than that.  Mozeliak is my choice for the best GM in the game over two other more famous candidates in the elite category.

2. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay.  Is there any argument that Friedman is this high? He took over in 2005 and within three years had the league’s best record.  They’ve won 90+ games four years in a row in the league’s best division.  He’s done this despite routinely having one of the lowest payrolls in the game, despite off-loading talent as soon as it becomes pricey, by stockpiling draft picks (11 of the first 75 picks in the 2011 draft), and by signing his key players early on to incredibly club-friendly contracts (see the deals that Evan Longoria and David Price signed pre-arbitration).   In fact, I daresay that the success the Rays have had in the draft was a driving force behind richer owners (hello, Mr. Jerry Reinsdorf) pushing for bonus limits on the amateur market.  In 2013 the team had the 3rd lowest payroll in the game but still made the playoffs ahead of the Yankees (who spent nearly FOUR TIMES as much as the Rays).  Many would say these facts by default put Friedman #1 and I wouldn’t argue; only the drop-off in his farm system this year keeps him from overtaking Mozeliak.  Call these two GMs 1 and 1-a.

3. Billy Beane, Oakland.   The league’s 2nd longest tenured GM is likely to retire as its longest, since he owns a stake in the team and has re-made his approach to building teams in the last couple of years to great success.  This ownership stake affords Beane the job security that he wouldn’t have otherwise, and has afforded him the time he needed to find his next “market inefficiency.”  After some lean years following the “Moneyball” period in the mid 2000s, Beane has turned the A’s into a two-time defending AL West defending champion (a division with two of the most profligate spending teams in the game).  His new team-building method seems to be around wheeling-and-dealing, and he’s been good at it.  He turned over a significant amount of his 2012 team and won even more games in 2013.   The ding on Beane may be his farm system; Oakland has struggled to develop players lately and some may argue that Beane’s ranking should be slightly lower as a result.  I’ll say this though; being successful in the league when routinely putting out payrolls in the $55M-$60M range (where his 2012 and 2013 teams sat) by default makes you one of the best in my book.  

The Excellent

4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers.  Texas made the 2010 World Series with the 27th highest payroll in the major leagues.  That in and among itself is enough to earn Daniels his street cred.  However, his 2013 payroll had ballooned to $125M and they got unlucky by missing out on the playoffs by one game in 2013.  Otherwise two World Series trips in four years is still nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that they didn’t win game 6 of the 2011 World Series still amazes me.  Daniels’ reputation is on the line though in a big way; his moves for Prince Fielder, for Shin-Soo Choo and for Alex Rios will be tested in 2014.  The team will need everything it can get out of its (mostly) home grown rotation thanks to unfortunate injuries already suffered this year (Derek Holland tripping over his own dog).  I give Daniels a ton of credit for accomplishing what he did with a $65M payroll; can he continue to do it with a $130M payroll?  The bar only gets higher.

5. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati.  I still wonder how he got fired in St. Louis.  He made the playoffs 6 years out of 7, including a World Series win.  Then the year following he gets canned.  In Cincinnati, he inherited a reigning NL MVP Joey Votto but made some shrewd acquisitions (Mat LatosAroldis Chapman), and drafted well (including selecting Mike Leake, who has yet to spend a day in the minors).   The Reds play in a small market but have made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and continue to develop good players (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani being the latest two studs).  Jocketty is in a lofty rank now; we’ll see how things go after the loss of Shin-Soo Choo this past off-season and the slight turning-over of the roster we’re now seeing.  If the Reds continue to make the playoffs, Jocketty should continue to get a ton of credit.

6. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox.  Normally I’m really skeptical of GMs for teams with $175M payrolls who have success.  But it is difficult to argue with what Cherington has done since taking over the reigns.  He completely undid a ton of the damage that his predecessor had done by offloading two horrible contracts (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) and one malcontent (Josh Beckett) on the Dodgers and actually receiving prospect value back.   He has quickly built the Boston farm system back to where it is one of the best in the game (they have as many top 100 prospects as any organization out there).  And they just won the World Series.  Cherington loses some credit for the disastrous Bobby Valentine hiring that led to the even more disastrous 2012 season … but he also recognized the faults with both the team and the manager and led a complete 180 degree turnaround.  And I laughed at Cherington’s almost comical chasing of closers (as documented in this space in June 2013).  But a title erases a lot of criticism.  Boston remains well positioned going forward but will be depending very heavily on the fruits of their farm system in 2014 and beyond.  If Boston turns these high value prospects into another playoff appearance while driving down payroll, Cherington’s ranking will only rise.

7. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals.  Rizzo took over for the disgraced Jim Bowden in March of 2009 and had quite a job ahead of him.  The team on the field was on their way towards losing 100 games for the second year in a row and the farm system was dead last in the majors.  What has Rizzo done since?  The team improved 30 games in the win column between 2010 and 2012, the farm system was considered the best in the game just two years on from Rizzo’s hiring (it should be said, thanks to two straight #1 overall picks resulting in two of the most dynamic players in the last 20 years being available to us), and now has two drafts and two off-seasons worth of work under his belt.  He has brought a new mind-set to the draft, focusing on quick-to-the-majors college arms instead of nebulous tools-y high school players.  He also has managed to work with the sport’s most notorious agent (Scott Boras) and successfully handled the two most high-profile draftees (arguably) in the history of the game.  He has completely re-made the Nats roster in the past two years (only 3 members of the opening day roster 2009 team are still with the franchise).   I’ve questioned his roster construction at times, feeling like he over-emphasized defenders at the expense of offense (running Michael Morse and Josh Willingham out of town), and he obsessed over a leadoff/CF type until he got one (Denard Span, trading away our best starting pitching prospect at the time), but a 98-win season smooths over a lot of criticism.  Other pundits place Rizzo even higher than I have; 7th seems like a good spot to be until we see if this team can get back to the playoffs.   If the Nats falter again in 2014 and don’t achieve something in this “window,” Rizzo’s tenure and the 2012 season may be viewed simply as an aberration instead of a well built team.

8. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves.  A couple years ago you would probably have Wren ranked in the middle of the pack at best.  He clearly botched both ends of the Mark Teixeira deals, essentially turning Texas regulars Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a year of Teixeira and Casey Kotchman.  Imagine how good Atlanta would be right now if they still had the 3 core members that remain in Texas.  That being said, you cannot argue with where the Braves have been going.  With middle-of-the-road payrolls and an awful TV deal the Braves have a team with a lot of home-grown talent that won the NL East by 10 games last year.  His rotation is young and home-grown (Minor, Beachy, Medlen, Teheran), his team full of home-grown talent (with Freeman, Heyward and Simmons leading the way).  And they have the best bullpen in the game.  On the down-side, there are questions about some of his recent signings (BJ Upton and Uggla in particular), the farm system hasn’t quite come back from its 2010 rankings (thanks to so much of the talent it generated), and I’m not sure anyone really likes Atlanta’s 2013 off-season.  So, we’ll give Wren credit for the past few years and indicate a note of caution going forward.

9. Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates.  I’m not sure if I’ve got him too high, but I’ll say this: after getting Pittsburgh to the playoffs (and a winning record) for the first time in a generation, Huntington has them in the right direction.  His moves to build last year’s team were excellent, the team has a ton of home-grown talent yet still has one of the best farm systems in the game, and should continue to be a success in the NL Central.

10. Sandy Alderson, New York Mets.  How can anyone involved with the New York Mets over the past 10 seasons be considered a success?  Because long-time baseball insider Alderson has done well with what he was handed and has the Mets heading in the right direction.  In the past three years their farm system has grown in leaps and bounds, going from the bottom third to nearly a top 5 system.   He got great value in trade for R.A. Dickey, has drafted and developed well, and we started to see the fruits of that player development with last year’s all-star game starter Matt Harvey.   He’s finally rid of the awful contracts that his predecessor handed him ($43.6M of the team’s $93M payroll last year was dead money to just two guys: Johan Santana and Jason Bay.  Almost 50%) and has bought conservatively this off-season while Harvey recovers and more of his young arms matriculate.   If the Mets ownership ever decides to start spending money again and this team’s prospects come to fruition, they could be a force.

11. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants.  Sabean is the longest tenured GM in the game, is unabashedly “old school” and is consistently mocked for his signings and moves.  I thought his Tim Lincecum deal was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the amount of money they guaranteed Hunter Pence, and more than a few people are questioning the Michael Morse deal.   San Francisco’s farm system is weak and has been for years (after contributing MVPs and Cy Young winners, it should be said).   To all these naysayers I say this: Two World Series titles in the last four years.  The goal of every team is to win the title, and his teams have done it twice in four years.  The Yankees have one title in the last 15  years.  So you have to give Sabean some credit.  11th seems about right.  Not too high, not too low.  He’d have been much higher had his team not imploded in 2013.

12. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians.  Antonelli has subscribed to the same “wheeling and dealing” mechanism for building teams that Billy Beane has done, and it turned a perennial doormat Indians team into a 2013 playoff team.  They play in a small market and have an $80M payroll, and Antonelli has taken their farm system from awful to respectable in the last three years.  So the system is improving as is the on-the-field product.  So far, so good in Cleveland for Antonelli’s tenure.  I’m hesitant to push him much higher because i’m convinced the Indians succeeded in 2013 on the backs of several very awful divisional rivals (for example; the Indians were 17-2 on the season versus the White Sox but only 4-15 versus the Tigers, quite a swing for a 90-win team; if they were that legitimate a team they would have been much closer to .500 against their divisional winner).  So slightly above the median looks good.

The Middle-Ground

13. Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros.  Three years ago Houston was an 88-loss team with a $90M payroll and the 29th ranked farm system.   To his credit, Luhnow has reversed at least two of those factors in a big way; he has cleared the decks of the awful contracts that boat-anchored the Astros under his predecessor.  Of course, at the same time he’s turned the Astros into a 110-loss team and, for the first time since the dead-ball era, last place three years running.  So what has Luhnow done?  Inside of two years he’s gone from the worst farm system to the best on the backs of #1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.  Soon they’ll likely add Carlos Rodon to that stable, giving this team a fearsome set of players to roll-out within a couple years.  So how do we judge Luhnow?  Right about in the middle; he’s set out to do what he needed to do; if his foundation leads to on-the-field success Luhnow will be counted among the best GMs in the game for laying out the roadmap and sticking to it.

14. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees.  Some say that just the mere fact that Cashman has survived as long as he has in the shadow of the Steinbrenner family ownership of the Yankees should be proof enough that he is among the best GMs in the game, and certainly higher ranked than he is here.   Fair enough.  But here’s the inescapable facts: his farm system is deteriorating, the most significant player on the 2014 team actually developed at home seems to be Brett Gardner, they had a $225M payroll last year and didn’t make the playoffs, their rotation will pivot mostly on a 40-yr old’s career renaissance, and their starting 2014 infield played a combined 200 games last year.    And they’re being saved only by the grace of Bud Selig‘s hatred for Alex Rodriguez, whose suspension “saves” the team $25M this year (quickly spent on their new “#3 starter” Masahiro Tanaka, to whom they guaranteed more than $175M dollars).  I dunno; maybe Cashman should be lower.  They have made the playoffs 4 of the last 6 years and have a title, and Cashman’s early tenure record speaks for itself .. but at what point do you notice that the team hasn’t done very much since the “core four” have entered their decline phases and begin to wonder if Cashman isn’t just a guy with a big checkbook instead of a good GM?

15. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers.  Lots of on-field success thanks to Dombrowski sticking to his plan; he took over the year the Tigers lost 119 games.   It is worth noting that 3 years later they were in the world series.  Now he’s gotten them into the playoffs three years running, to which he’s due plenty of credit.  But his farm system has hit rock bottom, he’s spending a ton of money, and he’s making very questionable moves.  The industry panned his Doug Fister move (even if it seemed to greatly benefit the Nats) and people questioned his Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler move.  They were weird moves for a “win now” team.  Perhaps I should give Dombrowski more credit, but his 2013-14 off-season knocked him down a number of pegs for me.  If they miss out on the playoffs to an up-and-coming Royals team, he’ll suddenly be on the hot-seat.

16. Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Seriously, how do you judge the job Colletti is doing right now?   His team’s payroll went from $95M in 2012 to more than $216M in 2013.  He’s got $57M tied up in three outfielders not named Yasiel Puig right now.   You almost got the impression that Colletti called up Boston and just said, “Hey, I’ll take every sh*tty contract off your hands right now … i’ve got money to spend and I don’t care how we spend it!”  On the bright side, somehow the Dodgers have kept a reasonable ranking with their farm system throughout all of this, but the skill involved with paying everyone on your team $20M/year is close to nil.  As with Cashman, I wonder if Colletti is ranked too high even here.

17. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals.   Other mid-market teams (Oakland, Tampa, Pittsburgh) have shown a ton more accomplishment on the field than Kansas City; why hasn’t Moore’s teams done better?  He’s been in his job nearly 8 seasons and the team spun its wheels for seven of them.  Signings that didn’t pay off and fizzled farm system talents defined this team for years.  Finally Moore went all-in, trading the best prospect in the game (Wil Myers) for a package of pitchers to help the Royals get over the hump.   Between 2012 and 2013 they added $21M in payroll and these players and gained 14 games in the win column; just enough for … 3rd place.   The industry entirely believes Moore was fleeced by Tampa Bay, and the trade looked so bad at the time that pundits wondered if Moore wasn’t getting some pressure from above to “win more now or get canned.”  But it didn’t take Myers but the next season to win the rookie of the year award, and he may be a player that Kansas City fans rue for a generation.  I think Moore may not be long for the job, and with good reason; why hasn’t he been able to win when guys like Huntington and Beane have?

18. Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins.  Ryan has been with Minnesota for-ever; hired in 1994.  He stepped aside and then was re-hired in 2011, and is now in a rebuilding phase.  The team let go one of its faces of the franchise last off season (Justin Morneau) and is going to begin a big youth movement this year.  They’re going to be bad, but perhaps not Houston bad thanks to a couple of (odd?) starting pitcher signings.  Help is coming; Ryan has built on of the best farm systems in the game and it features two of the top 5 prospects out there (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano).   Perhaps it isn’t fair to rank Ryan here with Luhnow higher, but Ryan was partly responsible for the downfall of this team and the abhorrent starting rotation of last year.  But once their MVP-grade talents arrive at the majors, Ryan’s work of rebuilding the farm system should be rewarded.

The Concerning

19. Josh Byrnes, San Diego.  Byrnes inherited a 90-win team that surprised but which was getting ready to hit a transitional stage.   Byrnes got some good prospects from the Adrian Gonzalez deal and some more in the Mat Latos deal, but they havn’t turned into wins on the  Three straight years of 71-76 wins has spirits dampened in San Diego.   Now their MLB team looks poor, the farm system is good but drifting, and they’re talking about another rebuilding effort.   He’s only a couple years in but things aren’t looking up; his division includes a team that is spending 4 times what he can spend.

20. Kevin Towers, Arizona.  So here’s my summary of Towers’ tenure in Arizona so far: he continues to drive away players and prospects who aren’t “gritty” enough for him, trading them for 50 cents on the dollar.  His farm system has gone from good to middle of the road.  His payroll is rising … and yet his team is winning the same number of games.  And yet both he and Kirk Gibson just got contract extensions.  Why exactly does anyone think Towers and Gibson are doing a good job right now?   How many more games would they have lost had they not magically found a 6-win player in Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick) last year?

21. Jed Hoyer (Theo Epstein), Chicago Cubs.  I know Hoyer is the GM, but lets be honest; this is Epstein’s team.  The Cubs hired Epstein for him to re-make the franchise as he did in Boston.  Except that Epstein left Boston in a huge mess, with a slew of very bad contracts and an even worse clubhouse.  Now he’s come to Chicago and made some questionable moves (the Edwin Jackson signing, the Anthony Rizzo fan-boy pursuit, etc) while not making other more obvious moves (why is Jeff Samardzija still on this team if they’re “rebuilding?”).  To their credit, they got value for Alfonso Soriano, only one of the most untradeable players in the game.  And they’ve gotten a pass to rebuild the farm system, which is now ranked in the top 5 in the game and should start to bear fruit.   Now, that farm system is loaded with hitters, and with Wrigley’s comfy stadium the Cubs may be offensive juggernauts in no time, but they still need pitching.  How will the Hoyer/Epstein team handle that?  Hopefully not with more signings like the Jackson deal.

22. Michael Hill, Miami Marlins.  The one huge caveat that goes with the Miami GM job is this: Jeffrey Loria is probably the most hands on owner in the game, and you almost can’t judge this GM’s ability based on who is calling the shots.  The only other owner who seems to have as much pull is, ironically, ranked next.   Miami loaded up for 2012 in their new stadium and had completely dismantled things before August.  Now they’re a $50M payroll team with some superstar prospects .. but a middling farm system and questionable direction.

23. Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles.  Duquette has had an odd off-season; his owner 86’d two of his signings thanks to questioning the “medicals,” which insiders point out is Peter Angelos‘ method of nixing deals he doesn’t like.  Must be frustrating.  Instead Duquette is now signing every re-tread FA who can’t find a job thanks to the CBA’s draft pick compensation issues, punting draft pick after draft pick.  The O’s did make the playoffs in 2012, thanks to an unsustainable record in one-run games, and have had a decent run of success out of their farm system (Manny Machado should be mentioned in the same breath as Trout and Harper frankly), but are they on the right track to get back?

24. Dan O’Dowd/Bill Geivett, Colorado Rockies.   The Rockies have a very unique front-office structure right now, resulting from an August 2012 shake-up that left industry insiders questioning the roles and the message coming from the team.   Nonetheless, the direction of the Rockies leaves something to be desired.   They’ve drifted on the field, employed questionable starting pitching usage strategies, and generally are treading water.  Their farm system is starting to look up though; will that be enough to compete in a division with the Dodgers?

25. Alex Anthopolous, Toronto Blue Jays. Anthopolous took over for the maligned JP Ricciardi after the 2009 season.  In the time since, he traded Roy Halladay, acquired Morrow, traded for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, acquired Rajai Davis, and perhaps most impressively offloaded the albatross contract for Vernon Wells.  He had an 85-win team in the hardest division in baseball with a 70M payroll for 2011.  Then he went for it, emptying the farm system (which was one of the league’s best in 2011) to acquire the likes of R.A. Dickey and the whole slew of ex-Marlins.  Now he’s got a massive payroll, an underperforming team and empty cupboards in the minors.  All the good work he did to prepare Toronto for battle in the AL east has gone for naught unless last year was just a big huge adjustment period for all these newly acquired veterans.

The Underperforming

26. Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers: Melvin is an interesting case; the Brewers purposely bottomed out their farm system to make a playoff run in 2011, the last year before they lost Prince Fielder and their fortunes would change.  And change they have; the Brewer’s player development efforts have not moved off the bottom of the league (their farm system is either last or dead last on every pundit list) while their on-the-field record has dropped (they’ve gone from 96 to 83 to 74 wins in the last three years).   Now they’re the 4th best team in their division and it isn’t close, and it is unclear what their plan is going forward.   They’ve got quality players at certain places, but have made odd signings (losing their 1st round pick last year to sign Kyle Lohse of all people).  You can’t help the Ryan Braun situation, and they got unlucky with injuries (Corey Hart in particular) so perhaps this ranking is unfair.  But I still feel like the Brewers are adrift in terms of strategy and thus Melvin’s ranked this low.

27. Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels.  The worst or 2nd worst (along with Milwaukee) farm system in the majors for the past few years.  One of the largest payrolls in the league giving them a 78-84 record last year.  Over-paying for aging slugger (Albert Pujols) after aging slugger (Josh Hamilton) while inexplicably signing one of the worst statistical starters in the game to a multi-year deal (Joe Blanton) and entering last season with a clear and obvious rotation issue.  Dipoto earned the absolute worst “quantitative grade” in my GM ranking xls, trying to measure the three GM factors of on-the-field success, farm system development and trades/FA signings.  The only reason I don’t also rank him last is because i’m not entirely convinced that Dipoto isn’t a decent executive who’s being told by a highly-involved owner (Arte Moreno) to sign all these guys.   But, there’s really no reason that a team playing in LA and who is spending three times what his divisional rival Oakland is spending isn’t consistently finishing ahead of them in the standings.

28. Rick Hahn (Kenny Williams), Chicago White Sox.  What can you say?  The White Sox lost 100 games with a $118M payroll last year and have had the worst (or near to it) farm system in the game for years.  The White Sox organization is in a bad way, and i’m not sure why Williams’ stewardship was rewarded with the “promotion” to team president.   They lost 18 games in the win column from 2012 to 2013 and it is hard to see how they’re going to be any better this year.  It does seem though that they are undergoing a “rebuilding effort,” in that their payroll seems like it will be $40M less this year versus last and they’ve moved some of their bigger salaries in “rebuilding mode” moves (Alex RiosJake Peavy).  So perhaps its slightly unfair to have Hahn so low, if he’s entering into a purposely bad period.  Nonetheless; this set of executives got the White Sox where they are now, so their low ranking is earned.

29. Ruben Amaro, Philadelphia Phillies.  I’ll admit that i’m probably biased here.  While i’ve given credit to other GMs whose teams have had success in the past several years, i’ve not given Amaro the same benefit of the doubt.  And that basically comes down to several, clear facts; Amaro has destroyed the Phillies with multiple long-term deals for declining players, most notably Ryan Howard‘s contract (widely considered the worst dollar for dollar contract in the game).  His team 3rd highest payroll in 2013 and nearly lost 90 games.  His recent FA moves have been laughable (Delmon Young and Michael Young?  John Lannan as his sole pitching move last off-season?  His ridiculous contract extension for Carlos Ruiz this past off-season?).  His heels-in-the-ground obstinant refusal to adopt any understanding or acceptance for analytics or modern statistical approach to his job makes me wonder just how asleep at the wheel his owner is.  He’s let his farm system lapse while his on-the-field product falters.  He puts out mixed messages in regards to his direction (Cliff Lee mentioned in trade rumors?  Are the Phillies going to rebuild or not?).  But the coup-de-grace for me is the news that just came out that Amaro’s organization has purposely attempted to sabotage college kids who spurned the Phillies last summer, ratting them out to the NCAA out of pettiness, spite or vengeance.   Despite their WS win and appearances in the last 6 years, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Amaro still has a job at this point.

30. Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners.  Zero playoff appearances in his tenure.  His farm system has pushed out all the talent it apparently has to give and now is in the bottom third of the league with more than a few “busts” (notably Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley vastly underperforming).  A 90 loss team last year, and he’s just gotten done committing hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts yet likely has only improved his team a few wins, thanks to a fundamental lack of understanding of what it takes to build baseball lineups (he seems to be depending basically on 3 rookies in his rotation for 2014).  And it seems that Zduriencik not only is poor at his job, but he may have depended on deception (if not outright fraud) to get it, thanks to the reporting of Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times last off-season.  One only needs to look at his method of building teams to notice that he has no concept of defensive capabilities and he seems to collect 1b/DH types without consideration of how many runs they’ll be costing him thanks to sub-par defense (Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez at the corner OF positions last year, his plans to play Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in the OF this year).  How long before Robinson Cano is a brooding $200M boat anchor on this team as they continue to lose 90 games year after year in a division dominated with better GMs and bigger payrolls?  All these facts contribute to my ranking Zduriencik last.

 


Here’s some other links relevant to this discussion, for your perusal.  Wiki’s list of all 30 GMs.  Baseball America’s excellent Executive database.  Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the GMs by job security in Jan 2014.   Buster Olney posted a “Peer Review” of GMs back in 2010, but its mostly obsolete with all the movement since.  Still somewhat interesting to hear what GMs are saying about each other anonymously.

Finally some other rankings lists that I could find (and their top 5):

  • Dan Szymborski‘s top 5 Dec 2013: Beane, Friedman, Daniels, Mozeliak, Rizzo (from a chat).
  • MLBtraderumors ran a poll in April of 2013 where you can vote, and the top 5 crowd-source vote-getters are: Beane, Friedman, Mozeliak, Cashman and Sabean.
  • The NYPost’s Ken Davidoff ranks GMS every off-season and he came in with Friedman, Beane, Daniels, Dombrowski and Mozeliak in Dec 2013 (he has Cashman way too high, but he is a NY-based writer and focuses on the entire body of work).
  • Rantsports.com’s GM Power rankings from Aug 2013 (which I think are misguided mostly because of how low Beane is): Daniels, Cherington, Friedman, Huntington, Antonelli
  • And lastly this oddly titled “Sexiest GMs” ranking from Dec 2012 caused some laughs at the time.  Towers, Beane, Moore, Cashman, Hoyer.

Thoughts?  Think I have some guys too high and some too low?  Discuss in the comments.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

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Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-season defensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

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

Posted in Majors Pitching

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2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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More R.A. Dickey Animated Gifs

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R.A. Dickey throwing another knockler. Photo via wiki/flickr user dbking

R.A. Dickey throwing another knockler. Photo via wiki/flickr user dbking

A few months ago I posted a Youtube video showing a Catcher’s point-of-view look at R.A. Dickey‘s knuckle ball coming in.

Here’s a couple more cool graphics that have popped up on various blogs that I read.

  •  From imgur/r/baseball, an animated Gif of Dickey’s knuckler as it travels to the plate.  Done by the same fellow @DShep25 who did similar Gifs of Yu Darvish‘s repertoire and of Miguel Cabrera‘s ability to hit homers from any point in terms of plate coverage.  (h/t to BusinessInsider blog).
  • And here’s a story to go with the above images from the author himself, Drew Shephard on fangraphs.com.

Still amazing that his 2013 numbers are so bad right now (6-8, 4.90 ERA, 1.388 whip, all significantly worse than his Cy Young numbers from last year).  The Blue Jays are only 6-9 in his starts, a big reason why they’re in last place in the AL East right now.

And then, since its related to these cool graphics, here’s a study (again from BusinessInsider’s Sports blog) about the Physics of a Curve Ball.  Its no wonder Dickey reportedly didn’t even travel with the team when they went to Colorado; he knew his pitches wouldn’t have any movement.

Written by Todd Boss

June 20th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

A forkball after my own heart

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Robert Coello throws a very “old school” pitch. Photo wiki/flickr via james_in_to account.

Thanks to Rob Neyer for this article, posted 5/16/13 (and subsequently Jeff Passan in this 5/28/13 article and this Ted Berg USAToday article on 5/29/13) about Robert Coello, a journeyman hurler currently with the Los Angeles Angels who throws what one executive calls a “Knuckle-Forkball” but what in reality is an “Original Forkball.”  Not a “Split Fingered Fastball” mind you, but a true-on Forkball.  Neyer then goes into some research he did with Bill James on the pitch and has a pretty interesting history on this very rare pitch.

Neyer’s post has video of the pitch as it comes out of his hand (as does the Usatoday article) and indeed the ball knuckles and dives like a knuckler.  He only threw one forkball in his 5/15/13 outing but has thrown more than a few since and is getting some national media notice.

Here’s Pitch F/X data for Coello’s 5/15/13 outing.  They classified this pitch as a “FS,” pitch f/x lingo for “Fastball-Split” or a splitter.  He threw it at 79.5mph.  Since then, he’s thrown (I guess) 11 more Forkballs (now classified in Pitch F/X as a “FO”) at an average of 79.2mph.  By way of comparison, R.A. Dickey‘s average knuckleball velocity in 2013 has been 75.3mph.  And Dickey’s knuckleball is considered so effective because he throws it with such pace (Tim Wakefield only threw his 65-66mph for the last few years of his career).  Imagine if Coello can command this pitch and throw it consistently and frequently; he’d have a chance of combining a Dickey-esque fast knuckleball with his 91mph fastball.  That could be quite a combination.

So, why is this guy so interesting to me?  Because in my own abbreviated amateur baseball pitching career, I threw the same pitch!  Somehow over the years screwing around while warming up as a middle infielder I discovered this pitch; you jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and then throw the ball such that it “pops” out of your hand (it will even make a popping noise, not unlike a soft snapping fingers noise) and begins knuckling towards its target.  It definitely is not a diving/sinking split fingered fastball motion; it knuckles in.  You can throw it with some pace; you throw it with the same motion and intensity as a fastball, except that it gets hung up in the webbing of your fingers and knuckles out.  It is relatively easy to control, especially if you throw over the top and just “aim” the ball at the middle of the plate.  I used it as a 3rd pitch but one outing in particular it was moving so much that my catcher called nothing but forkballs.

I always called it a forkball, but figured it knuckled instead of diving down like a typical split-fingered fastball because I wasn’t throwing it at the pace of a professional pitcher.  Now as it turns out, it looks like I was just throwing a “throw back” pitch rarely seen in the professional ranks.  Cool.

This world needs more Forkball pitchers!

Post-post update: Fangraphs Eno Sarris had a great article on him 9/23/13, showing multiple gifs of the pitch, as well as noting that Coello now has a top-30 wFB pitch thanks to the uniqueness of the forkball.

Written by Todd Boss

May 31st, 2013 at 7:01 am

R.A. Dickey and his “Nasty Pitch” on 60 Minutes Sports

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R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball were on 60 minutes last month. Photo via wiki/flickr user dbking

R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball were featured on 60 Minutes Sports last month and we just got around to watching it off the DVR.  If you missed it, the full segment is available online at cbsnews.com via this link.

Now, we’re not talking very in-depth reporting here (Lesley Stahl is the reporter, not exactly known for doing heavy hitting pieces), but the parts about Dickey and the physics of the knuckleball are fun.  They talk about Dickey’s “dark past” in the intro but I don’t recall them going into it (you can read his wiki page for a quick summary).  They interview a couple of university researchers who specialize in physics and engineering and demonstrate some cool stuff about the knuckler.  They interview Phil Neikro.  And of course Dickey himself is a good interview, though they don’t really go that deep into his life or his pursuits.

One funny bit that I learned from the piece: Dickey wouldn’t even join the team when they went to Colorado because he knew the thinner air there destroyed his knuckler.  Makes sense to me; when you see the knuckler in the wind-tunnel on the piece, its fascinating to see how the air particles move around the ball.  Also funny was the time that Dickey had to run across the street from Shea stadium to get a “korean nail salon” to work on his hand after he tore/broke a nail on the mound; he apparently literally ran over there in full uniform straight out of the stadium.

Anyway; good quick watch.

Written by Todd Boss

May 20th, 2013 at 7:46 am