Archive for February, 2009

Royals Sign Juan Cruz

For the last few weeks the big news around Juan Cruz has been speculation surrounding a sign-and-trade deal involving the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins. Understandably, the Diamondbacks wanted fair value in return for their cooperation since Cruz is a Type-A free agent, the D-Backs would receive either a first or second round pick in June’s draft depending on the team that signed Cruz. At the same time, Arizona couldn’t risk having Cruz sit out through the draft and get absolutely nothing in return so they agreed today to a…wait, that’s…that’s Dayton Moore’s music!

Yep, the Kansas City General Manager swooped in and signed Cruz to a two-year contract worth six million. It’s a fine deal considering Cruz’ level of performance over the past few seasons in which he’s been worth a little more than a half of a win as a non-crucial reliever. That is to say that Cruz was not used in high leverage situations, something that will help his value – assuming he continues pitching well.

Over the last two years, Cruz has been used exclusively as a reliever. In 2007, Cruz recorded a 3.7 FIP, and 3.62 FIP in 2008 despite an increase in walks. CHONE absolutely loves Cruz, projecting a 3.2 FIP while Marcels has him at 3.99. Let’s say the midpoint is more realistic, meaning Cruz will be a set-up man with a 3.6 FIP. That’s worth three million annually.

Any article reviewing this move isn’t complete without a mention of the deal the Royals signed Kyle Farnsworth earlier this off-season, but I’d rather discuss the draft pick implications. The Royals pick within the first half of the first round, which means the Diamondbacks will receive their second round pick – number 58 according to River Ave Blues. Not quite what the Diamondbacks were hoping for, but all things considered, it’s probably better than the alternatives.

Manny Being Stupid

If you haven’t heard, Scott Boras and Manny Ramirez have rejected the Dodgers latest offer of a two year, $45 million contract due to the amount of deferred money in the deal. They rejected the offer despite the fact that it reportedly guarantees them $25 million for 2009 with a player option for 2010 at $20 million, giving Ramirez the best possible deal he could hope for.

Under this deal, he is guaranteed far more than his market value for 2009 (to be worth $25 million in a normal economic environment, he’d have to be a +5 win player – he’s not, and the environment isn’t normal), and he has the option of terminating the contract if he has a successful season. All the risk is transferred to the Dodgers here. If he declines in performance or gets injured, they’re still on the hook for the extra $20 million for 2010, in which case they could be looking at a $45 million deal that brings them a net of five or six wins. If he has another great year, he can hit free agency against next winter and try to cash in with an even better deal.

This is, without a doubt, a fantastic offer for Ramirez. And his camp is turning it down over deferred payments? This is ridiculous.

Time value of money isn’t very hard to calculate. Let’s assume that capital is worth 5% per year in this economy, just for the sake of argument. The rumored offer has the $25 million in deferred payments being setup to be paid at $10 million in 2010, $10 million in 2011, and $5 million in 2012, with no interest accruing.

Using the present value formula of PV=FV/(1+i)^n, where i is the interest rate and n is the number of periods of deferment, we can easily figure out how much money Boras and Ramirez are actually haggling over.

First Deferred Payment

$10 million / 1.05 = $9.52 million, $480,000 difference

Second Deferred Payment

$10 million / 1.1025 = $9.07 million, $930,000 difference

Third Deferred Payment

$5 million / 1.1577 = $4.32 million, $680,000 difference

The sum of the differences between present value and future value is $2.09 million. Manny’s $25 million deferred is worth $22.91 million in today’s dollars.

They’re haggling over $2 million dollars in value. They’ve got a sweetheart deal on the table, and they’re haggling over $2 million.

Give me a break. Sign the contract and get in camp. You aren’t even worth this contract, much less a better one.

Thoughts On Baseball Media

Today, the Rocky Mountain News published their final edition. Scripps, their owner, couldn’t find a buyer who wanted into the struggling newspaper business, and so Denver has become a single paper town. This will happen shortly in Seattle as well, where the Seattle Post Intelligencer will cease printing in a month or so. The San Francisco Chronicle is in a similar position and is unlikely to survive 2009, which will leave San Francisco without a daily newspaper.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Newsday announced that they are moving away from a free web content system towards a subscriber-pay system in an effort to generate more revenue.

For journalists, the world is changing, and it’s changing very quickly. The old business models don’t work anymore, as the internet has conditioned people to expect significant content to be delivered online for no additional cost beyond what they pay their local ISP. With ad revenues plunging, media companies simply haven’t been able to find a way to make money. Without profit, there’s no viable business, and the resources we enjoy go away.

With the Rocky Mountain News folding today, it got me thinking – where is the online baseball community headed? Between The Hardball Times and blogs like ours here at FanGraphs and Tango’s work at The Book Blog, there is a remarkable flow of tremendous content being put out simply for the sake of improving the quality of baseball knowledge available. For guys like Studes or Tango, this isn’t their career – it’s a hobby, and something they do because they love it.

The same goes true, I would suspect, for most of the new analysts we’ve seen rise up in various sites over the last year or two. From guys like Sean Smith to Sky Kalkman, Colin Wyers, Josh Kalk, Mike Fast, and all the rest, there is a deep well of talent that is advancing baseball knowledge for everyone. And they’re doing it without charging for their efforts.

Much like the open source movement in software, there’s been a revolution in the baseball community. The best content available isn’t being written in books or newspapers, or even behind subscription walls that require payments to access – the best knowledge available is free to everyone who wants it.

And, while it’s sad to watch newspapers fold and business models fail, it’s exciting to be living in an age where anyone who wants to educate themselves on the game can do so.

Range and Errors

As many of you know, this offseason proved monumental for the site as we added a wide array of evaluative metrics, becoming one of the primary sources for player valuations. One of these additions, UZR, the fielding metric designed by Mitchel Lichtman, enabled analysts and readers alike to incorporate the fielding aspect of baseball into discussions. Several aspects of fielding combine to provide the final UZR figure, and two, range runs and error runs, are of particular interest given their reputations in the world of conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom goes that the better a player’s range, the more likely it is that he will commit errors. The underlying reasoning is that the player will be able to get his glove on more balls, thereby not only giving himself a chance to make more plays, but also the chance to mess up on more plays. I like to refer to this as ‘The Abreu Complex’ as Bobby Abreu used to be considered a solid fielder by many fans because he rarely made errors. The issue of course is that his limited range prevented him from covering more ground: he didn’t bobble many balls but he couldn’t get to balls that others would catch and that he might then bobble.

With the different components of UZR freely available on the site, I decided to see if the conventional wisdom held true – does more range really translate to increased errors? I pooled every player with at least 100 innings at a position over the last three years, removed catchers, and wound up with 722 player position seasons. Correlations were then run for infielders and outfielders with regards to both range run and error runs. A correlation is basically a statistical test that measures the lack of independence of two random variables; in this case, do range and errors relate strongly to one another in the sense that as one goes so too does the other?

For two variables to be considered to have at least a moderately strong relationship, a correlation coefficient of at least 0.40 would be needed. Among infielders, range runs and error runs produced a 0.10 correlation, while outfielders featured only a slightly stronger relationship at 0.15. Neither group of fielders exhibited anything close to a moderately strong relationship between range and errors, leading the conventional wisdom astray: more range does not necessarily result in more errors, no matter how much sense the statement might make from an intuitive standpoint.

Even when I restricted the data to at least 800 innings at a position, the correlations remained virtually the same–0.16 for OF, 0.11 for IF. Based on this data it seems that there are certainly cases where range and errors relate to one another, but it is in no way a foregone conclusion that more range results in more errors.

Change Is Good

The change-up is my favorite pitch in baseball. I could probably come up with some kind of logical explanation for why I have more affection for that pitch than others, but in the end, it’s still more feeling than rational observation. I just love a good change-up.

I’m not sure MLB talent evaluators share my fondness for it, however. This afternoon, I was browsing through the Pitch Type leaderboards here on FanGraphs, and something jumped out at me. Here’s the starting pitchers who threw the highest percentage of change-ups in the majors last year.

Edinson Volquez, 31.8%
Cole Hamels, 31.5%
Johan Santana, 28.7%
James Shields, 26.3%
Jair Jurrjens, 26.2%

Besides throwing a lot of change-ups, those guys all have significant success in common. That’s a list of three all-stars and two of the breakout young pitchers of 2008. For them, quantity of change-ups was part of being an extremely good major league pitcher. Every team in baseball would gladly pencil any of these five into their rotation for 2009.

However, they also have something else in common – with the exception of Hamels, they were all deemed expendable to one degree or another at some point in their career.

Volquez worked his way up the ladder with the Texas Rangers, and while he was one of their top pitching prospects, they cashed him for Josh Hamilton when they had the chance.

Santana was famously a Rule 5 draft pick, selected by the Marlins and then traded to the Twins for Jared Camp.

Shields was a 16th round draft choice by the Rays back in 2000. Despite some quality performances in the minors, he was never considered one of their top prospects.

Jair Jurrjens was signed and developed by the Tigers, and like with Volquez, he was traded for major league talent, or at least the promise of it, in the form of Edgar Renteria.

Of the five, Hamels is the only one who was acquired at a high cost and stayed with his original franchise. The other change-up artists, among the best in the game, simply weren’t valued as highly as pitching prospects who build their resume with a dynamite breaking ball.

From guys like Josh Beckett, Kerry Wood, Scott Kazmir, Felix Hernandez, and now David Price, the pedigree for a great pitching prospect has been a high velocity fastball and a knockout curveball or slider. That’s the kind of repertoire that gets a young pitcher noticed and that teams simply don’t trade away. Those guys cost a ton to acquire, and they’re very rarely made available to other clubs.

But, it just isn’t all that uncommon for the change-up artist to develop into a better pitcher than the breaking ball guy. Right now, if the Rays had to keep either Kazmir or Shields going forward, I’m not so sure that they wouldn’t keep Shields.

As we look to the wave of future young arms reaching the majors, perhaps we should make a conscious decision to give the change-up artists a bit more due than they’ve gotten in the past?

BABIP Splits

Ever since Voros McCracken’s DIPS theory came to light in 1999, people have begun to look at a pitcher’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. As Voros noted, variations in BABIP from league average regress heavily to the mean in future years, and it’s value as a predictive measure is quite low. This insight helped paved the way for things like FIP and evaluating pitchers by the outcomes they can control and a movement away from metrics such as ERA.

As more research was done, though, it was found that BABIP isn’t entirely random. Knuckleballers have significantly lower BABIP than a traditional pitcher. Left-handers tend to have some minor BABIP advantage, as do flyball pitchers (though what they save in BA they give back in SLG). However, when looking through the major league splits pages on Baseball Reference, I noticed one other type of pitcher that has a significant BABIP advantage – the home team pitcher.

Here’s a chart to illustrate what I’m talking about.


In every year from 1995 to 2008 (and probably before – I didn’t bother going back any further once I found this obvious of a trend), the batting average of balls in play allowed by the home team’s pitchers was lower than the road team’s pitchers. The two lines generally move together, so when league BABIP is up or down, it’s up or down for both home and road in proportional amounts. But the home line never crosses the road line. It gets close in 2004, when the gap is just two points, but then diverges back to the more normal five to 10 point spread.

Over that 14 year period, home team BABIP allowed is .295, while road team BABIP allowed is .302. We’re talking millions of plate appearances here, so a seven point spread is certainly significant. It’s essentially impossible for this to happen randomly. There is something inherent to being the home team that allows you to reduce the amount of hits you allow on balls in play. This is, for lack of a batter term, a home field advantage.

What could be causing this spread in BABIP between home and road pitchers? Isolating a single factor is going to be next to impossible, and in reality, it probably isn’t a single factor. Outfielders learn how to read the ball off the bat in a specific lighting based on repetitive experience. Infielders learn how the grass makes a ball spin at different speeds. Pitchers figure out where the ball carries and where it doesn’t and pitch away from the areas that can hurt them the most. Hitters pick up the ball coming out of the background quicker. GMs acquire players who fit the quirks of their specific ballpark. It could be any of these, none of these, or all of these.

But we know this – there’s a distinct advantage in being the home team in turning balls in play into outs. If a pitcher gets an inordinate amount of home starts, we shouldn’t be surprised if he beats his career BABIP.

Dusty Baker is a Fan of Mismatches

Dave mentioned this tidbit yesterday, but I figured I would expand on it.

The first game of spring training usually serves as a dress rehearsal. The starters – those who are not partaking in the World Baseball Classic or injured – wave to the home crowd, play an inning or two in the field – just long enough to get a plate appearance — then call it a day. This leads to lineups that resemble the team’s Triple-A squad. Naturally, this leads to some rather lopsided match-ups if the other team has a legitimate starting pitcher on the mound.

But how about three in one game?

That’s what Dusty Baker threw the American League champions yesterday. The Rays christening of their new spring home didn’t quite go to plan. Joe Maddon followed the aforementioned tradition, running out such wunderkinds as Jon Weber, Ray Olmedo, Chris Richard, and Elliot Johnson. Heck, the Rays even started former Houston Astros’ starter Carlos Hernandez. So imagine the results when the Cincinnati Reds started Edinson Volquez, brought Jonny Cueto in to relieve Volquez, then handed the game to Homer Bailey.

Unsurprisingly, the trio would plow through a ragtag lineup, totaling seven innings of two-hit ball while walking two and striking eight out. Aaron Fultz and Jared Burton would close the game out, holding the Rays to four hits, six baserunners, and zero runs.

At least one thing went well for the Rays as Carl Crawford, the longtime face of the franchise, recorded the first hit in Charlotte Sports Park.

Red & Green Books Go Electronic Only

Tangotiger on noted what I thought was a rather comical blog post column by Murray Chass on his outrage that the Red & Green league books will no longer be printed, but instead be available only in PDF format. As Tangotiger points out, you could print your own book from the electronic copy, but I suppose you won’t get any of the gloss of a professional publisher.

In any event, the last paragraph of Chass’ article is quite frankly, bizarre:

Younger writers, more attuned to the use of the Internet than their older colleagues, may not have a problem with the disappearance of the books. But in past years they didn’t have the Internet as an alternative reference site. They apparently just didn’t feel the need for any information the books provided.

That says more about them than it does about baseball’s decision.

I’m not even going to bother mentioning what I think is wrong with the above quote, but as a younger person who uses the Internet (and sometimes even writes about baseball), I actually do have a Green book from the 1970’s lying around somewhere which I purchased off ebay a few years ago. I can’t find it. It probably ended up in storage when I moved, but I recall there may be some interesting team record stats in it.

If anyone has one of these on hand I’d be interested in hearing from you if there is anything worthwhile in these books which can’t be found easily on the Internet.

CHONE Projections Update

Sean Smith’s CHONE projection system has been updated to the latest and greatest!

Games Plus Odds and Ends

And so begins, sort of, another baseball season. I mostly loathe Spring Training because of the sheer amount of fluffy writing it signals that is about to arrive as story-starved journalists (hey, that’s me now too!) need to fill the same number of column inches each day no matter that nothing of actual importance happened. Hence, we get the countless cliches about who lost weight, who gained muscle, who is ready to put last season behind him, who is ready to build off last season, and so on. It’s a rite of passage now to wade through that stuff.

But I cannot be down today. Games were played. As Dave Cameron mentioned, they don’t even begin to mean anything stats-wise. It doesn’t matter. Baseball is being played again between competing teams and I can start my countdown to Opening Day, that most glorious of all days. It’s a little more special for me this year with the new face of the Mariners front office and the emotional return of Griffey Jr in a Seattle uniform.

The great part of this part of the year is that usually nearly every team can see a glimmer of hope. Going by CHONE’s projected standings, there are 20 teams projected to be within ten or fewer games of a postseason berth and 26 within 15 games. Sorry Toronto, Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City. I am sure fans of those four teams can come up with legit reasons they might contend though.

Hope abounds in Spring. It’s baseball and it’s coming back.

A couple quick notes since not much news happened today with the first spattering of games. The Dodgers added a $20 million player option for 2010 onto their offer to Manny Ramirez. I am not sure that will be enough, but I also do not see any other team making a play for the slugger so I think we can all hope for this drama to just be done with. Also, the exploratory surgery on Boof Bonser did reveal a tear in his shoulder so his 2009 season is over. Ditto for Mariners SP Ryan Feierabend who will undergo Tommy John surgery. He was a long shot to make any impact on the 2009 team, so his loss mostly just lessens Seattle’s rotational depth.