Archive for July, 2008

Manny to LA?

Well, baseball never ceases to surprise – it’s being reported that the Dodgers stepped in at the last minute to win the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes, taking Florida’s spot in the three team deal, and enabling the Red Sox to still end up with Jason Bay.

No final word on who is going where, so it’s tough to provide analysis, but the Red Sox have to be happy to have Bay instead of Ramirez, you have to assume the Pirates got what they wanted in order to move their star outfielder, which means that the Dodgers almost certainly paid a high price.

The Pirates will reportedly receive 3B Andy LaRoche, RHP Bryan Morris, OF Brandon Moss, and RHP Craig Hansen. The Red Sox get Bay and the Dodgers get Ramirez.

So, the Dodgers got Manny, but didn’t give up any outfielders, meaning that they now have two spots available for Kemp/Ethier/Jones/Pierre. That’s going to be fun for Torre to manage. If they can manage to keep Jones and Pierre on the bench most of the time, this is a pretty big upgrade, considering those two are not good at all. If Manny takes time away from Ethier or Kemp, it’s not a good move.

The Red Sox get Bay and rid themselves of the Manny show. They win.

The Pirates don’t get any stars back, but both LaRoche and Moss could be solid players, while Morris is a big arm and Hansen has some value as a reliever salvage project.

An Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle

Pitcher Jeff Samardzija likes to keep us guessing.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft and was actually the club’s second pick of the day due to a lack of second, third and fourth round selections (thanks to a free agent frenzy the previous winter).

Samardzija was given a significant contract to forgo a pro football career after spending his college days playing both sports at Notre Dame. At one point he was considered the top-rated wide receiver in the 2007 NFL draft.

Samardzija began his pro baseball career in 2006 in Rookie Ball and held his own, which earned him a late-season promotion to the Midwest League where he made two starts. Samardzija began 2007 in High-A ball but put up disappointing numbers with 142 hits allowed in 107.1 innings of work. He also walked 35 and struck out just 45 batters despite working in the mid- to high-90s.

The Cubs organization decided to promote Samardzija at the end of that season to Double-A where he made six starts despite the disappointing numbers in High-A ball. A funny thing happened. His numbers improved when everyone expected him to struggle. Albeit in fewer appearances, Samardzija’s H/9 ratio dropped from 11.91 to 8.65 and his K/9 increased from 3.77 to 5.24 (which was still low).

Samardzija repeated Double-A at the beginning of 2008 and again posted disappointing numbers with 71 hits allowed in 76 innings, along with 42 walks and just 44 strikeouts. The organization was aggressive with Samardzija and promoted him to Triple-A and he responded. He allowed 32 hits in 37.1 innings and walked 16 to go along with 40 strikeouts (the first time he came anywhere close to striking out a batter per nine innings).

Samardzija, 23, with a football background and mentality seems to thrive under pressure and in situations where he needs to rise to the occasion. At Triple-A with the bases empty, batters hit .275 against the pitcher. With runners in scoring position, hitters managed just a .207 average. In three recent Major League appearances, Samardzija allowed three hits and one walk in five relief innings on the biggest baseball stage in the world. He also struck out six batters.

So, yes, Samardzija’s pro numbers have been very disappointing prior to 2008, but he may have just needed a push – or shove – to rise to the occasion. I know Cubs fans, hungry for a World Series title, certainly hope this riddle has been solved.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t get too comfortable too soon.

Projecting Zimmerman

I took a drive down to D.C. to take in the Nationals-Phillies game last night with my family and, following two great fielding plays, was reminded just how much I like Ryan Zimmerman. Prior to this year I had spent seven years (age 15-21) as a freelance graphics coordinator for CN8 Sports, wherein my job consisted of supplying stats to the guy who generated the on-screen graphics amongst others. One of the perks was all of the minor league games requiring my services. One of these games, involving the AA Harrisburg Senators, always stuck out due to Zimmerman’s involvement.

The game took place in August 2005, only a couple of months after the Nationals drafted Ryan, and, in my best scouting impression, he just had that look about him. I’m not too sure what that means or tells us but he just seemed to have the body, raw skills, and makeup of a future major league star. He performed quite well that game and two weeks later found himself in the major leagues. I’ll never forget thinking how remarkable it was that he had gone from college kid to relatively successful major league player in the span of two and a half or so months.

In 20 September games back in 2005, Zimmerman produced a .397/.419/.569 line, built upon a laughably unsustainable .500 BABIP. The following year, his true rookie year, he finished behind Hanley Ramirez in Rookie of the Year voting but posted extremely impressive numbers. In 157 games of plus-defense at third base, Zimm hit .287/.351/.471, with 20 home runs and 47 doubles. Playing in RFK didn’t help his home run numbers but 47 doubles as a rookie? Come on, now…

His BABIP that season was a more earthbound .329 and given his young age, 21-22 years old, it was not too insane to think that this would merely serve as a stepping stone for much greener performance pastures. Last season, however, he didn’t pick up where he left off. While playing all 162 games he hit .266/.330/.458, with 24 home runs and 43 doubles. His grand total of homers and two-baggers remained the same, as did his walk and strikeout rates, but his lower .298 BABIP resulted in a drop of twenty points in his batting average and on-base percentage.

While those numbers might be good for others, I quite simply expected more from Zimmerman. Perhaps it was merely a sophomore slump, something he would shake off this year. I’m not so sure anymore. Though he has battled injuries this year, he entered last night’s game with a .259/.300/.414 slash line. He has seemingly traded in some line drives for grounders and currently has an even lower .284 BABIP. Plugging him into both of the in-season projection systems offers this:

Marcel: 16 2B, 7 HR, .285/.351/.472 over the remainder
Total: 28 2B, 15 HR, .271/.325/.442, and an OPS of .767

ZiPS: 10 2B, 6 HR, .283/.353/.500 over the remainder
Total: 22 2B, 14 HR, .268/.322/.446, and an OPS of .768

Should he stay true to his talent level, this season should not end too differently from last season; however, in my eyes, that is not necessarily a “good” thing considering that last season signified a drop in performance from his rookie season. Though a .768 OPS in an injury-shortened season and a .788 in his sophomore season aren’t extremely different from his .822 in 2005, he is yet to take that next step towards super-stardom. Granted it may be tough to do while in a Nationals uniform but right now I’m disappointed with his production. From anyone who follows the Nationals—which, by the way the stadium looked last night constitutes a small number of fans—is there anything you have noticed with regards to Zimmerman, either this year or last? Is it injuries having an effect or has he not truly improved at all?

The Manny-Hermida Deal

So, apparently, this trading deadline won’t be a boring one, with the Red Sox, Pirates, and Marlins engaged in talks that would send Manny Ramirez to Florida, Jeremy Hermida to Pittsburgh, and Jason Bay to Boston, along with various assorted minor leaguers and cash floating around.

There’s a lot of interesting things about this deal, but this morning, I’ll tackle this deal from Florida’s perspective. Depending on how things go this afternoon, we’ll get to the Boston/Pittsburgh perspectives a bit later.

How much does this help the Marlins?

Florida paid a high price for the Hermida/Ramirez upgrade, believing that Manny’s extra offense could push them into the playoffs. But Jeremy Hermida is no slouch himself. The in-seaosn Marcel tool has him at .276/.352/.458 for the rest of the season, compared to it’s .287/.386/.517 projection for the rest of Manny’s 2008. Clearly, Manny’s better, but like with the Teixeira-Kotchman trade, the upgrade isn’t huge.

In fact, over the course of 237 PAs (the projected total for Hermida), Marcel thinks the offensive difference between the two is about seven runs. The offensive difference… seven runs. Manny’s also a pretty horrible fielder (though the Green Monster makes most zone based stats overstate how bad), and the defensive difference between the two is nearly as large as the offensive difference (The Fielding Bible has Hermida as +4 plays so far in 2008 with Ramirez at -15). Even over two months, the defensive difference between the two will almost certainly be worth at least 3 or 4 runs, and that’s being really kind to Manny. It’s certainly possible that Manny is as bad as UZR, +/-, and the rest all think, and the defensive difference over two months is closer to 10 runs.

In fact, it’s arguable that this trade will actually make the Marlins worse for the rest of 2008. Their two best hitters, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, are both right-handed, and adding Manny to that now makes the middle of their line-up much more susceptible to right-handed specialists. It’s a minor thing, but when they’re not getting a player substantially better than the one they’re giving up, the minor things can make a difference.

When you factor both offense and defense into the equation, this is basically a push for Florida. This wouldn’t make them better by any real margin, and it would cost them significant future assets. As I write this, the deal isn’t complete yet, so hopefully for Marlins fans, someone in Miami will come to their sense.

Cano’s Curious Case

Back on June 24th, Yankees second-baseman Robinson Cano had the Rafael Belliard-esque slash line of .227/.270/.325. He had been a huge disappointment and seemed to be in the midst of a big step in the wrong direction. After all, by the time his third season in the big leagues ended last year, it appeared that Cano might give Chase Utley a run for his money as the premier offensive keystone cornerman in the game. If we know anything about a player’s true talent level, though, it is that a player performing much, much worse than his pre-season projection through the first half is very likely to post much better numbers from that point on.

It should come as no surprise then that, since June 24th, Cano has produced a .359/.377/.573 slash line. He has never been one to walk much, finishing both 2006 and 2007 in the AL’s bottom ten in BB%, while currently ranking fourth lowest this year. His strikeouts, however, are occurring less frequently this year. After finishing out of the top ten lowest strikeout rates in 2006 and 2007 he currently has the fourth lowest rate.

Due to this he is putting balls in play at a higher rate this year and, whether a direct result or not, his BABIP has taken a serious hit. After coming in between .320 and .361 in his first three years, his current mark of .273 pales in comparison. It may not be significantly different from a statistics standpoint but the fact remains it is a big cause of his lower numbers. I initially thought this drop may be due to a lower rate of line drives, but he has actually hit them at a higher frequency this year; his groundball rate has dropped, though. Additionally, his flyballs have increased while his HR/FB has dropped; after ranging between 10.4% and 12.3% it is currently just 7.8%.

Plugging him into both of the in-season projection systems produces the following:

Marcel: 65-211, 6 HR, .310/.352/.486, .838 OPS
Total: 170-605, 15 HR, .282/.319/.429, .748 OPS

ZiPS: 62-213, 6 HR, .291/.332/.451, .783 OPS
Total: 167-607, 15 HR, .275/.314/.417, .731 OPS

While both project the same amount of home runs over the next 50-55 games, ZiPS has him posting a slugging percentage 35 points lower than the Marcel. Both seem to agree, though, or come relatively close to each other in the slash line and OPS departments when looking at his total seasonal line. Unless Cano absolutely destroys his in-season projection this is going to be a down-year for him, but he is not as bad as his current numbers would lead us to believe. Next year will be the test to see if he can bounce back or if this season is the beginning of an early downward trend.

Yanks Acquire Pudge

The New York Yankees made a splash today, acquiring Ivan Rodriguez from the Detroit Tigers to replace the injured Jorge Posada behind the plate. In reality, Pudge will take at-bats from Jose Molina, who had been doing the catching in Posada’s absence. How big of an upgrade is Rodriguez over Molina?

Pudge is a slightly below average hitter, putting up a .295/.338/.417 line that translates into a -0.39 WPA/LI for the season. For a catcher, being a nearly league average hitter is very good, and when combined with his defense behind the plate, makes Pudge something like a +3 win player (compared to a replacement level catcher) over a full season. With 1/3 of the year left, that makes Pudge about +1 win over replacement covering the final two months.

Speaking of replacement level, Molina is basically the poster boy. He’d racked up -1.56 WPA/LI in just 192 at-bats, thanks to his .229/.279/.307 line for the season. While he’s a good defensive catcher, so is Pudge, and the offensive difference is pretty significant.

The Yankees just added a one win upgrade in their line-up in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth. Kinda makes the Angels marginal improvement yesterday look bad in comparison.

Opposite Directions of Skills and Results

While perusing the league leaderboards last night I noticed that two former Phillies—Gavin Floyd and Kevin Millwood—are on the opposite ends of the ERA-FIP spectrum. Floyd’s -1.45 E-F is the largest negative discrepancy in the American League. Millwood, however, has a +1.31 differential, which ranks behind nobody other than Carlos Silva in his league. By looking solely at their standard barometers of W-L and ERA the seasons of these two pitchers can be very misleading.

Gavin Floyd, White Sox, 25 yrs old
10-6, 3.57 ERA
6.19 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 1.24 WHIP, .223 BA, 1.31 HR/9
.237 BABIP, 69.7% LOB, 5.02 FIP

Kevin Millwood, Rangers, 33 yrs old
6-6, 5.40 ERA
6.73 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 1.74 WHIP, .326 BA, 0.91 HR/9
.379 BABIP, 69.7% LOB, 4.09 FIP

Millwood has the higher K/9 as well as the lower BB/9 and HR/9. His Zito-esque WHIP and 5.40 ERA can largely be attributed to his .379 BABIP, a number 35 points ahead of closest competitor Livan Hernandez. Though his strand rate isn’t abnormally below average, Millwood has allowed plenty of baserunners thanks to no help from balls put in play against him. His 27.1% rate of line drives, which leads the league, could account for this; next closest is Jon Garland’s 24.2%. Over the past three years, when his BABIP was lower, he posted line drive rates of 20.6%-21.3%.

Floyd’s ERA is deceiving not just due to his controllable skills but also because he has actually allowed more runs to score than it would suggest. Floyd has allowed just 49 earned runs but 66 total runs; that’s 17 unearned runs that have scored against him not taken into account with his ERA. He also has the second lowest BABIP in the league, behind only Justin Duchsherer, and the seventh lowest line drive rate. While both he and Millwood have identical strand rates, Floyd has allowed much fewer runners to reach base thanks to an unsustainably low BABIP; Millwood’s has essentially been unsustainably high.

What happens when we plug these guys into the in-season Marcel?

Floyd: 11 GS, 4.85 FIP, 67 IP, 62 H, 25 BB, 46 K, 1.31 WHIP
Millwood: 11 GS, 4.04 FIP, 58 IP, 73 H, 21 BB, 44 K, 1.61 WHIP

All told, Floyd would end with an FIP of 4.96 and Millwood much lower at 4.07. Regardless, Floyd could win 14-15 games and look much better than he should whereas Millwood would have been the better pitcher in terms of controllable skills; his results, however, would be much worse. He can’t possibly keep up a .379 BABIP, just like Floyd can’t possibly sustain a .237, but it might be too late for their regression to make a truly significant impact on their overall seasonal lines. If anything it should still lessen their ERA-FIP differentials.

This is just another example of how W-L and ERA don’t necessarily do a pitcher justice. It seems like forever ago that Millwood was an important part of the Braves rotation, and toiling in Texas, owners of perhaps the worst rotation of the last fifteen or so years in 2007, hasn’t helped, but he has definitely been much better than his numbers suggest this year.

While it’s certainly possible for pitchers to outdo their FIP with ERA (see: Carlos Zambrano) I would tend to bet Floyd won’t fall into this category. Then again, I could be biased due to seeing him struggle for the Phillies early on. Floyd has been a key component of the first place White Sox, who quite possibly have the best rotation in the league (it’s either them or Toronto), but his success is hinged upon a ridiculously low BABIP. It won’t even out as the remainder of the season plays out but I would be hard-pressed to believe that, assuming he hovers around the average strand rate, when his BABIP regresses that his ERA will stay in the 3.57 range.

Teixeira Trade

Well, that was nice – I laid out four scenarios this morning for the relative value of adding Mark Teixeira, and the Angels go and make a deal that makes the entire post irrelevant a few hours later, trading him for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

So, now that we know the particulars of the deal, I figured I’ll look at it from a slightly different angle. The wins added for the rest of the year is pretty much the same with Kotchman being replaced instead of Rivera, and in reality, those extra runs don’t matter, because the Angels have already made the playoffs. Maybe not officially, but they have a double digit lead on the rest of their division, and Texas is the only other AL West team that isn’t selling off players. The Angels are winning their division with Kotchman, Teixeira, or Carrot Top playing first base. In terms of playoff odds, this trade doesn’t matter.

Instead, the Angels made this trade to try to do better in the playoffs. So, let’s take a look at how much better they’ll be on a per-game basis in October with Teixeira playing first base instead of Casey Kotchman. For this, I turned to Baseball Musing’s Line-Up Analysis Tool, plugging in the Marcel projection for Teixeira in place of Kotchman (and in turn, movie Kendrick up to #2 in the order).

With Teixeira, the Angels offense projects out to 5.023 runs per game.
With Kotchman, the Angels offense projects out to 4.828 runs per game.

Teixeira makes the Angels better, though just like this morning, the moral of the story is that one player simply doesn’t make as big a difference as is commonly believed. Punching the new runs scored/allowed numbers into the pythagorean formula, the Angels with Teixeira are a .591 club and with Kotchman they’re a .569 club. In reality, they’re not quite as good as either of those numbers, as we’ve held their run prevention static, while they’re over-performing by a decent amount in that area.

So, in reality, it’s probably more like they’re a .570 club with Teixeira and a .550 club with Kotchman. They move from good to very good, but overall, it doesn’t move their odds of winning the world series by more than a few points.

In the end, this is the kind of move that the Angels felt they had to make in order to show their fans and the players on the field that they were serious about going for it. As a P.R. move, it will work wonders. As a trade to dramatically improve the teams’s chances of making the playoffs or winning the world series, it’s really a very small step.

Pennant Fever

With the trade deadline a few days away, there are some pretty obvious buyers and sellers. The Yankees, Mets, and Diamondbacks are trying to add talent and improve their chances of making the playoffs, while the Mariners, Pirates, and Braves are selling off talent and looking to the future. For most clubs, whether to buy or sell is a pretty obvious thing, requiring a glance at the standings and an honest evaluation of their own abilities.

For three teams, however, they are apparently having problems with the honest evaluation part.

Houston Astros, 49-56, 12.5 GB in NL Central, 10.5 GB in Wild Card

Inexplicably, the Astros are apparently looking to add talent for the last two months of the season in an effort to… finish 79-83? I’m not sure. They’ve already acquired Randy Wolf as a rental starting pitcher for the remainder of 2008, and according to the rumor mill, they’re actively looking to pick up another player or two to reinforce their roster.

The Astros have the 10th best record in the NL, and I’m pretty sure they’re aware that only four teams make the playoffs. They’d have to leapfrog over at least six teams (probably seven) currently ahead of them, and all of those teams are better than they are. No matter what kind of playoff odds estimator you want to use, the inevitable conclusion is that Houston has no better than a 1-in-1000 chance of making the playoffs this year. They have about an equal chance of finishing with the worst record in baseball, and yet, somehow, they’ve decided to be buyers. Inexplicable.

Colorado Rockies, 48-59, 6 GB in NL West, 12.5 GB in Wild Card

Yes, the Rockies made a miracle run last year and ended up in the World Series. But you konw why it was a miracle? Because it doesn’t happen two years in a row. Despite the fact that they play in a sad division where .500 puts you in contention, it’s still a massive uphill battle for the Rox in ’08. Consider that, as of this writing, only 3 National League teams have worse records than the Rockies. Yes, two of them happen to be division rivals, but generally speaking, the 13th best team out of 16 isn’t gearing up for a playoff run in August.

They have no shot at the wild card whatsoever, so they’re resting their entire hopes and dreams on the division. And while 6 games back with two months to go might not sound like an obstacle that can’t be overcome, you have to put it in the perspective of having to beat out both Arizona and Los Angeles. With 55 games to go (compared to 57 each for the D’backs and Dodgers), the Rockies would need to see something like this play out for them to take the NL West title:

Colorado, 35-20
Los Angeles: 30-27
Arizona: 29-28

That would put the Rockies at 83-79, a game ahead of both of their rivals. The odds of the Rockies playing .636 baseball for two months while neither Arizona nor Los Angeles can do better than .500 are about 1 in 15. Not nearly as horrible as the Astros odds, but you simply don’t put any significant resource into a 1-in-15 longshot.

Detroit Tigers, 53-52, 6.5 GB in AL Central, 7 GB in Wild Card

Preseason favorites of many, the Tigers fell flat on their face coming out of the gates as their pitching disintegrated and their offense failed to live up to expectations. They’ve rebounded since the slow start, going 30-20 since the beginning of June, and crawling to within sight of the division lead. However, despite their mini-surge, they still stand a significant ways behind both the White Sox and Twins. With Chicago establishing themselves as at least Detroit’s equal in terms of talent level, overcoming a 6.5 game deficit in two months while also hoping that the Twins regress (and don’t promote Francisco Liriano) is a bit much to hope for. Their odds are the best of the bunch we’ve profiled, coming in at about 1-in-9, so they at least have enough of a shot to avoid a firesale. 1-in-9 doesn’t justify continuing a raid of a farm system that has been depleted in a win-now effort, however. At some point, the Tigers have to be willing to say that this is the team they built, and this is the team they’re going to live with. You can’t keep throwing good money after bad.

Tribe Treasurers

The Cleveland Indians organization has a way of making some excellent trades. The club recently traded Casey Blake, basically a league-average third baseman, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two intriguing prospects, one of whom could immediately step into the big league bullpen.

Blake, 34, was originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of 1996 draft out of Wichita State University. He also spent time with Baltimore and Minnesota before moving on to Cleveland as a free agent. Blake was in his sixth season with the Indians and was hitting .288/.365/.466 with 11 homers in 320 at-bats. It is an interesting trade because Los Angeles already had two interesting third base prospects playing at the Major League level (Andy LaRoche and Blake Dewitt).

Reliever Jonathan Meloan spent the bulk of 2008 in the starting rotation for Triple-A Las Vegas, which is a difficult environment to hit in. He was lights-out in the bullpen the previous three seasons in the minors. He was originally selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Arizona. Meloan could be one of the more effective relievers in the Tribe’s bullpen right now with his low- to mid-90s fastball and slider.

Catcher Carlos Santana is possibly the steal of the trade deadline to this point. The converted outfielder is still learning the catch (He has caught just 22 of 97 base runners, with 16 errors and 10 passed balls) but you cannot argue with the potential in his bat. Only 22, Santana is currently hitting .323/.431/.563 with 14 homers and seven stolen bases in 350 at-bats. He has also walked 69 times with 59 strikeouts. Any time you get a young player with more walks than strikeouts you have to be impressed. The switch hitter is currently batting .341 against southpaws and .317 against right-handers. Santana is also hitting .411 with runners in scoring position.

There have been some talented prospects trade uniforms already during the 2008 trade deadline countdown but the Indians may have received the best value to date.