Sunday, November 30, 2008

2009 Hot Stove Updates - Part Two

Another week into the off season, and another week with little to no action. Rumors, however, are beginning to heat up as teams send out their arbitration offers to impending free agents, as well as letting it be known what their intentions are for the winter meetings.

With the rule five draft a little over two weeks away, we see a front office executives look at how things work. Paul DePodesta of the San Diego Padres writes,
It would seem logical that the best way to protect a player would be to put him on the 40-man roster. That is often, but not always, the case. Sometimes, for players who are borderline roster considerations, you may be safer by leaving him OFF the 40-man. The reason is that if he's taken in the Rule V, he has to stay in the Majors or else be offered back. However, if for some reason (add a free agent, add someone through trade, need someone during the season due to injury) you need to add a player to the 40-man at a later date, you may be forced to outright someone to make room. When you outright a first year roster player, he still has all of his minor league options, so teams can claim him and send him right into their minor league system. In short, it's much easier to lose a player trying to remove him from the 40-man than it is to lose him via the Rule V draft.
This is certainly an interesting take, and one that few probably consider. The Indians, for example, left the electric, yet highly unpolished left hander Chuck Lofgren off the 40 man roster. While Lofgren is likely to be selected in the draft, it seems unlikely that he will remain on a teams 25 man roster for the duration of the season. While Lofgren is blessed with incredible stuff, his lack of control has gotten the better of him and he has failed to show improvements while repeating levels.

I will take a more indepth look at the Rule V draft once we get a little bit closer to that time.

December first, marks the date that teams have to finalize arbitration offers to any impending free agents. There are a lot of interesting cases this year, none more so then the New York Yankees Andy Pettitte. Pettitte's agent leaked that the Dodger's had asked if Andy would be willing to come to the West Coast. This news sparked the interest of the Yankees as a rejected arbitration offer to Pettitte would make it likely that the Yankees would land some high draft picks as compensation.

However, there is a question whether the Yankees want Pettitte around for another season. With three arms almost certainly locked into the rotation, and speculation regarded the addition of at least one top tier free agent, the Yankees simply do not need the 36 year old lefty.

The Red Sox have a similarly interesting case on their hands with Jason Varitek. The major difference here is that Varitek's value is predominantly placed within the intangibles, such as being the team captain. However, Tek the hitter, has slipped to a point where his bat may be hurting the Sox more then his intangibles help. That being said, do the Sox offer Varitek arbitration and risk him accepting the offer? If Varitek rejects arbitration, the Sox would have a type A free agent on the market that would net them two high draft picks.

While many of the cases are obvious, there are the aforementioned pair, as well as a dozen borderline candidates, players whom their current teams would prefer to be without, but are risking being stuck with if arbitration is accepted.

In other news, Junichi Tazawa will announce the team he will sign with on Monday. Rumor has it that Tazawa will pick the Boston Red Sox and sign for a reported $6M for three years. The contract is presumed to be a Major League deal, despite the fact that Tazawa will start his North American career in the minors.

As I wrote previously, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to terms on deals with two pitchers from India. Both Patel and Singh were involved in a contest that would see the winner given $100,000 cash, and a chance to train under the watch of University of Southern California's pitching coach. These two are certainly worth monitoring during the 2009 season.

Here's a brief wrap-up of the minor league signings that occurred this week,
  • Mike Koplove signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Koplove had a fine season for the Dodgers triple A affiliate but isn't much more then an insurance policy for the back end of the Phillies bullpen.
  • The Kansas City Royals brought in backstop JR House. While House has never been able to succeed at the Major League level, his recent minor league statistics give reason to believe he could be a fine backup. At worst, he is organization depth.
  • Trying to scoop up the next Joakim Soria, the Kansas City Royals signed 24 year old, right handed pitcher Federico Castaneda. Armed with a fastball that sits between 92 and 94mph, Castaneda is a fine pick up and one to keep an eye on.
  • Dayton Moore continued his busy week, also signing ex-Orioles short stop Luis Hernandez, as well as Corey Smith of the Angels and Carlos Sencion from the Braves. There are predominantly organizational filler, but with enough of these signings, an organization is bound to land at least one worth-while player.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers brough aboard Robert Swindle of the Phillies, and Jason Bourgeois from the White Sox. Swindle is a soft tossing left hander who had phenomenal success in both double and triple A.
The Jake Peavy rumors warmed back up this week as the Orioles surfaced as a possible partner in a three-way deal with the Cubs and Padres. This most recent offer would see Felix Pie heading to Baltimore in exchange for Garret Olson who would then be flipped to the Padres as part of a package for Peavy. To be completely honest, I cannot understand why the Padres would prefer Olson to Pie, but that's just me.

The Angels also surfaced as a potential landing place for both Peavy and CC Sabathia. This news surprises me as I recall Angels owner, Arte Moreno, suggesting that Alex Rodriguez is not an investment he would make. Moreno suggested that no single player is worth that percent of a teams spending.

Two trades did go down this week. The first saw the Red Sox acquiring soft-tossing relief pitcher Wes Littleton from the Texas Rangers for two players to be named or cash. As a ground ball pitcher, the Sox may hope to get out of Littleton what they have from Hideki Okajima.

In equally as useless news, the Astros acquired Tyler Lumsden from the Kansas City Royals for a PTBNL or cash.

The starting pitcher market, which is relatively deep, took a hit this week with the news that Freddy Garcia's shoulder injury has again flarred up. Garcia had made a successful return from his shoulder injury that sidelined him for the better part of two years. He was considered as a great bargain entering the free agency, however this news has got to hurt his chances of signing anything more then an incentive based deal.

Finally, the weak short stop market appears to be cornered by the Oakland Athletics. It appears imminent that Rafeal Furcal will choose that side of the bay to call his home. This will almost certainly make Bobby Crosby expendable as well as opening the door for Eric Patterson to be moved.

This weak market has also encouraged the Pirates to ask for a king's ransom for Jack Wilson. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Dodgers have balked at the Pirates asking price of highly regarded prospect Chin-Lung Hu, Delwyn Young, and a third player. It would be wise for Huntington to take Hu straight up, but with the market in his favor, Huntington is in the position to get exactly what he wants.

In non-specific player news, MLB announced that the names of players who tested positive for Amphetamines. By MLB rule, players were suspended only after testing positive a second time, which has resulted in only a couple of suspensions. This new ruling will alert the public the names of every player who tested positive during the 2008 season and going forward.

It will be interesting to see what sort of performance correlation there exists with positive tests.

That's the wrap from last week...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rebuilding the International Way

The Hot Stove League has hit a lull, the big name free agents are still jockeying for the best possible offer, and many of the trade rumors have cooled for now. The Winter Meetings, being held in Las Vegas beginning December 8th, is where most of that action will occur.

However, some of the best long term moves have been made in recent days, and they also haven't involved players with household names in North America.

On Monday, it was confirmed that the Pittsburgh Pirates had signed Indian contest winners 20-year-old right-hander Dinesh Patel and 19-year-old southpaw Rinku Singh. This is big news for a team that had typically been quiet signing international free agents. Even more important is the fact that Neal Huntington has put another stamp on the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving this franchise some legitimate hope.

The two youngsters have spent the better part of the last year learning how to pitch under the tutelage of the pitching coach from the University of Southern California. The last year has seen the two Indian pitchers gradually learn the nuances of the game, as well as American culture.

According to a report from,
When it comes to the scouting reports, the 6-foot-2 Singh throws 89-90 mph and has a split-finger changeup pitch. The 5-foot-11 Patel throws a circle change and can reach 91-92 mph with his heater.
Not bad for two young arms that are just learning how to throw a baseball.

Further reports from,
Dinesh Patel, RHP, 5′10/185

Aaron: Definitely the more polished of the two. Strong upper body, but the legs are a little thin. Throws from the stretch and starts in a crouched position. Nice tempo — quick, but not hurried. Leg comes in high and he’s very aggressive to the plate. Call it a 3/4 arm angle. Has a very smooth and natural-looking delivery for someone who had never played baseball before last year.

Fastball is 84-85 and touches 87 with some tail down and in on right-handed batters, showing occasional sink. Delivery looks repeatable, but his release point is a little inconsistent, which will create command issues until he sorts it out. Due to his lack of height, he doesn’t get great plane but nice movement on the fastball can compensate for it. The ball doesn’t come out of his hand as easily as I’d like, but I he gets good extension on his follow-through. Nice aggressive finish.

Slider is 77-79. Doesn’t always get a lot of depth, but, again, like everything else with both these players, you have to remember Patel has been playing baseball for a friggin’ year. With that in mind the slider looks like it has the possibility of developing into a useful secondary pitch.

He looks polished and I find that somewhat shocking. It’s difficult to project what Patel might become or if he’s got the talent to be a pitcher in the majors, but I will say I don’t think this is some gimick signing. There’s something there.

Rinku Singh, LHP, 6′2, 185 lbs.

Jackson: Ringku Singh is clearly the less polished of the two prospects and is more of a project, likely a more boom-or-bust type pitcher than his counterpart Dinesh Patel. He has poor command at this point and gives his bullpen catcher headaches, frequently losing his grip on the ball and struggling to find his form.

However, at 6’2 185, the ceiling is there and he’s clearly an athlete. He’s got long arms and legs, a nice, strong high leg kick and overall shows strength and flexibility in his unpolished delivery. He throws from a ¾ arm slot, bringing his arm way down below his waist and then letting go with a sort of catapault-like delivery where he pushes the ball a bit. He struggles to repeat his form, especially with the lower half, and his follow through needs a lot of work. His arm speed is average at best and he relies on leverage to generate velocity.

Singh’s FB comes in 79-83 MPH, with a slow moving curve that ranges from 67-72. He currently lacks a real feel for the breaking pitch and his curve has little bite to it.
As the authors stress, the two players are extremely advanced for the amount of baseball they have played. Another thing to keep in mind is that they have received training from a world class instructor, the pitchers haven't had years of little league ball to develop bad habits, or throw too many breaking balls with poor form.

In other words, the Pirates picked up two high ceiling pitchers that they can mold however they see fit. This is a big move for baseball's most hapless franchise, one, that as I mentioned, has to provide hope for fans of this ballclub.

Which leads me to wonder if people consider moves in November when awarding their Executive of the Year award. While this move may not have an immediate impact on the Pirates, it certainly improves them for the long term, as well as opening the doors to the franchise entering the international market more aggressively.

This more aggressive approach even led Huntington to sending a scout to check in with Junichi Tazawa-only to find out that Tazawa's price tag would be out of the reaches of this small market club.

If you recall
, the hype surrounding Tazawa began at the end of October when he went unselected (as per request) in Japan's entry draft. At this point, I suggested a Major League team blow away the competition and offer Tazawa a Major League contract of $10M a year for 5 of 6 years.

Tazawa has Major League stuff, he has the control to be a quality forth or fifth stater right now. While ten million may be a little steep to pay for an end of the rotation starter, it is a much wiser investment then bringing in a Jon Garland. Not to mention the international dividends from adding a Japanese player, the same dividends that has a report suggesting that Tazawa will reportedly sign with the Boston Red Sox.

With Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima already in New England and the Red Sox in the midst of building a dynasty-like organization, Tazawa does not have a particularly difficult decision to make, all else being equal.

If the Sox sign Tazawa for a sum under eight million dollars, it will have to be considered a failure on the part of the other Major League executives. While the Sox have as much money to spend as anyone, they also have the aforementioned advantage of Dice-K and Okajima. Thus, if a team truly wanted Tazawa, they would have to outright buy him.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Problem With Lazy Analysis

Over at the Bleacher Report there is a debate regarding the merits of the MVP award and who it rightfully deserves to be awarded to. One author believes it must go to a player on a winning team, as a player on a losing team could be replaced with any player and that team would still lose. The author asserts that a loss is a loss; although he claims 'confidence' and intangibles are important factors.

Admittedly the author believes that the BBWAA got the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player wrong, but isn't too alarmed at the selection feeling it was an unqualified group to begin with. Thus, he continues discussing meaningless merits such as defensive value-although incorrectly tabbing second base as the 'easiest infield position to field'. His source, Little League Baseball. The logic is utterly horrifying, but is a great place to start at pointing out the lazy analytical skills of this writer.

With the internet such an easy tool to make quick searches, would it have been so difficult for the author to discover that second base is rated as the third most difficult position to play? Behind short but ahead of center field? Possibly the author was stuck in a 1920's, when the double play wasn't as prominent.

Whatever the reason, we can see the beginning of a rather lazy analysis. This only furthers the misinformation provided earlier where the author asserts that only those on playoff caliber teams are worthy of the Most Valuable Player Award. This is noted due to the fact that the author lists players only on playoff caliber teams.

The statistical analysis is equally as weak as the author ignores park factors. This is a fairly simple task nowadays, Baseball Prospectus offers a straight forward and easily accessed stat called Equivalent Average. Dustin Pedroia had a fine season, but offensively he wasn't even on the map of Milton Bradley, Alex Rodriguez, among others.

What is worse about this authors analysis is the next step he takes towards justifying his justification regarding Pedroia. The author states that the award must go to a player on a winning team, simply because that is how the voters have done things historically.

Before diving too deep into this, has the author already forgotten the Edinson Volquez debacle of two weeks ago? Remember, when three voters were so confused with the rules of rookie eligibility that they named Volquez on their ballots. Worse yet, these voters are so ignorant that they managed to convince themselves that Geovanny Soto's impressive rookie campaign was somehow superior to Volquez's excellent non-rookie season.

The next obvious error the author makes is in assuming that the voting criteria has not changed. That is, we now know that batting average is only an important fact in context. On base percentage, has taken over as a significantly more vital statistic. Thus, where players would previously win award based on high batting averages, those figures have now become secondary to on base and slugging averages.

As the voters understanding of value evolves, the winners will become more accurately understood.

According to our author, playing on a winning team is much more valuable, according tot he voters, then playing on a losing team. The argument, not as bad as his Little League justification, but a joke nonetheless, "History and Major League Baseball are screaming it right in your face."

Before I go too far into this, can anyone remember when history and Major League Baseball made errors? Hmm, how about when there was racial segregation in the sport? Prior to Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, was it accurate to suggest that black players were inferior? Or is it more accurate to figure out why those players were left from the ranks of Major League Baseball?

Similarly, the author's this is the way it's done philosophy is in shambles. First, simply because that is the way it has been done, does not legitimize the process.

Second, claiming that a direct correlation exists between MVP's and being on a winning team is a lazy conclusion to draw. Especially when the author admits that the two players that won MVP awards from non-winning teams were obvious choices. The obvious question then, were the players selected because they were on winning teams, or because they were obvious choices?

I decided to properly analyze this trend to find out if it was a coincidence that the last fourteen respective MVP's came from winning teams. The following chart represents my findings:

I will begin by stating that this analysis is far from iron-clad. One thing I would alter about this analysis would be to utilize more value based statistics. Since not every one of these stats agree with one another on the basis of what is valuable and what characteristics make a player valuable, it would be superior to use a couple more. However, utilizing Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is a nice place to start, and one that statistically ranks players.

I then researched the recent MVP winners. A more in depth study would look at the second and third place finishers, but for now, this will suffice.

My next step was to find the top three finishes according to VORP as well as the position the eventual MVP finished in. As you can see, Baseball Prospectus picked the accurate MVP winning (within 2 places) in 16 of 28 years. In other words, the best or close to the best player (according to Baseball Prospectus) was the eventual best player as per the BBWAA. This has nothing to do with winning. I repeat, NOTHING!

However, I wanted to find out what winning had to do with eventual winners. I wanted to find out if there was in fact a correlation between being in the top three in VORP and being on a winning team.

The conclusion, of the top three players in terms of VORP over the last 14 seasons (84 in total), 64 came from teams with a recordof .500 or better. In other words, the best players play for the best teams-logical, right?

What does this brief study show? That the BBWAA are not picking the players based on whether or not they play for a winning clubs, rather, the BBWAA are picking the best players-albeit in a relatively flawed system.

Eric O'Flaherty - Under the Radar

Under the Radar moves are typically the type of pick-ups that fill the end of a teams roster, the 23rd, 24th, or 25th man. A Spring Training invitee with plenty of upside. Frank Wren of the Atlanta Braves made one of those moves on Thursday, claiming left handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners.

The 23 years old O'Flaherty has been mediocre at best while pitching in the Major Leagues. In exactly 70 innings, O'Flaherty owns a Fielding Independent of Pitching (FIP) of 4.41, a good, but not great figure. In fact, other then his FIP, there isn't much to get excited about given his Major League performance to date, that, of a 1.53 strikeout to walk ratio.

However, O'Flaherty has some nice minor league statistics, particularly the ones that are important for his likely Major League role. That is, O'Flaherty's line against left handed hitters is outstanding, and can hardly be considered as a product of facing minor leaguers.

The first thing that sticks out is the plus two strikeouts per nine innings that O'Flaherty experiences against left handed hitters. Eric goes from owning an average strikeout to walk ratio of just over 2:1, to a solid ratio of 3:1. While this hasn't entirely translated to his performance in the Major Leagues, O'Flaherty also has not been utilized in the appropriate role.

That is, a move to becoming a situational left handed pitcher, a pitcher who comes in to face predominantly left handed hitters, would be a move that would certainly bump O'Flaherty from potential to dependable.

Consider that entering the 2007 season (the last season O'Flaherty qualified), John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated O'Flaherty as a C+ prospect stating that Eric should be a very good reliever.

In a similarly high rating, Baseball America tabbed O'Flaherty as the 10th best prospect in the Mariners system. Either that is telling of a weak system, or that O'Flaherty is a fine relief prospect.

Given that Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had O'Flaherty 'just missing' his top 10 under 25 Mariners prospects for the 2008 season, it seems justifiable to assert he has a legitimate ceiling.

O'Flaherty has a Minor League FIP of 3.28, and while much of the shine on his prospect badge has worn off, it is certainly too early to write him off as at least an effective LOOGY. At just 23 years of age, O'Flaherty is an excellent pick up, still having enough upside to be a complete steal of an acquisition.

As an added bonus, Johan Santana shows up on O'Flaherty's Most Comparable list according to his PECOTA card.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2009 Hot Stove Updates - Part One

This is the first installment of a weekly series reporting on Major League Baseball's off-season, The Hot Stove League. I will continue reflecting on trades that go down, as well as Under the Radar columns, and pretty much the same stuff that I would typically be doing during the off season.

This series then, will touch on everything else that I deem important, but not important enough for it's own post. It's like taking Lassie out into the woods, and...

Leading off with the biggest news of the Hot Stove League this week is Mike Mussina announcing his retirement, axing a potential 300 winner from baseball. I'm not sure whether or not Mussina is a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he didn't hurt his cause by finishing his career with one of his best seasons. Mussina's reputation as a good guy coupled with a solid winning percentage should be enough for the voters to get him in eventually. He deserves to be in, but not based on those two, but rather because of his 3.57 career FIP and incredible durability.

The next highlight, or low light for Phillies fans, is the announcement that Chase Utley will require major surgery on his hip. As it stands, Utley is scheduled to miss at least April and May of the 2009 season. Hip surgeries are serious, and if not treated as such (ie. the Phillies caring more about repeating then longevity) Utley's career could quickly become in jeopardy.

In other news, Bud Selig has assured the fans that he won't have to implement the commissioner's best interest of the game clause the next time a playoff game is to be ended early. Selig announced on Thursday that playoff games will be played in their entirety.

A couple trades went down last week, first, the Royals and Red Sox agreed to swap Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp. I gave this trade to the Red Sox, as they were the ones who filled a spot on their roster with a meaningful piece. I can't see Crisp truly being a worthwhile player for the Royals.

ESPN's Rob Neyer reacts to the Crisp and Mike Jacobs deals questioning what the use of acquiring two players who only make this club marginally better, but still not good enough to contend. While I am not currently impressed with either acquisition, it is impossible to believe that Dayton Moore does not intend to make another deal off of these ones. That said, we have to believe that David DeJesus and Billy Butler will net a substantial gain over Leo Nunez and Ramirez.

While Moore takes a partial hit from DeJesus and Butler to Crisp and Jacobs, the gains ought to be larger then the value of Nunez and Ramirez. Until that occurs, however, Neyer is right, what's the use?

The second trade, a largely ignored swap of ex-first round picks between the Rangers and Phillies. The Rangers received uber-toolsy Gregory Golson in exchange for Hulk-like John Mayberry. This will be an interesting trade to look back on in a year or so from now.

Free Agency has been relatively quiet and largely disappointing in terms of signings. Yesterday, the White Sox and Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo agreed to terms on a contract. In other Chicago news, Ryan Dempster decided to stay put with the Cubs, thus foregoing his opportunity at winning a World Series.

The San Francisco Giants made an excellent move this week, bringing in highly underrated reliever Jeremy Affeldt. Affedlt's 2 year, $8M contract is well below market value, which is shocking, simply because he signed with the Giants-a team that traditionally overpays.

AJ Burnett seems to have stolen many of the headlines among available free agents. According to the Toronto Star, Burnett's agent has said any team not willing to offer a five year deal is going to be behind the eight ball. I can't see why it wouldn't worry a ball club that a player is so adamant about signing for a fifth year, especially with the injury history of a player like AJ Burnett.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Phils and Rangers With a Minor Deal

Today, the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies completed a trade swapping ex-first round picks. This deal hardly skimmed the surface of Major League Baseball headlines, despite the fact that there really wasn't anything else to report today. That aside, neither piece swapped is going to make or break the futures of either of the teams involved. However, there still has to be a winner, right?

The Phillies picked up John Mayberry who turns 25 on a historic day in December. The monstrous corner outfielder hit 65 extra base hits in 519 at bats. While he is a free swinger by nature, there really isn't a better location for him to hack away then in Philadelphia.

Mayberry was rated as a B prospect by John Sickels entering the 2008 season. Presumably Mayberry's stock will drop, although there is a chance he makes the Phillies top 10 list. He has what is described as 'plus plus raw power'.

A great tool over at Minor League Splits allows us to input data from a players seasons and translate those stats into their Major League equivalents. John Mayberry's 2008 triple A OPS of .784 translates out to .659 in Philadelphia. Adjustments will need to be made in order for Mayberry to excel at the Major League level, as is, he's probably a decent right handed platoon hitter.

In exchange for Mayberry is 2004 first round pick Gregory Golson. The speedy 23 year old outfielder has been vulnerable to striking out, despite not showing any specific flaws against either right or left handed pitchers. Couple that with a weak base on balls rate, and you have the perfect (albeit terrible) National League leadoff hitter.

Golson began this season as a C+ prospect, according to John Sickels. Sickels asserted that many disagreed with Golson's relatively low rating, however Sickels felt as though his strikeouts were holding him back. That managed to hold true, and unless Golson improves his plate discipline, he will have no part on a Major League roster.

That said, Baseball America rated Golson as the Phillies #10 prospect entering the 2007 season and #7 for the 2008 season. He also rated as the fastest runner and best athlete within the organization. In addition to that, Golson has the best arm in the Phillies system. Couple that with speed and athleticism, Golson rated as the best defensive outfield in the Phillies system, so possibly he has a chance as a 5th outfielder and a defensive substitute.

What I find most interesting about the Baseball America report is the fact that they rated him as the best power hitting prospect in the Phillies system entering the 2008 season.

Similarly, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote that Golson "might possess the best package of tools in all of the minor leagues". Goldstein continues, suggesting that Golson has plenty of raw power and as high of a ceiling as anyone in baseball.

Possibly a change in scenary will be the best bet for Golson, as a change in his overall approach, coupled with some good mentoring could certainly be the remedy to Golson realizing his potential. All it will really take is a positive step in his contact rate, and the Rangers could have themselves a monster of a player.

Based on potential alone, this deal will go to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have a more pressing need for a center fielder (right now), and the chance to win a job at the Major League level may help Golson become a better student of the game. The Phillies did not receive a slouch on their own, however Mayberry will be hard pressed to find at bats outside of Leigh High Valley.

White Sox Snag Dayan Viciedo

Today, the Chicago White Sox announced the signing of 19 year old Cuban Dayan Viciedo. Viciedo, a third basemen, signed a Major League deal worth $11M. Obviously having Alexei Ramirez and Jose Contreras, not to mention a Latin American manager, helped in the signing of this promising young player.

According to Baseball America (free content), "Viciedo has excellent power and hitting ability..." There was concern, according to the article, that Viciedo does not have much athleticism and his body could quickly begin to detriorate-meaning, he would get fat.

Viciedo has been compared by a power hitting corner infield prospect Angel Villalona, of the San Francisco Giants. Villalona, for those of you who don't know, is one of the best prospects in all of baseball. Playing the in the 2008 season predominantly as a 17 year old (ie. as a high school senior), Villalona slugged 17 home runs, en route to a .726 OPS against A ball players (predominantly 20 and 21 year olds). In other words, some outstanding praise.

Another report suggested that had Viciedo been eligible for the 2008 Rule IV Draft, he would have almost certainly been a first round selection, despite the concern that he becomes the next Kendry Morales, lacking the upside of Villalona. To be fair, that shouldn't deminish the praise one provides for Viciedo as Morales still has a great deal of potential.

In all, this is an outstanding move by the White Sox. They utilized the players on their roster in ways not commonly seen among Major League Baseball. Viciedo will easily be one of the White Sox top 3 or 4 prospects, and if there is no worry about adjusting to life in North America, Viciedo could start the season at Chicago's Double A affiliate in Birmingham. It is more likely that the Sox start him with a lesser assignment in the South Atlantic League (Single A ball).

Royals and Red Sox Come to Terms

Sometimes I am guilty of unfairly grading a trade based on the partners that are involved. I'm not referring to any extraordinary biases, nor am I claiming that my judgment is based on anything more then personal speculation. Either way, I am guilty of such.

Yesterday this occurred as the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals came to terms on a deal that would send Coco Crisp to the Royals in exchange for Ramon Ramirez. Had this been a year ago, I would have spent the next 500 or so words fluffing Dayton Moore. However, this is the second interesting (read: confusing) move that Moore has made in the short weeks of the 2009 Hot Stove League.

The first, if you remember, was Moore adding to an already deep position, making a sticky situation, that much more sticky. I ended up giving Moore somewhat of a pass on that deal, offering up a 'wait and see' conclusion. However, I am unable to do so with Moore's recent acquisition of Coco Crisp.

Covelli "Coco" Crisp is a fine ballplayer. He's an 'okay' center fielder defensively, with the ability to be phenomenal. He doesn't offer the typical traits of a corner outfielder, but would be a top notch left fielder. Crips also happens to be relatively inexpensive being owed just under $7M for the next two seasons. Durability is not an issue, neither is age, as Crisp is young enough to maintain his current level of production, with the possibility of seeing improvement.

What else makes Crips a fine ballplayer? Well, he's about league average in terms of hitting from center field. His 94 OPS+ is slightly above what the average Major League center fielder offers. And Crisp's adjusted .766 OPS is 14 points above what Major League teams averaged in 2008. Crisp's .264 career EQA is only a few points over what the Major League average is, although keep in mind that is league-wide, inclusive of first basemen, designated hitters, etc.

In other words, we're not talking a world beater, but a fine center fielder. We're not talking about a player teams build around, but a player that can fill a hole on an otherwise strong team. He'd be a great fit for a team like the Chicago White Sox or maybe the Texas Rangers.

On the Kansas City Royals, however, he is a weak to terrible fit. While it is a nice value, in acquiring a player that would cost around $10M a year on the free agent market, and that the cost was simply a reliever, it still doesn't make much sense.

Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals already have their very own Coco Crisp in David DeJesus. In fact, DeJesus is a notable improvement over Crisp-although with a lesser reputation and a greater vulnerability towards injuries.

Even still, DeJesus' adjusted career OPS is .821 with a career OPS+ of 105 is substantially superior to Crisp's, and DeJesus .275 EQA begins to border on solid for center fielders.

While this trade eliminates the possibility of Joey "I jump cars" Gathright logging serious playing time with the impending departure of Mark Tehean, one has to believe that with $7M plus a reliever Moore could have gotten more then Coco Crisp. The Royals could have stretched Jose Guillen (one of the worst free agent signings from the 2008 Hot Stove League) in right field and brought in Garret Anderson.

However, Moore decided not to take that route, which leads me to believe he made another deal in anticipating of making a deal.

Otherwise, why would he send off Ramon Ramirez?

Let's not get too down on Moore, Royals fans. While Ramirez is replaceable by any number of free agent relievers, we are still talking about a hard throwing reliever that will make the league minimum in 2009. We are talking about a reliever that will make an already strong Red Sox bullpen, that much stronger, while providing the club with $7M of cash to spend.

Dayton Moore does, in a way, have the right idea. Relief pitchers are volatile, thus treating them as luxuries for roster upgrades is the right thing to do. Ramirez is the perfect reliever to sell high on, as Moore knows as well as anybody, how much his organization hid Ramirez in 2008.

Crisp, has more value long term then Ramirez, as Moore will certainly be able to pedal him for more then a 27 year old reliever. However, like the Mike Jacobs for Leo Nunez trade, Moore does little to improve the overall quality of his ballclub.

Thus, at this point, Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox won this deal as they received a piece that will certainly help their club. If Moore and the Kansas City Royals swing DeJesus or Crisp for a piece greater then Ramirez, the trade will swing in the other direction. However, if appears as though Moore is looking forward to having an outfield of Guillen-Crisp-DeJesus, which is rather unfortunate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Marlins Strike Again

In what appears to be a strategy of business 101, the Marlins picked up a reliever off of the scrap heap, inflated his value, and flipped him for a very promising return. This is how you run a sports franchise. This is why in the 16 seasons the Marlins have been in existence, they have managed to win two Major League Baseball World Series Championships, all the while having a penny pinching low payroll.

The club hasn't wasted it's time building a brand new ballpark, or impressing fans. Instead, the club has put together a cast of players to win a championship, then sold those players off for new players that they would have for the next championship run.

The latest appears in the form of a closer who was acquired in an under the radar type of deal. The Florida Marlins Kevin Gregg was traded to the Chicago Cubs, for an explosively talented relief prospect in Jose Ceda. Without even getting into the analysis, the Marlins won this deal hands down, but let's look a little further, to see exactly how foolish the Cubs were in this move.

Kevin Gregg is nothing special. When news broke that the Marlins were looking to unload Gregg, as a fan of the Indians, a team in need of relief hope, I simply shuttered at the idea of giving away anything of value for the still powerful 30 year old reliever.

Gregg owns a nice, by unspectacular strikeout rate. Couple that with a poor walk rate, and you have the makings of an okay reliever. The move from a ballpark which greatly deflates home runs (as noted by Gregg's home run per fly ball rate of 5.15% as a Florida Marlin) to a ballpark which inflates them, one can expect Gregg to take a considerable step back in value. It is a positive that Gregg has improved his fly ball statistics, but we're still talking about a guy who was extremely fortunate to be playing in Dolphin Stadium.

We are also talking about a reliever that is coming off of an injury and is entering the back end of his career.

Jim Hendry and the Chicago Cubs must have decided that it was wise to acquire a cheap plan B closer then to go into the season with Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, and company-not a terrible idea, however a poorly executed one.

That is, after coming off of a season in which Gregg made $2.5M, in his second season as a closer, there is no reason to believe that Gregg's arbitration figure will not head north of $4M, and stick at at least that number for 2009. As a 'reliable' closer, that is a fair price tag, however, there is little reason to believe that he will be closing in 2009, and even less of a shot at doing so in 2010.

Wouldn't it then have been equally as efficient to bring aboard a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth? Farnsworth has some experience as a closer and wouldn't cost a top pitching prospect-arguably baseball's best relief prospect. If the Cubbies wanted too, they could have upped the ante slightly, and went hard after Brandon Lyon.

Both angles would have brough aboard a reliever with similar talents, as well as landing one with closing experience in the case of Marmol not quite working out. The dollar and year commitments might have been slightly higher, but not by enough to disuade one from making such moves.

We aren't talking some run of the mill prospect. We aren't talking a failed started who happened to catch on as a reliever. We're talking a legitimate relief prospect. If one were to make odds about what current minor league player would become a closer, and a great one at that, Jose Ceda would top most peoples lists.

The soon-to-be 22 year old right handed fireball reliever has been absolutely dominant in the minors. Three years as a starter (to get in work) and reliever have went a long way in building Ceda's stock, to the point where he was considered as the likely closer-of-the-future in a Chicago organization that has Carlos Marmol.

According to,
He throws plenty hard, with a fastball that sits comfortably in the upper 90s and has hit triple digits in the past. His slider has sharpened considerably since he began working in relief in 2007.

The only real blip on Ceda's radar came in '07, when he missed some time with a sore shoulder. When he returned, he finished off the season with 23 1/3 consecutive hitless innings.
Really? 23 1/3 consecutive HITLESS innings?!? If that doesn't sell you, I'm not sure what will. Although I'll keep trying.

Entering the 2008 season, here are a list of highlights from around the interweb:
  • Baseball America rated Ceda's fastball as the best in the Cubs system;
  • John Sickels rated Ceda as a B- prospect, one of the best relievers in the game;
  • Kevin Goldstein rated Ceda as a 3 star prospect, stating, "fastballs that sit in the 94-97 mph range, and he has hit triple-digits on occasion. His slider is also a plus offering that features heavy two-plane break."
Goldstein even rose his praise on Ceda after the 2008 season, now bumping him up to a 4 star prospect. Further, Goldstein asserts that there is little doubt Ceda will be pitching late in games sooner rather then later. He cites members of the Cubs organization who believe Ceda is very close to being ready for Major League action right now.

This is a substantial gain from where Ceda was to start the 2007, where Sickels suggests Ceda was a long ways away.

While nobody will suggest that the Cubs shot themselves in the foot here, there is very little reason to believe they improved their club from an angle they couldn't have attacked via free agency. Ceda's value, while an understandable luxury for a club with Marmol, Samardjiza, and Donald Veal, has got to be substantially higher then what the Cubs received for him.

That is, as I mentioned, would the Cubs be worse off with Farnsworth or Lyon for the next 2 or 3 years instead of Gregg? If so, by how much? I think it is reasonable to suggest that Ceda would more then make up for any possible deviation noted there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2008 BBWAA American League Most Valuable Player

Dustin Pedroia?!? Oh, COME ON!

Now Pedroia had a fine season. The Red Sox would have been a worse team without him, but can't the same be said for almost any of the top 5 or 6 MVP candidates? In fact, with a cast of Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and JD Drew, it could be argued that Pedroia had it easier then the rest of the field.

According to Baseball Prospectus' "Baseball Between the Numbers", the authors founds that despite batting orders not mattering, the type of hitter following the next did have an influence on production. The following is a chart from the book:

As you can see, the better the hitter behind results in superior production. It also results in a drop in intentional base on balls. This is especially noteworthy as the players walk rate improves despite a drop in IBB.

In any event, we can see that a player like Pedroia, whom the Sox would miss, is less valuable then a player like Joe Mauer.

There is an argument for Pedroia due to the amount of games the Red Sox hitters missed, namely Drew, Lowell, and Ortiz, in addition to the eventual trade of Manny Ramirez. While Pedroia's improvement this season may have motivated the Red Sox to move Manny, I'm certain receiving Jason Bay, and knowing that Drew, Lowell, Ortiz, and Youkilis would be around didn't hurt.

All that being said, let's look at the win and value stats and see where Pedroia matches up among hitters in the American League:
These are three very important win and value statistics, of which there is consistently one player ahead of him (Sizemore) and a handful that show up on at least two lists ahead of Pedroia (Mauer, Rodriguez, Morneau, and Quentin). Does it make sense then, that Pedroia wins this award?

What is additionally shocking, a writer somehow decided to leave Pedroia off his ballot altogether. While I have spent the last while arguing that Pedroia should not have won the award, there is certainly not a lot of ways that I could be convinced to leave him off the ballot entirely.

However, from an assembly of writers which concluded that Josh Hamilton was more valuable then Grady Sizemore (by nearly three times as much), that Milton Bradley was essentially useless (he received 2 votes, a 6th and 7th), and a ballot where Ian Kinsler can only net 1 10th place vote and Mike Mussina can receive an 8th place one is simply a joke.

I truly do not know how to put this into words any longer and I am relieved that the post-season awards are finished.

Monday, November 17, 2008

2008 BBWAA National League Most Valuable Player

Pujols wins!

This afternoon Albert Pujols was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. In what was an extremely close race due to the fact that there was not a clear cut favorite for the award, the BBWAA managed to pick the most deserving player.

In total, 27 players received votes. That seems like a lot of confusion between the writers. I can't understand how, or why, there would be so many players nominated for the award and it will be interesting once what type of home team biases exist. Specifically, the bottom four players all received one vote each.

I'd like to mention one thing that sticks out to me that, well, is pathetic.

Ryan Howard? Really, what did Howard do to encourage the writers to make this such a close race? What did Howard do that made the writers feel as though he was superior to teammate Chase Utley?

Let's compare the value and win stats of these two players:

RC/27 - Utley 7.79, Howard 6.43
WPA - Howard 2.37, Utley 1.47
VORP - Utley 62.2, Howard 35.3
MLV - Utley 42.7, Howard 27.5
WSAB - Utley 16, Howard 12
WARP - Utley 10.4, Howard 5.0

As you can see, Utley is substantial superior to Howard, leading in 5 of 6 value or win statistical categories.

How about EQA?

Utley - .308
Howard - .291

There you have it, Utley was clearly more valuable then Howard.

An argument was made for the play of Howard down the stretch, however can that same argument not be made for Utley's play to start the season? Chase posted an OPS as of June 2nd of 1.083. By comparison, while Howard was hot down the stretch, his play during that time was substantial less then Chase's, posting an OPS of .954 in the second half.

By voting for Ryan Howard over Chase Utley, the writers are invariably saying that production in April and May does not count to the same degree as production July, August, and September. While games appear to be more meaningful towards the end of the season, had Utley not performed at the level he did in April and May, Howard's second half production would have gone largely unnoticed as the Phils would have been playing meaningless games.

2008 BBWAA American and National League Manager of the Year

The BBWAA announced the American and National League Manager of the Year awards. The selections were not overly surprising, nor am I in the position to debate the decisions made.

Joe Maddon took the honors in the American League with 27 of 28 first place votes. I wonder what Maddon did differently in the eyes of the writers to make him jump from not being in the top 4, to being the best manager? That, or the other managers performed at a substantially less rate.

In the National League, Lou Piniella the award in what was a much tighter race. He was not listed on everyone's ballot but did make it on 27 of 32, which is fairly impressive.

The most interesting vote was for the Brewers Dale Sveum, who was listed on one writers ballot as the third best manager. If CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez do not qualify for award in the National League, I think it is laughable that someone picked Sveum for the managerial award.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The OLIB's 2008 Manager of the Year

The Manager of the Year Awards are ones that I truly do not care about, nor do I have a strong opinion in regards to it. It may be in part to being lazy, or it may be due to the fact that I have little to no experience playing baseball. Whatever the reason, I simply do not feel qualified to judge the performance of a manager.

That is, the easy and popular choice for the American League Award is Joe Maddon. A just argument is that Maddon was responsible for the Rays climb from worst to first. Having catchy slogans and being an interesting character certainly helps Maddon's case.

But what exactly did he do? It isn't as if Maddon 'managed' his team to being better hitters in 2008 compared to 2007, the statistics suggest both seasons were essentially identical. He did have to deal with a fair amount of injuries to deal with, so maybe he can be complimented for getting what he did out of Eric Hinske and Willy Aybar to patch up a wounded lineup.

However, Maddon also had a fair amount of underperformances. Players who simply played below their expected levels, such as Carlos Pena and BJ Upton. If Maddon is not to be punished for that, shouldn't Eric Wedge get a mulligan for Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner?

Some people may point the the improved performances from the Rays pitchers as evidence to the job that Maddon did, but is that a reflection of his management, or simply a matter of the teams defense improving? I do suppose he can be given credit for getting his pitchers to trust the players behind them, but to what degree?

Maddon successfully implemented two platoons and was patient with Jason Bartlett, so that is working in Maddon's favor.

Working against Maddon is the fact that his pinch hitters were among the worst in all of Major League baseball. Managers are often applauded for picking the right guy off the bench at the right time, but the Rays had the second worst OPS by a pinch hitter in the American League.

The question then, how have people come to the conclusion that Maddon was the American Leagues uncontested Manager of the Year? If the Rays have an identical performance in 2009, will he again win the award, or will it go to a manager that takes his team from the scrap heap to a championship?

That is, is this award a reflection of a team 'over-achieving' in the eyes of the public, or is this an award based on actual management? Are experts so certain about the specific game plans, and managerial styles that they can conclude the exact value of a manager?

Take Terry Francona for example. The Sox were expected to win. The Sox have a roster that on paper, looks like one of a winner. The Sox spend like a winner. Lo and behold, the Red Sox are winners. Can we legitimately say that Francona has less to do with the Sox winning then Maddon had with the Rays winning?

The National League holds a similar story. Lou Pinella seems to be the easy choice. But weren't the Cubs expected to win this year? Didn't many experts pick the Cubs to be the best team in the National League?

My formula for picking a Manager of the Year in each division will be to calculate how many wins per dollar spent each manager contributed. This will not be how I draw my conclusion, it will simply provide me with a couple candidates. In addition to wins per dollar, I will also look at how much a team 'overachieved' (explanation to follow) as well as considering hurdles a manager had to over come.

The chart below ranks teams based on the average price of players (courtesy CBS Sportsline). The highlighted teams (Blue = American League, Red = National League) represents the top three. The sixth column, improperly titled 'wins per million' is actually the amount of money each team spent on a win. The final column utilizes Baseball Prospectus' 3rd order standings compared to a teams actual standings.
In the American League, the top three Managers are the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Joe Maddon from the Rays did the most with the least amount of money spent. However, this is a tricky statistic, as the Rays are a product of having a lot of very impressive youngsters. Nevertheless, putting up a victory at less the $500,000 is an impressive feat.

Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins posted the second highest amount of wins better then their third order standings suggest. The Twins also did such with the 4th lowest payroll in the American League.

While the Angels are one of the highest priced teams in the league, Mike Scocia also got the most value out of each of his teams' wins among franchises in the top 10 in payroll. What sticks out most with the Angels is that Scocia managed to grab an additional 16 wins then his team deserved according to BP's third Order Wins.

While it is impressive what Maddon did with his low payroll, it isn't as if he took a bunch of nobodies and turned them into gold. A player such as Evan Longoria is a star and while he is not being paid as such, the expectations are similarly as high. Maddon then, is my runner-up for AL Manager of the Year with Mike Scocia taking the award due to managing his team to an additional 16 wins better then expected.

The top three in the National League are Charlie Manuel from the Philadelphia Phillies, Cecil Cooper of the Houston Astros, and Fredi Gonzalez of the Florida Marlins.

The other Florida team managed to get the most wins for the least amount of money, absolutely demolishing the impressive figure the Rays posted. Unlike the Rays, the Marlins did so while exceeding their third order wins. Additionally, Gonzalez did not have the benefit of putting out a roster of extraordinarily talented youngsters.

Cecil Cooper and the Houston Astros had one of the most underrated seasons in baseball. A team, that despite being in the top half in team spending proved to be relatively efficient with the money they did spend. The biggest factor working in Cooper's favor is the fact that his team over-achieved by more then 10 wins during the 2008 season. Those 10 wins are substantial, in that they represent the difference between a team that still had a shot up until the trade deadline, and a team without a prayer.

The Phillies Charlie Manuel had similar success to Cecil Cooper. While expectations for the Phillies were higher then they were for the Astros, Manuel provided decent punch compared to the dollars spent. His 5.2 wins above third order standings also help his case.

However, they do not help his case to be the winner, nor the runner up. Those votes will go to Fredi Gonzalez and Cecil Cooper respectively. Gonzalez just did too much with too little to ignore.

While popular opinion has it that Maddon and Pinella are the best managers in their respective leagues, popular opinion does not have a fancy chart.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The OLIB's 2008 AL Cy Young

To this point in the post-season awards, there has been two obvious candidates for each award. The same holds true for the American League Cy Young Award which sees Cliff Lee and his miraculous turn-around of a season, up against Roy Halladay and his underrated 'horse'-like season.

The two pitchers are inseparable, and despite Lee leading Halladay in essentially every category, there is reason to question whether or not Lee is deserving to be rated ahead of Halladay.

Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus first proposed the idea of rating Halladay over Lee. His theory was that Halladay's schedule had been substantially more difficult then Lee's. This is something I had never truly considered prior to reading Sheehan's article, but clearly this is relavent information.

Sheehan writes,
Cliff Lee has made 28 starts this season, Roy Halladay 29. Of those, 13 are in-common starts: the A’s, Rays and Rangers twice, and the Angels, White Sox, Reds, Royals, Twins, Yankees and Mariners once. Those starts cancel out. Of the remaining starts, there seems to be a very wide gap in the calilber of competition, enough to at least mention. Of the 15 starts Cliff Lee does not have in common with Halladay, nine have come against teams in the bottom third in offense, as ranked by team EqA, and none have come against a team ranked in the top six.

Looking at it from the other direction, Halladay does not have a single not-in-common start against a team ranked below 18th in EqA. So of the 15 (in Halladay’s case, 16) not in common starts between the two, 60% of Lee’s have come against offenses worse than any of Halladay’s. Halladay also has four not-in-common starts (one against the Cubs, three against the Red Sox) better than any of Lee’s.
Wouldn't you agree that is substantial? Wouldn't that be like not adjusting a hitter's stats that were inflated by an extremely favorable hitting environment?

Sheehan continues,
Let me run the data this way, because I think it illustrates the point. The following numbers are the team EqA ranks for each not-in-common opponent, highest to lowest.

Halladay: 3, 4, 4, 4, 9, 9, 9, 11, 11, 14, 14, 14, 14, 17, 18, 18

Lee: 7, 7, 7, 12, 13, 13, 21, 22, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 28, 28

It helps if you read those numbers right to left. It’s clear from this data that Cliff Lee has seen a significantly inferior set of opponents than Halladay has.
The argument becomes substantial. However, individuals may slightly discredit it, by taking a lazy approach, looking at the 'similar opponents' and grouping them together. One writer, debated me at BDD using this lazy approach.

His theory was, for example, that 6 'common' starts are the same no matter who the common starts are. While anyone with a moderate amount of intelligence can understand that if one pitcher throws 5 games against the Yankees and 1 against the Royals it is vastly more difficult then 5 games against the Royals and 1 against the Yankees. This doesn't even account for the enormous deviations in hitter friendly environments that exists.

What that lazy analyst should have done, is the following:

Halladay faced the following teams in common:
  • Boston 5 times
  • Kansas City once
  • Minnesota once
  • New York Yankees 6 times
  • Seattle once
  • Tampa 5 times
  • Texas once
Lee faced the same opponents:
  • Once
  • Five times
  • Four times
  • Once
  • Twice
  • Twice
  • Twice
What he then should have done was calculate each teams runs per game:
  • Boston Red Sox - 5.22
  • Kansas City Royals - 4.27
  • Minnesota Twins - 5.13
  • New York Yankees - 4.87
  • Seattle Mariners - 4.14
  • Tampa Bay Rays - 4.78
  • Texas Rangers - 5.56
The next step would have been to create a balance going one way or another. That is to say, Halladay faced Boston 5 times and Lee faced them once, thus, Halladay gets credit for 4 starts against a team with 5.22 runs per game. Similarly, Lee faced Minnesota 4 times and Halladay faced them once, thus, Lee gets credit for only 3 starts against a team with a 5.13 run per game.

The next step is to multiply the games played by the amount of runs per game. I separated Halladays starts from Lee's and found:
  • Halladay faced 12 'similar' games against teams with a cumulative 4.96 runs per game,
  • Lee faced 9 'similar' games against teams with a cumulative 4.69 runs per game.
That deviation is the difference between facing baseball's 7th best offensive team instead of baseball's 15th best offensive team. In other words, Halladay had a substantially more difficult 'similar opponents' schedule.

Thus, despite the writers assertion that Lee fared better then Halladay against similar opponents, the writer failed to discover that Lee had a substantially easier similar opponents schedule.

While Sheehan's analysis is excellent and provides quite the step towards arguing for Roy Halladay, his analysis assumes that Halladay was facing the best Red Sox lineup everytime he went out there. While my procedure takes a similar shortcut, we can utilize Baseball Prospectus' database to tell us who faced more difficult batters.

According to BP's "Opponent's Quality, On Base Plus Slugging Average (OQO) is the aggregate on base plus slugging average of all batters faced by a pitcher..." We can use this tool to figure out who regularly faced tougher opponents.

In the American League, among starters with at least 200 innings pitched during the 2008 season, Roy Halladay had the most difficult OQO of .766. Ranking last out of 15 pitchers was, guess who, Cliff Lee, posting an OQO of .735.

In other words, we're talking the difference in Felipe Lopez and Yunel Escobar. By show of hands, if you were to pick one of those hitters to face for every at bat of a season, which one would you take over the other?

While this certainly should not entirely discredit what Lee accomplished this season, it does go to show that one must utilize some perspective when selectiving the leagues best pitcher. It is because of this perspective that Cliff Lee is the inferior pitcher to Roy Halladay in the American League.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brian Cashman, You Devil!

On afternoon of Free Agency, the New York Yankees completed a trade to replace Jason Giambi, acquiring Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira from the Chicago White Sox for Wilson Betemit (one of my favorite players), and Minor League pitchers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.

Upon first impression, Brian Cashman looks like a genius and Kenny Williams looks like a goat. If you recall, Williams traded for Swisher just under a year ago. At this point, it appears obvious that Williams paid a lot more then he received for the slugger.

Let's look at what Williams received for Swisher first.

Wilson Betemit has power, nobody would argue that. He is still young enough to be seen as a player with potential. What he doesn't have are greater flaws then what he does possess. Betemit is poor at taking walks and great at striking out, not an excellent combination to have.

Betemit is also a capable fielder at essentially any position save catcher. While he is stretched at places, he can certainly field them on at least a temporary basis.

As an arbitration eligible player, Betemit should see a modest increase from his 2008 salary of a little over $1.1M. What this part of the trade boils down to is Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, and Ryan Sweeney for a utility infielder. While Betemit's still youthful enough to provide something offensively, he will have to beat out Josh Fields, or one of Chris Getz and Jayson Nix. Not an impossible feat, but one that is doubtful to provide anything beneficial.

The Yankees are also sending two pitching prospects, neither scoring very high on anayones radar, and lacking the youth of true high upside players. However, both have scouting projectability to be watched for the next year or two.

The eldest prospect being Jeff Marquez, a 24 year old pitcher that hasn't shown anything special throughout his professional career. Being a groundball pitcher and having an adequate walk rate, Marquez could fill an end of the rotation role. However, Marquez was relatively homer prone in Triple A this season. Possibly this was due to poor fortune, or maybe Marquez was at a level where his mistakes would go over the fences.

Entering last year, Minor League Balls' John Sickels rated Marquez as the 14th best prospect in a weak Yankees system. He was given a C+ grade, which I imagine had much to do with his age, then performance.

Baseball America had Marquez rated as the organizations number seven prospect. While a more promising ranking, BA asserts that there is not much outside of the top 5 in this organization, although the Yankees were taking steps.

In consideration of this, Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein placed Marquez as a just missed player. While there are players that have gone under the radar, and largely ignored as prospects onto bigger and better things, it's tough to see that happening with Marquez.

22 year old Jhonny Nunez, the one time Washington Nationals prospect, rounds out the players received from the Yankees. Nunez was received from the Nationals for glove-first short stop Alberto Gonzalez. In what was a nice trade at the time for the Yankees, is now much more attractive.

Nunez struggled in high A ball with the Nationals, although he pitched better then his 5.22 ERA would lead one to believe. Once Nunez moved to double A, fly balls began to stay in the park, and Nunez's strong strikeout and adequate walk numbers remained.

One could propose the idea that it was Nunez's conversion to reliever which had him take a major step this season. Personally, I'd like to see him in the rotation at double A to start the 2009 season. If it is a matter of getting weaker as the game wears on, then a move to the bullpen won't be the worst thing.

I find it interesting that despite being in a weak Nationals system, only Sickels had Nunez listed on his top prospects list. Albeit, Nunez was fairly low on his radar, ranking as a C+ prospect and #18 out of 20. It wouldn't surprise me to see Nunez be bumped up everyone's list this year, although cracking the top 10 may still be a stretch.

Sending a utility infielder, an at best #4/5 starter, and a likely Major League reliever in exchange for a hitter of Nick Swisher's talent is what could be referred to as a bargain, a steal, an improper exchange of valuables.

Swisher will be 28 years old as of Opening Day, and entering the prime of what has already been a nice career. While 2008 was certainly a disappointment for Swish, it also marked the worst season of his career, one with uncharacteristically low batted ball figures. It can be expected that Swisher will rebound in 2009 and hit at least to the levels of his career average (.800+ OPS).

At an average of close to $8M a year for the next four seasons, Swisher is an absolute bargain. One hot season and the Yankees could certainly flip him for some high level prospects. However, if the Yankees choose to hold onto Swisher through the duration of his career-and the duration of his prime years-the annual savings will allow them to overspend in other areas, even moreso then they already do.

As if Swisher was not enough, Cashman had Williams throw-in Kanekoa Texeira. In terms of 'throw-ins' go, this is as good as it gets. In fact, Texeira has as good of a chance at being a quality Major League contributor as eitherMarquez and Nunez.

Armed with an arsenal of fastball, change-up, and what was considered the best slider in the White Sox organization, Texeira is a reliever that has had success at every level of the minors since being drafted in the 22nd round of the 2006 draft. Texeira's performance to date shows that he very well could be ready for the Majors immediately.

While it is unlikely that he starts the 2009 season on the big league club, an eventual call-up is not out of the question. It also seems reasonable to expect Yankees fans to deem him the heir to Mariano Rivera. Unjustified as it may be the Yankees swiped a very good prospect here.

This is a very confusing trade and one that certainly has to be given to the Yankees. The White Sox are not a small market club, so it isn't as if they could utilize the salary flexibility and this was more of a cash dump. In fact, the ChiSox may have been better off eating some of Swisher's salary and then shopping him.

Whatever the reason, there is little doubt that the White Sox took a major step back from the day before they acquired Nick Swisher to today. They sent the A's three very highly coveted youngsters and swapped that product for three end of the roster players.

Worse yet, while Kenny Williams has a 'surplus' today, this is the last year of Jim Thome's contract. Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye are not getting any younger. Josh Fields isn't going to get any better repeating triple A for the forth season. REGRET, is soon to be spelt S-W-I-S-H-E-R in the South Side of Chicago.

For the winner of this deal, it appears unlikely they will go after Mark Teixeira, or any other top hitter via free agency this off-season. While Teixeira would be an obvious upgrade over Swisher, the teams rumored to be interested in the first basemen should drive up his price making him less valuable. That being said, the Yankees can concentrate on acquiring pitching and spending like, well, like the Yankees.

I will discuss the Cubs-Marlins trade tomorrow.

2008 BBWAA American League Cy Young

I was reading a comment by Pete Toms which asked the question, "why do we care about the awards given by the BBWAA?" This is a very valid question.

Despite spending a lot of time reading about baseball, I rarely, if ever, will closely read a baseball column in the newspaper. If I am somewhere that happens to have a Toronto newspaper handy, I will eventually make it to the baseball portion of the sports section. But that is a rarity, maybe once a week.

So why do we care?

I suppose it is a matter of integrity. The winners of these awards will be immortalized in baseball history. The average fan will forever know that Tim Lincecum was the "best" pitcher in the National League during the 2008 season. But that same fan shouldn't have to personally evaluate the performance of each pitcher in the National League during that season to figure out who was the second best.

That is, since the BBWAA do not properly evaluate the players merits, if the average baseball fan wants to know, for example, who the top three pitchers were, they will have to do their own homework. This is due to the fact that the BBWAA simply cannot be trusted. The writers can make anyone they choose into stars, and slander any player that doesn't provide a good interview.

It is because of that desire to have a personal relationship with the players, that 'press' writers should stand off from voting for the post-season awards. Let them paint their pictures of the play on the field, but let the analysts do their jobs.

The reason for the tangent is in response to the BBWAA's American League Cy Young voting. While the voters did not swing and miss to the extent of their National League brethren, there was a great deal of voters who simply do not get it.

Cliff Lee won the award, and while there is certainly an argument supporting his candidacy, there is also an argument against it. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this selection, although I would have taken the runner-up, Roy Halladay (explanation tomorrow). Rounding out those given votes were Francisco Rodriguez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, and Ervin Santana.

I spend a lot of time harping on the BBWAA, and this award does not come away unscathed. Here are cases against the BBWAA based solely on the American League Cy Young ballots for the 2008 season. Put in other terms, if the writers credibility were to be up for trial, this would be one of the areas they could be attacked.

Case #1

Roy Halladay. As I mentioned, not picking Halladay as the winner is fine. What isn't fine is the 3 writers who left Doc off of their ballots altogether. The only possible excuse I could think up for these 3 writers, is that they felt so stupid for not naming Halladay as the 2nd best pitcher, that they simply left him off altogether.

There is a legitimate argument that Halladay was the best pitcher in the American League. That 9 writers felt he wasn't in the top 2 is embarrassing and evidence to the lack of understanding these writer have.

Case #2

Francisco Rodriguez. Other then saves, what category did Rodriguez lead American League relievers in? I'm not willing to look hard enough to find that category, but I will list some important ones that he trailed his leaguemates in.
  • Save Percentage: KRod's 89% is outstanding, Rivera's 97.5% happens to be better. So too was Jensen Lewis' 93% rounding out the three American League relievers with 10 or more saves.
  • Win Probability Added: Another area where Rodriguez had a fine season, albeit, not as fine as Rivera, Joakim Soria, and Bobby Jenks.
  • Pitching Runs Created: Rodriguez wasn't even the best reliever on his team in this aspect. He trailed closers Rivera, Joe Nathan, and Sora.
  • Win Shares Above Bench: Probably the most interesting stat to utilize here, and one that arguably convinced the Angels to let Rodriguez walk in Free Agency. KRod is tied as the third best closer in this category, behind Rivera and Soria, tied with Jonathan Papelbon and Nathan. Oh, KRod is also behind teammate (and rookie) Jose Arredondo.
  • Adjusted Runs Prevented from Scoring: A key stat for relievers, not so key for closers specifically, but important nonetheless. For this category, Rodriguez ranks behind top closers Rivera, Nathan, Soria, Papelbon, and Jenks.
  • Expected Wins Added Over a Replacement Level Pitcher: KRod finishes second in this category, behind Rivera.
  • Value Over Replacement Player: Rivera, Nathan, and Soria all rate higher then Rodriguez here. Papelbon and Jenks trail Rodriguez by a marginal amount.
That is seven stats where Rodriguez trails Rivera in every single one, not to mention trailing Soria and Nathan in nearly every one. Seven stats where on average, Rodriguez compares very closely with Papelbon and Jenks-great closers in their own right, by Cy Young candidates?

Don't get me wrong, Rodriguez had a very strong season. Not only do closers have the pressure of shutting the door on some close games, but he was also dealing with the spotlight of breaking Bobby Thigpen's 18 year old record.

However, his performance was vastly inferior to Mariano Rivera's, and there is even an argument for a handful of other closers, even relievers, who performed at a higher level then Rodriguez. To hand top 3 votes to a player because of one category is ridiculous.

These are two major cases against the credibility of the BBWAA. Obviously the organization as a whole is not lacking credibility, but there are a good amount of writers whom should be scrapped from the voting process. Otherwise, baseball's post-season awards and the hall-of-fame will lose much of it's value.

I would truly like to see a major corporate sponsor step up, and put together a legitimate vote. One where the voters are educated analysts. One where home team biases are eliminated through facts and information-not lead stories.

That is, imagine a situation where some of baseball's brightest minds, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, I'll even give Ken Rosenthal a vote, and others. Couple this with "Pepsi presents..." and enough people would at least hear about this award to eventually legitimize it.

Dream on, dreamer...

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2008 BBWAA National League Cy Young

"I started a joke, which started the whole world crying, but I didn't see that the joke was on me"

It's official, any sliver of credibility the BBWAA owned has been eliminated. It has been ripped to shreds, stamped on, torched, and discarded. While there is an argument to be made that this occurred a very long time ago, the writers have certainly outdone themselves this time.

The National League Cy Young should have come down to two pitchers; Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana. There is an argument that works in the favor of both pitchers. Where Lincecum was marginally more valuable-beating out Santana in WPA, Win Shares, PRC, and SNLVAR-Santana had a substantially more difficult schedule. While Lincecum is my choice, I can respect an individual who makes an intelligent and logical claim for Johan.

What I can't respect is the individual who calls for Brandon Webb to be the best pitcher in the National League. In fact, there is a legitimate argument against Webb being the best pitcher on his own team.

The BBWAA, however, found a way to further discredit the merits of post-season awards. Maybe they did so intentionally. Maybe their voting was out of protest. For whatever reason, we are stuck with a system that simplay has no value to the baseball world.

Today, the 2008 National League Cy Young Award winner was nominated. It was justly given to Tim Lincecum. While Lincecum was rewarded with 23 of 32 first place votes, for some strange reason four writers felt that Brandon Webb was the superior pitcher-hopefully we can get to the bottom of this.

Worse yet, there is a writer who left Lincecum off his ballot altogether. This only strikes a chord with me because there is one writer out of 32 who felt this way. One!

Being someone who traditionally has some obscure ways of drawing conclusions, and a skewed perspective of logic, I typically cannot argue with one person thinking outside the box. The problem is, Lincecum was clearly one of the top two pitchers in the National League this year. If he wasn't in the top two, there is no way he could justly be left off a ballot altogether. In fact, I am eager to hear what sort of skewed logic this writer came to.

While Lincecum winning the award is an impressive accomplishment, how much of it can Lincecum truly feel satisfied with, when the rest of the voting is a joke?

Brandon Webb, while an outstanding pitcher, he's probably one of the top 5 pitchers whom I would build a team around. However, he did not have the best statistical season of any other pitcher in the National League to warrant the first place votes he received. In fact, between him, Santana, Lincecum, Ryan Dempster, and Cole Hamels, he clearly had the worst statistical season of the bunch.

Thus, handing him second place votes is as much of a joke as the first place votes were (we can assume two of the four first place votes came from Arizona writers, the other two could have come from the morons who voted for Edinson Volquez for Rookie of the Year despite not being eligible for the award).

It is absolutely pathetic that Webb received runner-up votes over Johan Santana. What makes it so pathetic is the fact that the voters are going to turn to Webb's wins and winning percentage as evidence to his superiority.

I'm glad that despite all the information proving that wins and winning percentage are essentially useless statistics for pitchers there are still writers giving pitchers credit for them. I won't even go into the fact that Webb trailed Santana in every other meaningful statistic, but I think you get the point, this is embarrassing.

But let's put this into an analogy. By voting for Webb over Santana based soley on wins and winning percentage, the BBWAA are invariably handing this award to the player PLUS his team. That is, what if Webb received 2 or 3 fewer runs of support a game? Would that mean he pitched any worse?

What can we then say the Cy Young is based on. Value? If that is the case, then who was more valuable then CC Sabathia and Brad Lidge?

I think we can safely predict the American League Cy Young winner now, sorry Drunk Jays Fans.

BallHype: hype it up!
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