Monday, December 24, 2012

Andy's 2013 WBC USA Roster

So as I sit here watching Pawn Stars on this fine Minnesotan Christmas Eve, the 2013 World Baseball Classic crossed my mind.  Only Joe Mauer and David Wright have confirmed they will participate in the third-ever WBC.

I put myself in Joe Torre's shoes and tried to think, who would I want on my 25-man roster?  I went back and looked at the roster from 2009 and tried to base my roster on that.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 All B-WAR Team

As we close in on the holidays, I was sitting in my basement bored to death.  So I thought I'd make a realistic roster (a team composed the way a normal team would be) and see what it would look like with the top players based on Baseball Reference WAR.  Here are the results and so you don't have to take out your calculator the team combined for a 141.7 WAR.

And now, the roster:


Lineup
C  Buster Posey-SF (7.2)
1B  Joey Votto-CIN (5.6)
2B  Robinson Cano-NYY (8.2)
3B  Miguel Cabrera-DET (6.9)
SS  Erick Aybar-LAA (4.0)
OF  Mike Trout-LAA (10.7)
OF  Andrew McCutchen-PIT (7.0)
OF  Ryan Braun-MIL (6.8)

Rotation
1. Justin Verlander-DET (7.6)
2. David Price-TB (6.4)
3. Clayton Kershaw-LAD (6.2)
4. Matt Harrison-TEX (6.2)
5. Johnny Cueto-CIN (5.8)

Bench
C Yadier Molina-STL (6.7)
INF Adrian Beltre-TEX (6.7)
INF David Wright-NYM (6.7)
OF Alex Gordon-KC (6.2)
OF Michael Bourn-ATL (6.0)

Bullpen
1. Fernando Rodney-TB (3.7)
2. Aroldis Chapman-CIN (3.6)
3. Craig Kimbrel-ATL (3.2)
4. Rafael Soriano-NYY (2.6)
5. Ryan Cook-OAK (2.6)
6. Rafael Betancourt-COL (2.6)
7. Nate Jones-CWS (2.5

Will the Diamondbacks and Rangers finally make a deal?


Yesterday, the Arizona Diamondbacks inked Cody Ross to a three-year deal worth $26 million.  The outfield in the desert was already crowded and this deal makes it more packed.  

The Diamondbacks’ payroll is now around $95 million, up from about $75.5 million in 2012 and $56.5 million in 2011, and ownership is not forcing GM Kevin Towers to make a trade to get payroll down, though this seems unlikely.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dodgers of the East: the New York Yankees


The Dodgers of the East: the New York Yankees

For those who are friends with Yankee fans, as I am, to you I wish my deepest apologies.  It’s difficult to win an argument with a person when they drop the famous line, “THEY’VE WON THE MOST WORLD SERIES EVER!”

Then the conversation takes a turn and the issue of money comes up, something the Yankees teams of the past had no problem spending.  

Well, now the spending has gone west.  The Dodgers have taken on every bad Red Sox contract and have signed the top free agent starting pitcher in Zach Greinke for nearly $150 million.  The Angels meanwhile have signed Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and Josh Hamilton in the past two off seasons

The Yankee fans who so proudly fought for their team now are saying the team is not exactly a high spender because they are trying to go under $189 million for their payroll so they can avoid the luxury tax.

Here is an conversation I had with a friend (and Yankee fan) on Twitter.

“Friend”: For everyone that says the Yankees “buy” the World Series, look at what’s going on in Los Angeles
Me: Angels still below luxury tax limit.  Yankees not quite so.  Dodgers are crazy
Me: Yankees hit with $18.9 million luxury tax, 10th straight year they’ll pay a penalty for spending...
“Friend”: I don’t care they are still gonna be better than your Twins and Dbacks
Me: That’s not the point.  Talking about what’s going on with the Angels is a Yankee move
“Friend”: You need to settle down Peter Gammons it’s A Rods fault
Me: Or Yankee management for giving into him? Nah, it’s A-Rod’s fault
*End of Conversation*

This conversation led me to do a quick, simple study about the Yankees payroll.

The first simple study is the team’s payroll and where it ranks compared to other MLB teams (in parenthesis) and how much they paid per win in the past decade. The payroll data is courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

2012: $209, 792, 900 (1); $2, 208, 346.32/win
2011: $207, 047, 964 (1); $2, 134, 515.09/win
2010: $213, 359, 389 (1); $2, 245, 888.31/win
2009: $201, 449, 189 (1); $1, 955, 817.37/win
2008: $209, 081, 577 (1); $2, 349, 231.20/win
2007: $189, 639, 045 (1); $2, 017, 436.65/win
2006: $194, 663, 045 (1); $2, 006, 835.52/win
2005: $208, 306, 817 (1); $2, 192, 703.34/win
2004: $184, 193, 950 (1); $1, 823, 702.48/win
2003: $152, 749, 814 (1); $1, 512, 374.40/win
2002: $125, 928, 583 (1); $1, 222, 607.60/win

That’s a lot per win when teams like the Rays have recently shown that being in the playoffs is possible on a much smaller budget.

The second study is a look at the richest contracts in baseball history.  Taking the top 50 contracts let’s see how many of them have been paid at some point by the Bronx Bombers.

1. Alex Rodriguez: $275, 000, 000
2. Alex Rodriguez: $252, 000, 000
6. Derek Jeter: $189, 000, 000
8. Mark Teixeira: $180, 000, 000
9. CC Sabathia: $161, 000, 000
28. CC Sabathia: $122, 000, 000
30. Jason Giambi: 121, 000, 000
42. Ichiro Suzuki: $90, 000, 000 (mostly paid by Mariners)

If there is one thing we can learn from this, the Yankees have no problem spending money.  With them deciding to cut down payroll though, could this mean the Steinbrenner family is ready to sell the team?  

Only time will tell.

On The Mets and Prospects

My Gawd. Did you see that trade? Sandy Alderson is totally ripping off the Jays! Last year he acquires Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran and this year he gets Travis d'Arnaud AND Noah Syndergaard for RA Dickey? Dayum.

Baseball Prospectus recently ranked d'Arnaud and Syndergaard as the top two prospects in Toronto's system, Baseball America ranked them #1 and #3 respectively. (As a side note, it's refreshing to be able to write # signs without the implications of a stupid hashtag.) BP sees d'Arnaud as having All-Star potential behind the plate and Syndergaard as a possible frontline starter. I'd get into what BA thinks, but it's essentially the same. And did I mention the Mets will have these two cost-controlled for six (!) seasons?

Sounds like quite a deal for a 38 year old who is essentially unprojectable and on a one year contract. In fact, almost all of Twitter would agree. Unfortunately, I'm too lazy to look up examples, but they're out there, trust me.

It sure does look like the Mets found themselves a franchise catcher to pair with David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada. It also appears the Mets are building quite a rotation with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. Maybe a nice little run from 2015-2018?

Maybe. But don't forget:
The best laid schemes o' mice and men                                                                                             often go awry
The promise of a prospect is alluring. And when the kids work out, it's a beautiful thing (see Trout, Mike; Longoria, Evan or Posey, Buster). But that's not always the case. For every Trout there's a Brandon Wood. Prospects are far from surefire, all we are doing now is guessing the outcome.

For even more perspective, Ben Lindbergh of BP recently wrote about traded prospects and concluded that traded prospects are more likely to fall short of projection than those who an organization held onto. It makes sense, a team that drafted and developed a player should know more about that player than any other team. Therefore, if a team sees a player's stock is a bit too high in the media or scouting circles, they'd do well to trade high: to cash in on the risk.

It's still too early to say whether the Jays' made a foolish "All In" deal or if they knew something about d'Arnaud and Syndergaard the rest of us, and the Mets, did not. For what it's worth, my guess is the truth is somewhere in between.

The point is, when assessing this or any trade involving prospects, the inherent information asymmetry between the teams and us "the analysts" should lead to at least some temperance of judgement. Sure, the deal looks great for the Jays now and given what we know now, it was a great deal. However, what we do not know is what will make or break this trade.

All In

As if trading for the Marlins wasn't enough, the Toronto Blue Jays acquiring RA Dickey screams from the mountaintops "We're all in."

And why not? The Yankees are looking more and more like a senior league softball team, Boston is still in a transitory phase, Tampa hasn't done much to improve for 2013 and Baltimore is still Baltimore. The AL East is as wide open as ever.

The Blue Jays have never had trouble scoring and it won't be any trouble in 2013. The lineup features three of the top hitters at their positions in the two Jose's (Reyes and Bautista) and Edwin Encarnacion; in addition to a host of players with huge potential in Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie. Like I said, barring injuries, offense is not a concern in Toronto; that side of the coin is covered.

(Get into the good stuff below the page break)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Twins Ink Pelfrey

In the second exciting (not exciting) move in a week, the Twins have signed right-hander Mike Pelfrey to a one year deal worth at least $4 million.

I can say this much for certain, Pelfrey is a big dude - 6'7" - and was, at one point, pretty decent. From 2008-2011 he averaged 32 starts, 196 IP, a 4.27 ERA and 1.65 K/BB ratio. He's not a strikeout pitcher, or a pinpoint control guy, but he gets groundballs (48.6 GB%) and should continue to keep the ball in the park at Target Field.

Pelfrey's arsenal, at least in the past, has consisted of a hard sinker in the mid-90's, a 4-seamer at the same speed and a slider and splitter that he throws less than 20% of the time. In 2011, his slider was primarily used as a putaway pitch versus righties and almost never against lefties.

The most important question for Pelfrey doesn't pertain to his stuff or peripherals, however, it applies to his health. After 3 starts in 2012, Pelfrey injured his elbow, requiring Tommy John Surgery. The rule of thumb is that he won't be back for a full year, meaning we can expect to see him back in May. However, with advances in medicine, it's not entirely uncommon for pitchers to return in less than 12 months; according to a tweet from Jon Heyman, the Twins expect him to be ready for opening day. Darren Wolfson tweeted a source that said an opening day return was unlikely, but it should be pretty close. If he has to miss 3 or 4 starts to begin the season, the time missed won't significantly hurt the value of the deal, but it's certainly something to keep our collective eye on.

All that said, if Pelfrey sounds like quite a gamble. That's because he is, but unlike the Correia deal, Pelfrey has real upside and could make an impact on the Twins in 2013 and beyond.

What does this mean for the Twins pitching staff? Well, it now consists of four somewhat established starters in Worley, Diamond, Correia and Pelfrey. There's still Hendriks, DeVries and Gibson who each figure to start a few games. In addition to these options, Heyman notes the Twins are still in the market another starter and Wolfson says possibly two more starters.

I like the idea; stock up on low risk guys and hope they perform well to flip for prospects or lure fans out an increasingly empty Target Field. Going forward, hopefully they can find a guy with a bit more upside than Correia and Pelfrey. But, nonetheless, it's an encouraging move and shows Terry Ryan and co. are serious about putting together a real big league pitching staff in 2013, even if it won't win any awards.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What would Brandon Webb bring to the Twins?


For the first offseason in a while, the idea the Twins are going for and what I think they should do are in line.

Finding Major League arms who can effectively throw five or more innings a game and do it 30 or more times a year is difficult to find which is why the Twins ought to compile as many cheap starters as possible before the young guns are ready to step up.  Trying to rely on non-prospect pitchers does no good for rebuilding (see Cole DeVries, Sam Deduno and P.J. Walters).

Brandon Webb, the 2006 Cy Young award winner and 2007 and 2008 runner-up, is holding a throwing session after the holidays and the Twins are going to be one of the teams in attendance.  In 2003-2008 Webb produced a b/WAR and f/WAR of 31.7 while Baseball Prospectus had his WARP at 18.3.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Did the Diamondbacks get enough for Trevor Bauer?


When the Diamondbacks drafted Trevor Bauer with the third overall pick in 2011, they got a pitcher with good current talent and the ability to become an ace at the top of the rotation.

Well after a somewhat bumpy first full season, Bauer Hour has moved and in a somewhat questionable deal.

Many in the baseball media have said the Diamondbacks clearly lost the three-way deal and the return is not significant enough.

The main component coming to Arizona is Didi Gregorious, a left-handed hitting shortstop who is only 22 years old.  

He fits Kevin Towers’ need for a shortstop but he might not be an impact player.  Throughout the minors he has not put up good OBA and has no power or base-stealing ability.

On defense, Gregorious has been highly regarded but it has been reported that some scouts see him as more of a utility type than full-time player.  The ability to defend up the middle is very important and he might provide some value there.

Up the middle, and assuming Gregorious is given the starting role, the defense is strong.  Miguel Montero has been praised for his work behind the dish and pitchers have taken well to his game calling.  Aaron Hill is one of the best defensive (and in 2012 the best offensive) second baseman.  Arizona has given the centerfield job to Adam Eaton, after dealing Chris Young to Oakland, and for being a former 19th round selection, he has hit his entire way up and shows the ability to work a count draw walks.  Eaton has well above-average speed and can play a good centerfield.

With Gregorious, the Diamondbacks have quite a few light-hitting shortstops.  With Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Cliff Pennington, there is no clear indication who will provide the best bat.  

Some have thought Pennington will be given the starting role and Gregorious will start in the minors to save service time.  Pennington has never been a slugger but is good with the glove so it could be a rather lateral move.

To answer the question above, the answer is no.  The Arizona Diamondbacks did not receive enough for Bauer and it might have been better to try and package him with others in hopes of getting a better return.

There were reported doubts in the Arizona organization about Bauer and his ability to adapt to Major League Baseball but he could have been the guy to win games for them come postseason time.

Other thoughts:

-With the addition of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols will have protection behind him and we could see him return to his St. Louis form when he put up eight to nine wins a year.  

-I’d like to see the Twins deal Josh Willingham, but not now.  After the All Star game teams will be seeking power and he will supply it.  He could get them a good return.

-It’s a shame to see Anibal Sanchez back in Detroit.  After hearing he was in agreement with Chicago, I was excited to see the direction of the Cubs and it looked like Theo Epstein had gotten a young, reliable starter to lead them through their rebuilding process.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rotation Death Match

Two National League rotations stand above all others but got there in completely different fashions. The Dodgers purchased skill and depth using their unlimited checkbook while the Nationals have developed their top arms. 

Los Angeles' rotation is built around a true ace, Clayton Kershaw, that they drafted and developed. Around him is a testament to new ownerships resolution to become 'Yankees East': Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Aaron Harang.

Washington took an inverse strategy, poaching only their fifth starter, Dan Haren, off the open market. The front of the rotation is the product of their deep minor league system; Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann were first-round picks and Gio Gonzalez was netted by trading prospects.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Price of a Hurler


  • Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard for one good, not great, front-line starter and one back-end starter.
  • $147 million, AAV (average annual value) of $24.5 million, for one good, not great, front-end starter.
  • Middle to back-end starters on the market are getting contracts with AAV of $5-13 million and multiple years.
  • Jeremy Guthrie has been guaranteed 71.4% of the GDP of Tuvalu (it's a country, look it up).
  • JEFF FRANCIS GOT A GUARANTEED CONTRACT. JEFF FREAKING FRANCIS.
This is the world we're living in. Pitching is scarce.

In this world, two things are certain. First, major league pitching is no longer cheap. A flyer on a veteran now costs millions of dollars. Second, developing young pitching is more valuable than ever. There is no other way of acquiring affordable pitching, whether the cost is players or cash.

When presented with this context, the Twins recent trades of center fielders for starting pitching looks even better. And both moves were widely hailed in the media. 

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what the rest of the market (guys like Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse) will receive. Will demand for starters continue to be a dog fight or eventually diminish? Are all players becoming more valuable or primarily starters? If nothing else, it's certainly something to keep your eye in the remaining months of the off-season.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Revere Out; Pitchers In

On their final day in Nashville for the Winter Meetings, Terry Ryan and Co. were busy making moves. Sandwiched between poaching Ryan Pressly from the Sawx in the Rule 5 draft and extending set-up man Jared Burton, the Twins made their biggest move of the off-season in which Ben Revere was shipped off for starting pitchers, Trevor May and Vance Worley.

I wrote two days ago about the prospect of trading Ben Revere given the bull market for center fielders and the near MLB-ready options available to the Twins. Everyone loves Revere: he's fun to watch, has a shiny batting average and a winning smile. However, Terry Ryan pulled off a shrewd move selling Ben Revere at his peak value.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kirby Puckett's Throne

Before seeing this tweet via mlbtraderumors.com, I figured that the Twins had made their decision on their future in center field - Denard Span was gone, Ben Revere installed. Revere took the role of heir apparent in 2012, filling in at center when necessary but otherwise biding his time in right field and occupying the second slot in the lineup. He played well too; by all accounts, including that of this handsome blogger, he played an excellent defensive outfield and hit then ran well enough to cover his deficiencies in plate discipline and power. And as of 2 hours ago, it looked like the Twins had made room for him by shipping off Span for sorely needed pitching; inducing a passing of the torch in center field.

But then of course Morosi had to come in and pour a bucket of water all over the figurative torch. The Twins may not see Revere as the heir to Kirby Puckett's throne. Before he even gets a chance to seize the position, Revere could be on the way out. Here's the thing: I'm confident this is the right decision.

(click the jump!)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The 'Adios Denard Span' Podcast

Andy and I chat about the implications of the Denard Span trade. You'll notice our Skype connection led to a couple interruptions, we apologize for that; however, luckily for you, the recording sounds excellent and came in at just over 20 minutes.



Podcast Powered By Podbean

You can check out the podcast page for download right here. And make sure to subscribe on iTunes (right lower side of the page).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Podcast Options

Up until now, you've had to stay on the site hear our podcast; but starting now, you can take us on the road. We're moving our podcasts over to http://pitchersduel.podbean.com/ where you can stream, download or subscribe through RSS or iTunes (both options on the right hand side of the page).

As of this moment, only our first podcast is up, in which we discussed a few free agents. That one was actually for a school project for Andy and it was our first shot, so it might sound a little more formal than the mood I anticipate for future episodes. Our second podcast, in which we discussed pitching options in the market, will be available later this afternoon/night. And a little sneak preview, we're planning on rolling out PD Pod #3 later tonight, reacting to Denard Span trade.

Have a great day, y'all

EDIT: For now, we'll keep posting the podcast episodes here along with a link to our podbean site.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Interesting Non-Tenders

Midnight tonight, the final day of November, is the last chance for teams to tender contracts to eligible players. Eligibility is based on service time and generally includes any players with less than 6 years in the major leagues.

Leading up to midnight, news will be coming in regarding team's decisions on these players, many of whom are very interesting. Be it injuries or unrealistic salary expectations, there are going to be a lot of players with bright futures ahead of them searching for jobs. Because I'm cooped up in the library tonight, I'll periodically check in and comment on noteworthy transactions and analyze how some of these players could help the Twins (or any team). Players below the page break:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pitchers Duel Podcast Episode 2


video
In episode two of the Pitcher's Duel podcast, Nils and Andy tackle topics regarding pitcher and where it is best to find it.  Also, the Twins idea of developing pitching will be discussed and their outfield situation.

Enjoy!

If you have any ideas or comments please send them our way via Twitter @pitchers_duel

Friday, November 16, 2012

AL MVP

by Andy Johnson


Now, I vowed to stop talking about the American League Most Valuable Player race once the vote was decided and we all know, the less deserving candidate, Miguel Cabrera won.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marlins Firesale

Pending Ricky Nolasco's inevitable (I say this only somewhat sarcastically) departure, the Miami Marlins have shed every significant contract on their roster over the past six months. I thought it might be interesting to see who was lost and who was gain in this period.

Departures
Hanley Ramirez
Randy Choate
Anibal Sanchez
Omar Infante
Edward Mujica
Gaby Sanchez
*competitive balance draft pick*
Josh Johnson
Jose Reyes
Mark Buehrle
Emilio Bonifacio
John Buck


Arrivals
Nathan Eovaldi
Scott McHough
Zack Cox
Kyle Kaminska
Gorkys Hernandez
Jacob Turner
Rob Brantly
Brian Flynn
Yunel Escobar
Adeiny Hechavarria
Henderson Alvarez
Justin Nicolino
Jake Marisnick
Jeff Mathis
Anthony DeSciafani


Mathis and Escobar are the only two players with significant major league time. Eovaldi, Cox, Turner, Hernandez and Marisnick have all been Baseball America top 100 prospects at one point or another and Just Nicolino will likely be top 100 in 2013.

In summation, the Marlins' arrivals are super young and super cheap. There is a universe where the Marlins just built themselves a solid young core to complement Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison. Unfortunately for new manager Mike Redmond, this is probably not that universe.



*In the middle of all this, Miam traded Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen for Carlos Lee. Try to figure that out.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pitcher's Duel Podcast Ep. 1

video

This is episode 1 of the Pitcher's Duel podcast.  In this episode we'll be talking about three free agents (Melky Cabrera, Kyle Lohse and Josh Hamilton).

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment or what you would like us to discuss in the next episode via Twitter (@pitchers_duel).  Probably starting over winter break, we will try to do a weekly show or possibly every other week.

Enjoy!

-Nils and Andy

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Unique is 'The Freak'?

Among the fallout from the Giants Championship run is the question of Tim Lincecum's role. In the past he's been an elite starter, though with his considerable struggles in 2012 Bruce Bochy shifted him to the bullpen for the playoffs. The role Bochy (I'd argue smartly) inserted Lincecum into was as unconventional as the pitcher himself: he averaged about 2.2 innings per appearance and never finished a game.

'The Freak', as Lincecum is affectionately known, flourished in the role striking out 17 while surrendering 3 hits and 2 walks in 13 innings, leading many to wonder if he was destined for a 'super-relief' role. In a nutshell, the role requires multiple mid-game innings to form a bridge from starter to closer. The appeal is obvious in that a team can save their other relievers without sacrificing quality.

The idea of multi-inning relievers is not a new one. The first relievers were often expected to finish a game no matter how many innings it took. Over time the bullpen has become more and more specialized culminating in the 2011 World Series in which Tony La Russa (expertly) seemed to make a pitching change for each batter. The merits of each strategy can be debated, but the point is pitchers have been used in this way before.

For me, the question isn't so much will Lincecum stay in this new niche or head back to the rotation (my inkling is that he will at least start 2013 in the rotation), but will this assignment be able to catch on elsewhere in the league?

Some might suggest, correctly, that Lincecum is a once-in-a-generation pitcher. They may go on to suggest, I believe incorrectly, that only he could pull off a 'super-relief' specialization that would require 50-60 appearances and 140-160 innings a season.

As a pitcher, Timmy as unique as it gets. He's the size of an average high school freshman boy, pitches from 12 o'clock and still has a powerful arsenal and seemingly unlimited durability. The new niche he's carved out over the past month accentuates these skills so perfectly that it creates the illusion that nobody else could perform it.

I'm here to suggest that's untrue and generally counterproductive. Each year very good pitching prospects are relegated to work one inning at a time after they don't succeed in the rotation. A couple examples that come to mind are Joba Chamberlain, Glen Perkins and Brian Matusz. The extent of their success in relief work varies, however two things are evident about this breed of pitcher, with the caveat of assuming full health, 1) They have electric stuff and 2) were at least supposed to be handle in the neighborhood of 200 innings.

To me, the natural progression from starter to reliever should go through the middle ground of 'super-reliever'. I wouldn't designate each failed starter to the role, only those with the ability or at least potential to dominate. Given the opportunity of ~150 innings this pitcher could be the most important cog in a teams bullpen.

Quickly, I'd like to make the distinction between the mop-up role from 'super-relief'. Mop-up work is usually reserved for blow outs, while 'super-relief' is for high-leverage innings. Ideally, this is a guy you could feel comfortable plugging in for 6th, 7th and 8th in a 6-5 game, instead of using one-third of your bullpen.

Given the potential benefits of getting roughly 150 high-quality innings, saving other top relievers and replacing lower-quality middle relievers, the upside should be obvious.

Despite this, there will be many doubters with legitimate questions. One I recently heard was "how will you convince a pitcher to take on such an ill-defined role?"I'm of the mind that a player will do anything to find a spot on a major league club and, just like any other career, the environment is bound to be dynamic (even with the glacial pace of the baseball industry) meaning that a player will adjust. Second is "can a pitcher handle such a workload?", this I'm not as sure about. The role wouldn't require pitching every day or 300 innings, but it's still new territory. So I'd say we won't know until we try it. Rollie Fingers went 120+ innings in a season multiple times, surviving in the league until he was 38. Granted, it's a different game with different levels of stresses, however, I think it's very feasible for today's pitchers to do as well.

'The Freak' will likely be back in his spot as a starter next season, but I hope to see somebody else pickup the reigns and resuscitate 'super-relief'. I wrote this article with Blue Jays prospect Marcus Stroman in mind, but Chris Reed and Alexi Ogando also seem to have what it would take. I'm hoping each team will not dismiss Bochy's and Lincecum's flash of brilliance and employ their own 'super-relievers' making that role as ingrained in a bullpen as the closer has become.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Reaction to Twins New Coaches


Reaction to Twins New Coaches

Today the Minnesota Twins announced they have filled their three coaching vacancies.  This is a subject that hits home because it has to do with a former coach and friend of mine.  

The Twins hired Terry Steinbach to take over as bench coach on Ron Gardenhire’s on-field staff.  This is Steinbach’s first experience as a professional coach but after knowing Terry for many years, this is a great hire for the Twins.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Detroit Starters in the ALCS

I don't know whether to credit the Tigers pitching or thrash the Yankees hitting, but for now, I'll present you with this:

27.1  Innings Pitched
2       Run Allowed
14     Hits Allowed
9       Walks
25     Strikeouts

That's an average line of 6.1 innings, 0.5 runs, 3.5 hits, 2.25 walks and 6.25 k's per start.

I really just wanted to see that written out.

Pitcher Profiles: Scott Diamond

In a season with few positive notes for the Minnesota Twins, one had to be Scott Diamond's breakout. On April 6th, Diamond was barely an afterthought; he had been selected in the previous year's Rule V draft and stashed in AAA where he failed to impress anybody, pitching himself to a 4-14 record with a 5.56 ERA in 2011.

By May 8th, Diamond had generated some buzz, starting 6 games and allowing just 12 runs in his third season in AAA. His first major league start was a resounding success as he pitched 7 scoreless innings. The rest of 2012 went much the same way, Diamond became the Twins most reliable starter. Wait, that's barely a compliment given the Twins' rotation options, let me rephrase that. Diamond became an above average starter in the American League.

Diamond's success comes with plenty of questions though. For one, how did he do that? Another, what do we know about the pitcher himself? And lastly, what can we expect out of him in the future?

The Numbers

The easiest entryway into this case study is to look at what Diamond accomplished in 2012. He started 27 games netting 173 innings (207.2 including AAA time). In that time, the Canadian lasted at least five innings in all but one start. Diamond recorded a 3.54 ERA, well below the league average of 4.08. His FIP (3.94) and xFIP (3.93) tell slightly stories, though still impressive.

These numbers reflect a few very good underlying skills, namely his control and groundball ability. Diamond led the American League yielding 1.6 unintentional walks per game and never allowing more than 3 in any outing. On top of that, Scott was able to induce 53.4% groundballs when the ball was put in play. For context, that's tenth in all of baseball.

Diamond was able to translate these two elite (and very Twins-pitcher-like) skills into a nice season, despite a 4.7 SO/9 rate (2nd worst in the AL). Few pitchers, if any, are able to have sustainable success with such low K-rates, so his ability to miss bats going forward will be something to watch.

Interestingly, the statistics that are often correlated with luck don't discout Diamond's success in 2012. His babip, .292 is not out of line, especially for a ground ball pitcher and his HR/FB percentage of 11.4 is also right about average as is his strand rate (73.3%). These data suggest Diamond's breakout isn't a total mirage. The extent to which he regresses will be largely a function of his striking out a few more and continuing to avoid giving up free passes.

The Repertoire (almost all data from BrooksBaseball.net, great resource)

  • Four-seam fastball (90.00 mph)
  • Slider (81.99 mph)
  • Changeup (84.35 mph)
Scott Diamond relied heavily on his fastball in 2012, throwing it 60% of the time. The pitch rarely got any swings-and-misses (2.79%) but resulted in groundballs 13.42% of the time and was located well as only 36.07% of them went for balls. 

Diamond's slider was primarily an out pitch, used mostly when he was in the count. Surprisingly, the slider was also a deadly accurate weapon, only 28.43% of them resulted in balls. Not so surprising is that the slider produced the most whiffs of any of his pitches (15.05%).

The change-up was used almost exclusively against righties, about 16% in those situations, and only five times all year versus a lefty. The pitch yielded more whiffs than his fastball but didn't get as many grounders. All this leads me to believe that his change-up is more a "show-me" pitch than anything else.

When put all together, Diamond's repertoire is pretty simple: a two pitch mix against lefties and three against right-handed hitters.

A lot of Diamonds success comes from his ability to pound the lower, inside half of the strike zone (as shown below) resulting in a lot of groundballs.

  

Interestingly, Diamond's fastball actually ticked upwards from 2011 to 2012. He gained about 0.5 mph on his fastball and 1.5 mph on his slider. There are many possible reasons for the uptick: weather or increased stamina and strength to name a few. These are all likely causes of the uptick, however, they cannot be measured. Of factors that can be measured I found one interesting change from 2011 to 2012: his arm angle.


As seen in the chart below, Diamond lowered his arm angle (roughly 3-4" out and 2-3"down). 






My initial feeling on this was a bit of confusion. Usually pitchers with lower arm angles don't throw as hard, at least that's my perception. I e-mailed Andy about his thoughts on the change and corroborated my belief that the change would add movement to his slider, but he also had some other enlightening idas on the subject. Particularly, that lowering the arm angle could free up his motion and actually add velocity to his pitches.

With this knowledge, it's a little easier to accept that Diamond has truly "broken out" to some degree.  Under the basis of changed mechanics, more velocity and increased control, Diamond was able to change (or enhance) his skills as a pitcher

The Future

Predicting the future of a pitcher is impossible, but given what we do know, we can make a fairly good guess. Diamond's basic skills of control and ability to get groundballs are likely here to stay, however, his inability of striking out batters is very troubling and will absolutely limit his upside.

In fact, I think we saw Diamond's upside in 2012. That isn't to disparage his future, Diamond was very good for the Twins last season and could have been #2 or #3 starter on many teams. It is likely that Diamond will regress towards a league average 4.00 ERA predicted by FIP, xFIP and SIERA (all ERA estimators).

Sadly enough for the Twins, a league average pitcher could be their ace in 2013 given the current outlook, making Scott Diamond an invaluable piece to puzzle. However, nobody should expect him to make significant strides from the success of his first full season.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Baseball Prospectus Scouting Scale


Recently I have been reading both Baseball Prospectus books (Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong and Extra Innings) and I came across the scouting chapter and I thought, I wonder what are some examples of players who fit these grades?  Well, some are quite obvious but it's pretty neat to see who's "average." What I find even more interesting is how some of these "average" players make mega bucks, such as Michael Cuddyer.  Grades can change as I'm sure these grades will not be the same next year for some or many of these players.  I couldn't find any speeds to first base but I can tell you one thing, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton is a definite 80 on the runnings scale according to Keith Law who saw him in the AFL recently.  

One last note, many showcases for high school and college players feature a 60-yard dash.  The Major League average 60 is 6.9 seconds, just incase you are wondering.


Fastball Velocity
Velocity



Grade
97+ mph
80: Elite (Aroldis Chapman)
94-96 mph   
70: Well above average (Stephen Strasburg)
92-94 mph
60: Above average (CC Sabathia)
89-91 mph
50: Average (Wade Miley)
87-89 mph
40: Below average (Jered Weaver)
85-87 mph
30: Well below average (Randy Choate)
82-84 mph
20: Poor (Jamie Moyer)


Hit-Tool and Major League Expectations
Grade
Batting AVG at MLB Level
80: Elite
.320-plus; perennial batting title contender (Joe Mauer)
70: Well above average  
.300-.320 (Derek Jeter)
60: Above average
.285-.300 (Adrian Gonzalez)
50: Average
.270-.285 (Michael Cuddyer)
40: Below average
.250-.270 (Jay Bruce)
30: Well below average
.225-.250 (Mark Reynolds)
20: Poor
Up to .225 (Brendan Ryan)
 
Batting Grades and Home Run Expectations
Grade
Home Runs at MLB Level
80: Elite
39-plus (Jose Batista)
70: Well above average  
32-38 (David Ortiz)
60: Above average
25-32 (David Wright)
50: Average
17-25 (Robinson Cano)
40: Below average
11-17 (Rafael Furcal)
30: Well below average
5-11 (Starlin Castro)
20: Poor
Up to 5 (Juan Pierre)
 

Speed and Grade Correlation
Speed (Left/Right)
Grade
3.9 (L)/ 4.0 (R)
80: Elite
4.0 (L)/ 4.1(R)
70: Well above average
4.1 (L)/ 4.2(R)
60: Above Average
4.2 (L)/ 4.3(R)
50: Average
4.3 (L)/ 4.4 (R)
40: Below Average
4.4 (L)/ 4.5 (R)
30: Well Below Average
4.5 (L)/ 4.6 (R)
20: Poor


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Twins in the AFL

Andy highlighted a couple Twins' and Diamondbacks' players participating in the this years' Arizona Fall League the other day. He's pretty geeked about the AFL opener today and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I checked out the night's box scores and decided I should contribute a bit on some of the Twins' guys on the Peoria Javelinas, in case there's any interest in following along.

A quick disclaimer: I'm obviously not a scout and I've only seen one of these guys live (Nate Roberts in Beloit this year) so my opinions are pretty much an amalgamation of reading others' reports and following the box scores religiously (admittedly not a good measure of prospect status).

I'll start with Logan Darnell. Logan was drafted in the sixth round in 2010 out of the University of Kentucky. He's a big, physical lefty with (as I recall) a heavy low-90's fastball and some fringy breaking stuff. Darnell has stalled out a bit in New Britain (AA), so his trip to AZ is likely a tryout for his future with the club. He's a candidate to work at the back end of Rochester's starting rotation in 2013, but I wouldn't count on seeing him up in the majors anytime soon.

Caleb Thielbar has one of the better stories in the Twins' system. Growing up in Northfield, Minnesota he played his college ball at South Dakota State U. Thielbar was drafted into the Brewers' system, but he didn't catch on and found himself back in Minnesota playing for the St Paul Saints in Indy ball to start the 2011 season. Caleb impressed the Twins enough to get a late-season shot with Fort Myers. His three game tryout was enough to convince the Twins to bring him back for 2012 and I'm sure they're happy they did. Thielbar worked his way from Hi-A Ft. Myers to AAA Rochester, putting up impressive strikeout and walk numbers the whole way up. His stuff won't make him a relief ace, but he could be a nice piece in the Twins' bullpen as early as 2013.

Michael Tonkin is another reliever in the Twins' system, but has had a much different journey than Thielbar. Tonkin is a very hard throwing righty standing 6'7". Many around the Twins' blogosphere predicted big things for him in 2012, potentially following the Thielbar track of Hi-A ball to AAA ball. However, while he did dominate both the Midwest (Lo-A) and Florida State (Hi-A) leagues, he didn't move as fast as some may have hoped. Now that he has proven himself ready for the upper minors, 2013 could be the year we see him at Target Field. He has quite a way to go, but he's  entering his sixth year in the organization and will have to put-up or shut-up very soon. This fall could be a springboard to a 2013 mid-season look in the majors.

Evan Bigley has been a polarizing prospect in the Twins' system. I vaguely remember the Twins' front office heaping praise on him this spring and he's hit throughout the minors. To me, he doesn't feel like much of a prospect at all, there's a chance he could begin the 2013 season as a dreaded #26inAA player and is stuck in the corner outfield positions with a marginal bat. I would peg Bigley as an organizational depth player for now, not that there's anything wrong with that. All that said, I also wouldn't be surprised if he went out to Arizona and put up some impressive numbers. A big showing shouldn't change our opinion on him.

Now, for the one guy I actually saw this season! Nate Roberts is a 23 year old outfielder who has spent the last two years in Beloit. On the surface, Roberts doesn't appear to be much of a prospect. However, when the pieces are put together he profiles extremely well as fourth or fifth outfielder on the big league club. He's speedy, can cover all three outfield positions, hits for a decent average and has great plate discipline. I don't see him getting a shot in 2013 or even 2014, but by about 2015 he could be a Darin Mastroianni replacement. Obviously he has a looooong way to go, but he is somebody who could contribute and the team is clearly trying to find out what they have in him this fall.

Quickly, I'll touch on the two guys who Andy wrote about from the Twins' system. Chris Herrmann, catcher, has a good shot at being the third catcher on the Twins as early as next season. Matt Eddy of Baseball America wrote that he could have a long career as a backup catcher who could step up when necessary. Apparently his defense has improved to an acceptable level and shows solid offensive approach and good pop. Eddy compared him to George Kottaras of the Oakland A's. Kyle Gibson is the guy that all Twins' fans will have their eye on this fall. Returning from TJ-surgery, he worked his way up to AAA this year, striking out 10 and walking just 1 in 6.2 innings. With the big league club's lack in starting pitching, there's a good chance he'll see time in the bigs in early 2013. Gibson is in the AFL to get a few innings (he only saw 28.1 innings of action in 2012) and give Minnesota's scouts and coaches a better look at what they'll be seeing come 2013.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Arizona Fall League


It’s that time of the baseball year again.  For many, the season is coming to an end as the playoffs go on but for prospect lovers, the Arizona Fall League provides another 30 games to follow.

As a Twins/D-backs follower, I thought I’d touch on a couple players each team sent to the AFL.

Diamondbacks (Salt River Rafters)
-Evan Marshall: This is a guy who I think could contribute for the Diamondbacks as soon as early next season.  He spent all season in Double-A and posted a solid 3.51 ERA.  He was a reliever in college at Kansas State so he is used to the role.  I don’t think he’ll be a closer like he was in the minors but he could be a solid lefty specialist and get a few righties out as well.  In 48.2 innings he only struck out 27 and walked 16 which isn’t promising but maybe some more experience can get that ratio better.

-Matt Davidson:  After being drafted by the D-backs in the 35th overall as a third baseman (he was actually the second high school third baseman selected by Arizona in the 2009 draft after Bobby Borchering, who was dealt to Houston after his stock in the system dropped) he has made his way across the diamond and has put up solid power numbers.  Like many other hitters who have made their way through the Arizona system, Davidson strikes out at a rate nobody would like to see but he draws his walks and can put the ball in the gap and over the fence.  In the AFL he’s going to put up stellar numbers because the stats are so inflated but it’ll be cool to see how his swing matches up against above-average arms.  And we’ll see if he can keep the hitch in his swing.

Twins (Peoria Javelinas) 
-Kyle Gibson: For Twins fans, this is a guy you may want to follow throughout the spring.  After Tommy John Surgery, Gibson is on his way to Minnesota.  In 2011 he probably would have gotten a September call up but instead he found himself on the operating table.  He was able to throw 28.1 innings across three minor league levels and he showed good control as he had a 33:6 K/BB ratio.  Granted he was facing inferior competition in the GCL and the Florida State League, the AFL will be a great test of not just talent, but health.  Gibson could fill a rotation spot out of spring training but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start the year in the minors to get more innings under his belt.

-Chris Herrmann: As far as the Twins position player prospects, there isn’t one who gets me really excited.  But Herrmann did get time with the big league team in September so he must be an alright player.  He caught and played some outfield for the Twins so he could be a more valuable (and less expensive) player on their bench than a guy who can’t hit (cough Drew Butera cough).  As far as power goes, there might not be much but throughout the minors he has always had a solid OBP and as long as he can catch, I think he’ll be OK.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Adapting Expectations: Final Tally

I've been harping on how different the run environment is this season for a few months now. It's important in valuing a player's contribution to the game. The primary shift has been towards pitching, making it seem like more pitchers are performing well while hitters are struggling. Here's an easy chart of major statistics to see how some player might stack up.

Hitting                AL               NL              MLB
AVG 0.255 0.254 0.255
OBP 320 0.318 0.319
SLG 0.411 0.4 0.405
OPS 0.731 0.718 0.724
K% (100*K/PA) 19.30 20.20 19.78
BB% (100*BB/PA) 8.01 7.97 7.99
Pitching                  AL                 NL              MLB
SO/9 7.4 7.7 7.6
BB/9 3 3.1 3.1
SO/BB 2.45 2.5 2.48
HR/9 1.1 1 1
H/9 8.7 8.7 8.7
WHIP 1.308 1.311 1.309
ERA 4.08 3.94 4.01
R/G 4.4 4.26 4.32

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mr. Bremer, How Wild Is Your Imagination?

As the freshly self-appointed ombudsmen of the entire internet, I have one question for Twins' play-by-play voice Dick Bremer: How do you suppose no team from the AL to reach the World Series?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dude, This Is Infuriating

Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire talked to season tickets the other day about the team and the future. Via TwinsDaily.com, I saw this question then answer from Gardy:
-What has been the most frustrating thing about this season?
Ron Gardenhire (RG): Some of the fundamentals haven't been there like getting bunts down and hitting the cutoff man. The Twins take pride in those things and it isn't showing up on the field. Coaches continue to work hard with the players in practice but the results haven't been showing up on the field.
Okay, so getting bunts down and hitting the cutoff man is really the most frustrating part of the season? I've watched probably 75% of Twins games this year and I can say neither has been a legitimate issue. All told, mistakes of this kind have maybe blown one or two games at most.

This is exactly the kind of thoughtless, mind-numbing answers that have been spewing from Gardy's goateed mouth for the las decade. I recognize he can't tear into his starting pitchers or front office, but all I ask is that he at least says something of value. In fact, I really don't remember the last time he said anything even remotely interesting.

Overall, Ron is probably a fine manager and I won't be calling for his head anytime soon. However, it would be really really nice if he didn't treat the fans like imbeciles with every answer he gives. And how about you take pride in winning, not bunting.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Soul Patrol 2.0


Remember the early aughts when the Twins won back-to-back AL Central Division Championships?  I sure do.  It was an exciting time watching the Twins win the ALDS against the Oakland A’s in 2002 (and even more fun watching them win in the movie Moneyball).

In 2003, the Twins sent OF Bobby Kielty to Toronto for Shannon Stewart which gave us an outfield of Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart.  They called themselves the Soul Patrol and had t-shirts made to unite the brotherhood (I have proof after talking with former-Twin Josh Rabe).

Nils brought up the point about how in the future we could have another Soul Patrol and this time without a dome over our heads and grass under out feet.

Here are four guys who could possibly be apart of Soul Patrol 2.0.

-Denard Span: He’s the candidate who most likely won’t be apart of this group.  He has been rumored in trades and to have payroll flexibility and bring in some pitching, Terry Ryan could easily move him this winter.  

-Ben Revere: Ben is still under team control for many seasons and he has done just fine in his first real full season.  He has a 2.7 (according to FanGraphs) WAR with just a few games remaining in 2012 and he can play all three outfield spots.

-Aaron Hicks: After being drafted 14th overall in 2008, Hicks has finally put together a season in which he showed he might be ready for the Show.  In AA New Britain, He played in 129 games and hit .286 with an outstanding .384 OBP.  He can steal some bases (74 percent) and has some gap power (21 doubles, 11 triples and 13 homers).  He could be Span’s replacement in center until...

-Bryon Buxton: ...until Buxton makes his way to Target Field.  This won’t be for another few years (unless the planets align and the the angels sing) but after being drafted just this season, Baseball America has him ranked as the number one prospect in both the Appy League and GCL.  He could be a five-tool guy and bring the excitement back to Minnesota baseball.

Having any mix of these four in the spacious outfield of Target Field would be fun to watch and it would be even better if they had Soul Patrol t-shirts.

(Note: They are called Soul Patrol because all are African-American, if you didn’t know...)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acronym Battle: What WAR says about the MVP

Now that the 2012 baseball season is in its final stages and only pockets of drama remain in the wild-card races, there's really only one debate that's taking over the national stage. The debate is controversial, as it fuels the fire of a decade long rift between stats and, well, stats. One side has put their eggs in the classical basket consisting of batting average, home runs and runs batted in. The other in a pail of VORP, WARP and DRS. It's a battle of faith versus science, subjectivity versus objectivity, Scooby-Doo versus... nevermind.

Anyway, everyone has an opinion on the matter. From my point of view, the subject nearly reflects political party affiliations in its stubbornness and entrenchment. I talked to my roommate the other day who is a Tigers fan, and he was kind of offended by my assertion that Mike Trout has been more valuable than Miguel Cabrera. How could I say that when Cabrera is a mere home run away from the hallowed Triple Crown! In response, I could ask how he could say that when Trout was blowing everyone away in WAR, for God's sake he's 3.9 WAR above Cabrera! I didn't say that. It would have been counterproductive, instead I tried to appeal to the basic arguments of how he was blatantly ignoring defense and base-running, in addition to pointing out that Trout wasn't that far off with the bat either.

That argument brought me to the conclusion that it's counterproductive to argue either side. I appreciate the zealots of sabermetrics, but my interest in defending advanced stats to an average Joe is about two steps below complete apathy.

All that to say this: I'm not writing this to say anyone is 100% wrong and this is why. No, I'm writing this mostly because I'm intrigued by the topic. "What topic?" you might ask? Well, I wanted to know how many times a player had been this far behind in WAR (Cabrera is currently 3.9 WAR behind Trout) and still won the MVP vote. In history, which players have been the biggest snubs, using WAR as the arbiter?

To answer these questions I broke out an excel spreadsheet and fired up baseball-reference (truly the greatest thing ever) and got to work. I found the WAR leader in each league dating back to 1950 and subtracted the WAR of that league's MVP, to find the difference. (At this point, you're probably tuned out unless you know what WAR actually is. If not, check out this link!)

After some of the most monotonous data entry of my life, I finished the spreadsheet and got some answers. It was too much work not to share, so here I am presenting the data and some observations. In beautiful bullet point fashion! Because I am a lazy and incompetent writer!

  • To answer the big question: 19 out of the 125 MVPs since 1950 (one co-MVP) have been at least 3.9 or more WAR behind the league leader. 
  • Only one case of snubbery worse than the potential Trout-snub this season have taken place in the past 15 seasons. Speaking of that case...
  • The most recent case was in 2000, when Jason Giambi (7.4 WAR) beat out Pedro Martinez (11.4 WAR).
  • Interestingly, 10 of the 19 cases of snubbery have victimized pitchers. This reflects the hesitance of the voters for handing MVP awards to non-hitters.
  • However, this hesitance somehow didn't stop the voters from giving reliever Dennis Eckersley the MVP when he accrued just 2.8 wins.
  • Even still, the worst example is Willie Stargell's co-MVP when he contributed just 2.3 wins. One assumes the award was as much a career achievement as anything. He had a stellar career (see what I did there!)
  • The AL MVP is, on average, 2.108 wins below the WAR league leader.
  • The NL MVP is, on average, 1.905 wins below the WAR league leader.
  • This discrepancy is ok with me, as the error bars on WAR are considerable. To be sure, most estimates would say these numbers are outside the error bars. I just don't personally hold voters of the 50's, 60's and 70's to the same standards.
  • I'd like to point out the voters got the MVP "right" 31 out of 125 chances. Including 11 times in this, the 21st century.
  • Given that last point contrasted against the very first, the smart money has to be on Mike Trout, as it appears the voters are boarding the saber-train.
I still have this sweet spreadsheet, so I'll probably try to stretch another post or two out of it. But in the meantime, I think we found some pretty interesting factoids, eh?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Groundball King

Today Baseball Prospectus announced they added Pitch F/X leaderboards. That's pretty awesome. Anyway, I was fooling around with them and found this:



First of all, this along with his disdain for walks are the major reasons why Diamond has been successful this season. When a pitcher gets a ton of groundballs, double plays are a major factor and damage is generally muted as any hit more than a single is rare. So he's able to put up some decent starts besides not being an incredibly impressive pitcher.

Even further on the extreme lies Samuel Deduno. The man who strikes out as many as he walks and yet post a league average ERA. I can't think of any other outlier this pronounced in baseball right now and am skeptical if this is even remotely sustainable. However, it is something to look out for and be cognizant of as you watch him pitch.

Mauer Goes for a Fourth Title

Tonight Joe Mauer knocked three base hits and collected a couple walks along the way. This marked his 20th game with at least 3 hits on the season. It also brought his batting average up to .325. The American League leader after the days games will be Miguel Cabrera at .333. A strong finish and Mauer could have his fourth batting title.

Here's a little perspective to give this conversation some weight. At age 23 Mauer became the first American League catcher ever to win a batting title. Over the next three years he won two more, becoming the first catcher in Major League history to win more than two. I cannot overstate how impressive it is for a player to have three (three!!!) batting titles before turning 27. The next season the hometown kid hit .327 - placing third in the American League and adding onto one of the most impressive starts to a career of all time. Unfortunately, last season the run came to an abrupt halt missing much of the season and playing as a shell of his former self in the remainder. 

The mixture of a disappointing 2011 and hangover from the lost promises of his prodigious power from 2009 led many to wonder if he just didn't have it anymore. Even my favorite annual painted a grim picture for his future citing injuries and an inevitable move from behind the plate, with no mention of his demonstrably special hitting ability. I can't blame them, it had been two years since he'd really dominated and everything that could go wrong, did in 2011. Going into 2012, anybody would have been happy if he could simply stick behind the plate and provide just average production.

Half way through May, 40 games into the season, the critics looked to be spot on. Mauer hit only .275 and knocked just one home run. The slow start essentially confirmed the position that Mauer was solidly in the decline phase, supporting the idea that he caught too many games and wore out his long limbs.

However, since May 19th, Mauer has been sneaking his way back into the race for the AL batting title hitting .340 over that span (with a much improved .487 slugging pct.). He's been red hot in September, going 18-38 (.474 avg.) bringing back his average up to .325. Even if Joe falls short of the hardware, he's shown everyone he's not to be forgotten that easily. 

Tonight Mauer is in the top 3 in batting average behind the always solid Miguel Cabrera and the slumping Mike Trout (To say Trout is in a slump is to say he's been hitting in the .280's since the beginning of August, it's all relative.). I think Trout, the inevitable MVP, will fall behind Mauer and then it's up to Joe to pass Cabrera. Interestingly, the Mauer vs. Cabrera race is now in its third incarnation as both have finished top 4 in the same season twice since Miguel came to the AL Central in 2008.

Regardless of the outcome, the next two weeks should be, at the very least, fascinating to follow as Cabrera looks to win his third straight title, Mauer looks to rebound for the fourth of his career and Mike Trout tries to surge to cap an amazing season. We can't discount the dark horse candidates like Derek Jeter, Adrian Beltre, David Murphy or Billy Butler either, as there's still over two weeks remaining. 

And for Twins fans, not only do they have something to actually root for over in September, they'll have a player to celebrate for years to come.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Suggested Reading

I don't usually do this, in fact I've never done this, but there's an article you need to read. Link:

Strasburg/Pitch Counts

The article is a Grantland piece by Rany Jazayerli about Stephen Strasburg's recent shutdown. Now, the internet is over-saturated with Strasburg material and I'm beyond sick of reading about him, to the point where I've been ignoring even my favorite analysts opinion on the matter. However, this is one of the few that I would suggest are really worth reading.

Rany has been one of the most innovative baseball minds around for more than a dozen years, developing forward ideas on pitcher use and the draft. This article is no different as Rany brings new data to the conversation examining how better off pitchers are now than they were just fifteen years ago (or ten years ago in the Cubs case).

The article is about more than just Strasburg, you won't read any cliched quotes from the manager or conspiracy theories about Scott Boras. What you will find is a well thought out and researched piece on the general state of pitcher health today. Rany then applies the discussion to Strasburg's situation masterfully.

Anyway, it's a long article, but well worth the twenty minutes if you have it. I promise it will be the best thing you read all week.

Have a good night.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Adapting Expectations: K/BB

In sabermetric circles, the ratio of strikeouts to walks is the key characteristic of a successful pitcher. The idea is that pitchers can essentially control three things: strikeouts, walks and ground balls. The ability to control batted balls (i.e. HR/FB or BABIP) is a common debate right now and not usually considered with the same reverence as the holy K/BB ratio.

As long I can remember, and I started really getting into baseball about 2005, the bench mark for a league average ratio has been 2.00. Anything below two, and the saber community would be skeptical of a pitchers ability to miss bats and keep runners off base. Anything above two, and that pitcher would have the confidence of the community. Of course, there are caveats and examples of cases where this doesn't hold, but generally it worked quite well as a measuring stick.

Nearing the end of 2012 however, the numbers tell a different story. The league average K/BB ratio has climbed over 22% in just three years - going from 2.02 in 2009 up to 2.47 in the current season. Clearly, something significant has happened. Here's the K/BB data over the past ten seasons (thanks to Baseball-Reference.com) :

  Year         AL              NL           MLB         
2012 2.46 2.48 2.47
2011 2.25 2.33 2.3
2010 2.11 2.23 2.17
2009 2.03 2.02 2.02
2008 2 2.03 2.01
2007 2 2 2
2006 2.02 1.98 2
2005 2.04 1.99 2.02
2004 1.93 1.99 1.96
2003 1.93 1.94 1.94

I think by now, we all know that baseball's environment is quite different from ten years ago. However, I am suggesting that as a whole, expectations and reactions to results have not been adjusted adequately.

After finding these data, I thought the numbers may have been affected by the increased use by relievers. However, this is not the case, as starting pitchers have posted a superior ratio (2.51 K/BB) to that of relievers (2.41) this season.

In summary, as ERA's have gone down, strikeouts have increased and walks have gone down, we need to adjust not only our concept of the statistics themselves but they're impact on the baselines that are generally accepted.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Raising Aces

I think about baseball a lot, we all do (right?). I especially think about baseball when daydreaming. I daydream a lot when I'm in class. I had a lot of class today. Ergo, I thought about baseball a lot today. Especially pitchers. Pitchers are a funky, curious bunch (just ask Andy) so there's plenty to think about. My train of thought led me to thinking about which teams developed the most ace level starting pitchers. It could be interesting to see which teams are having the most success with high level talent and where it generally comes from. However, there are a few logistical problems.

Logistical problems

First off, I'm guessing something similar to this has already been done and done better than my attempt. But I really don't have the time to look for it and I want to try it myself.

Secondly, 'ace' isn't an easy label to put on a hurler. Some may say all #1's are aces, others would suggest there are only a handful in the league at any given time. For the purpose of this 'study', we'll say there are a dozen 'aces' at any given time. Mostly because I like writing dozen, but also because it presents a manageable but large enough sample to draw from.

Thirdly, I'll only look at the last decade. Much like 'dozen' I like saying decade more than other numbers of years. But it also works well as it will be a more accurate representation of the current regimes in baseball.

Fourthly(?), this is not a scientific study. There will be no method, just madness.

The Madness

Starting off, this is a list of the top dozen pitchers in baseball each year for the last decade by bWAR. I'm not including 2012, as it's in progress, so sorry Nationals. And sorry to you, because this looks ugly.

-2011                        -2010                     -2009                    -2008                      -2007
Roy Halladay           Roy Halladay        Zack Greinke       Tim Lincecum         Roy Oswalt
Cliff Lee                   Ubaldo Jimenez    Tim Lincecum      Johan Santana         Josh Beckett
Justin Verlander       Felix Hernandez    Roy Halladay       Ryan Dempster       Brandon Webb
CC Sabathia             Josh Johnson         Josh Johnson        Cliff Lee                 John Lackey
Jered Weaver           Adam Wainwright  Chris Carpenter   CC Sabathia           CC Sabathia
Clayton Kershaw     Roy Oswalt           Dan Haren            John Danks            Mark Buehrle
Cole Hamels            Tim Hudson          Jair Jurrjens           Roy Halladay    Roberto Hernandez
Ricky Romero          Clay Buchholz       Adam Wainwright    Dan Haren          Jake Peavy
Josh Beckett            Clayton Kershaw  Matt Cain               Jon Lester              Javier Vazquez
Doug Fister              Cole Hamels         Jon Lester              Rich Harden          Aaron Harang
Ian Kennedy            John Danks           CC Sabathia          Brandon Webb       Brad Penny
James Shields          Jon Lester              Javier Vazquez      Daisuke Matsuzaka  Erik Bedard

-2006                      -2005                   -2004                  -2003                    -2002
Johan Santana        Roger Clemens    Johan Santana     Pedro Martinez     Randy Johnson
Brandon Webb      Dontrelle Willis    Randy Johnson   Roy Halladay       Curt Schilling
Bronson Arroyo     Johan Santana     Curt Schilling      Mark Prior            Roy Halladay
Chien-Ming Wang  Pedro Martinez   Ben Sheets           Tim Hudson         Derek Lowe
Roy Oswalt            Andy Pettitte        Jason Schmidt     Esteban Loaiza    Barry Zito
John Smoltz            Roy Oswalt        Carlos Zambrano  Jason Schmidt      Bartolo Colon
Curt Schilling         Chris Carpenter   Brad Radke         Mike Mussina       Roy Oswalt
Roy Halladay         Randy Johnson    Oliver Perez        Livan Hernandez  Tim Hudson
Aaron Harang        Roy Halladay       Joe Kennedy       Brandon Webb     Pedro Martinez
Carlos Zambrano   Carlos Zambrano  Pedro Martinez   Kerry Wood         Paul Byrd
Jonathon Papelbon John Smoltz         Roger Clemens    Curt Schilling       Jamie Moyer
Chris Carpenter      John Patterson     Carl Pavano         Javier Vazquez     Mark Buehrle


That takes me back, fun to see the likes of Brandon Webb, Jason Schmidt and Joe Kennedy. Also, the only reliever on any list was Papelbon's 2006, so there's that.

And now, to mess around with the list, I'll try to total up each players top 12 finishes in order to weight the team rankings (developing Roy Halladay should count more than Oliver Perez) and assign a developing team to each player:

Roy Halladay (8) - Toronto
Cliff Lee (2) - Cleveland
Justin Verlander (1) - Old Dominion, jk, Detroit
CC Sabathia (4) - Cleveland
Jered Weaver (1) - LAA
Clayton Kershaw (2) - LAD
Cole Hamels (2) - Philadelphia
Ricky Romero (1) - Toronto
Josh Beckett (2) - Florida
Doug Fister (1) - Seattle
Ian Kennedy (1) - NYY
James Shields (1) - Tampa Bay
Ubaldo Jimenez (1) - Colorado
Felix Hernandez (1) - Seattle
Josh Johnson (2) - Florida
Adam Wainwright (2) - St Louis
Roy Oswalt (5) - Houston Astros
Tim Hudson (3) - Oakland
Clay Buchholz (1) - Boston
John Danks (2) - CWS
Jon Lester (3) - Boston
Zack Greinke (1) - Royals
Tim Lincecum (2) - Giants
Chris Carpenter (2) - St Louis (Sorry Toronto, gotta earn it)
Dan Haren (2) - St Louis
Jair Jurrjens (1) - Detroit
Matt Cain (1) - SFG
Javier Vazquez (3) - Montreal
Johan Santana (4) - Minnesota
Ryan Dempster (1) - Florida
Rich Harden (1) - Oakland
Brandon Webb (4) - Arizona
Dice-K Matsuzaka (1) - Boston
John Lackey (1) - LAA
Mark Buehrle (2) - CWS
Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) (1) - Cleveland
Jake Peavy (1) - Padres
Aaron Harang (2) - Reds
Brad Penny (1) - Florida
Bronson Arroyo (1)- Pittsburgh
CM Wang (1) - NYY
John Smoltz (2) - Braves
Curt Schilling (4) - Phillies
Carlos Zambrano (3) - Cubs
Jon Papelbon (1) - Red Sox
Roger Clemens (2) - Red Sox
Dontrelle Willis (1) - Florida
Pedro Martinez (4) - LAD
Andy Pettitte (1) - NYY
Randy Johnson (3) - Seattle
John Patterson (1) - Arizona
Ben Sheets (1) - Brewers
Jason Schmidt (2) - Atlanta
Brad Radke (1) - Twins
Oliver Perez (1) - Padres
Joe Kennedy (1) - Tampa Bay
Carl Pavano (1) - Montreal
Mark Prior (1) - Cubs
Esteban Loaiza (1) - Pittsburgh
Mike Mussina (1) - Baltimore
Livan Hernandez (1) - Florida
Kerry Wood (1) - Cubs
Derek Lowe (1) - Boston
Barry Zito (1) - Oakland
Bartolo Colon (1) - Cleveland
Paul Byrd (1) - Mets
Jamie Moyer (1) - Cubs

And finally, we're breaking it down by team-

9 - Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox
8 - Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins,
7 - Nobody!
6 - LA Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies
5 - Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros
4 - Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos
3 - New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants
2 - Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, LA Angels, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates
1 - Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets
0 - Texas Rangers


Observations

-Toronto hasn't actually been that good at developing pitchers: eight of their nine "points" come from Doc Halladay. Boston on the other hand, has developed six unique pitchers making up their "points". The other team that has developed six unique "aces" is Florida. Interesting to note that each team has won a world series in this time frame. Cleveland and the Cubs have also produced four unique "aces".

-The Mets are lucky not to be shut out on the list, their only product so far is Paul Byrd. The same goes for the Orioles, who sneaked on by developing Mike Mussina in the very early nineties. In the same vein, the Nationals are reaping the rewards of the Expos developing Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez early on.

-Texas has not yet developed an ace. This brings up a few points. Obviously they've done well recently, producing CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and others, however, this points to a long dry spell that lasted most of the 2000's in which their rotation was a vacuum of talent. This list isn't a reflection on the current state, but more a reflection of late 90's - mid 00's development. As a result, it helps explain the cellar-dweller-ness of the Orioles, Royals, Rockies, Brewers and friends. On the flipside, the consistent success of the Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins and A's is also evident in the findings.


In my next post, I'll look deeper into how these pitchers were acquired and what that tells us about raising top-shelf pitching.