Archive for August, 2009

Three Late Deals

The second trade deadline is usually fairly boring, as most of the interesting players don’t clear waivers and teams are unwilling to surrender much in value for a one month rental. This year, however, two NL west clubs made three deals at the final hour, and all of them are kind of interesting.

First off, the Dodgers acquired Jon Garland from the D’Backs. After a disastrous start to the season, Garland has rebounded to put up a season right in line with the rest of his career – not many walks, strikeouts, or home runs allowed, living and dying with the results of his balls in play in any given start. Lately, the results have been great, and the Dodgers are willing to pay a premium for a guy who should be able to eat innings at the back of their rotation down the stretch. He’s basically insurance for Hiroki Kuroda in case his recovery from a concussion doesn’t go so well. Dodger fans should be hoping he doesn’t start any playoff games this winter.

LA wasn’t done, however, also adding Jim Thome to provide some punch off the bench. If this deal were made five years ago, James Loney would have to fear for his job, but Thome’s been strictly a DH for a few years now and would seem to be nothing more than a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers. He’ll improve LA’s bench in October, and because of the reduced need for pitchers in the playoffs, they should be able to carry a pure bench bat.

Finally, the Rockies got into the trade fun by acquiring Jose Contreras to help patch their pitching staff. Contreras is a tough guy to get a read on, because his stuff is still good, his peripherals are strong, but he remains awful when men are on base, so his absurdly low strand rates lead to less value than his FIP would suggest. Usually, we chalk stuff like that up to random variation, but Contreras has been underachieving in LOB% for so long that its getting hard to ignore. If the Rockies can figure out how to fix his problems with leaving runners on, they could have a nice addition, but that seems like a tough task to pull off in four weeks time.

None of these moves are likely to have a huge impact on the playoff races. The Dodgers are still huge favorites to win the NL West, and the Rockies acquisition of Contreras is just an attempt to balance out the Giants addition of Brad Penny. However, given the usual boredom August 31st brings, it’s interesting to see three fairly big name guys moved this late in the trade season.

Joe Mauer and Free Agency

Google the phrases “rosterbation” + “Joe Mauer” and you’ll get 106 results ranging from White Sox to Giants to Orioles links. Everyone wants a piece of the Mauer pie and nobody believes the Twins can afford to re-sign him following next season. Well, nobody but the Twins themselves.

Will the Twins be able to afford Mauer?
“Yeah, we can afford him,” team President Dave St. Peter said.

Whether that is lip service or not is irrelevant at this point. Let’s look at just how much the MVP candidate could be worth after next season.

Please note: this is a conservative estimate, so make adjustments as you see fit. First we have to project his WAR for next season. Figuring Mauer will be worth about 7 WAR, you get figures of 7, 6, and 3 WAR over the last three years. If you simply do a straight mean of the sample, you’d project a little over 5 WAR for Mauer, which leaves you with a 6.3 win player hitting free agency.

We know Mauer 27 next April and 28 the year afterwards, meaning teams will be paying for his age 28 season and onwards. The per win cost will be approximately 5.3 million at this point, so if you assume Mauer will be worth about 6 wins in 2011, his starting price is 32 million. Now the wild card involved is whether Mauer will stick at catcher. If not, his value takes a hit by moving elsewhere, whether it be third or first base, a corner outfield spot, designated hitting, whatever it is, Mauer will automatically lose positional value. On the bright side, he won’t have the toll inflected on him anymore which should help his offensive game.

So let’s say Mauer is worth 6 WAR in 2011 and aggressively loses 0.5 WAR in every season thereafter and some team signed him for six seasons, taking him from age 28 through 33. For a long-term deal Mauer takes a 5% discount and his worth would be an annual rate of 30 million per season. If Mauer gives Minnesota a 5% loyalty discount, we’re still talking around 170 million. That’s a lot of money for anyone, even Minnesota with a new ballpark in tow.

The Twins know their finances better than I would, but unless Mauer really loves the area and takes a team friendly deal, I’m not sure they can meet his market value, and maybe you could argue they shouldn’t given the risks associated with being a catcher.

A Notes Post

With no one subject grabbing me as worthy of a whole post, but a lot of minor interesting news items floating around today, let’s do a brief overview of those topics.

Royals extend Dayton Moore through 2014.

This is just a bizarre decision. Moore should have been closer to losing his job than getting more security, given some of the decisions he’s made over the last few years and how poor the Royals are yet again. A significant handful of his decisions are utterly indefensible – the Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth signings along with the trades for Mike Jacobs and Yuniesky Betancourt have been well covered, but quite simply, a GM should not get free passes for making four terrible decisions that close together. Especially given the Royals budget constraints, Moore simply couldn’t afford to waste the money he had available, yet he did.

You don’t have to be a total stathead to be a good GM, but Moore has done nothing to prove that he’s good enough at traditional player evaluation to also be ignorant of the statistical tools available that he’s actively ignoring. That the Royals willingly signed up for more of his management style should be enough to cause Kansas City fans to weep.

Giants signed Brad Penny.

Smart choice – he not only lands in the DH-free National League, but he also picks a team with quality defenders behind him as he looks to impress down the stretch before hitting free agency. The results for any pitcher can vary significantly over a month, so there’s no guarantee that Penny will turn his season around instantly, but given what we know about the difference in quality among the leagues and Penny’s decent performance in the AL East, it looks pretty likely that the Giants added a pretty good arm for the stretch drive.

Jarrod Washburn got torched again.

I actually feel bad for Tigers fans. I’ve seen Bad Jarrod Washburn pitch, and it’s not fun. That he’s been this bad since ending up in Detroit is pretty surprising, as we’re long past the point of this being regression to the mean. Right now, Washburn is regressing to Dontrelle Willis‘ mean. Coupled with the out-of-nowhere Barry Zito career renaissance, 2009 is shaping up to be a reminder that pitchers are just not to be counted on. What they did last year, last month, or even last week won’t necessarily manifest today. They’re the flakiest creatures in sports. Relying on a starting pitcher is like putting all of your money on a tech stock. Smart investors diversify – smart teams spend money on hitters.

AFL Preview: Phoenix Desert Dogs

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced by Major League Baseball last week. The league allows up-and-coming prospects (usually from high-A and double-A levels, as well as recent high draft picks) to continue honing their skills away from the fall instructional leagues held by each organization. Play will begin in early October and run until late November with the six teams – each one made up of five organizations’ players – continually facing each other.

Over the next week, we’ll take a look at some of the more interesting names on each team. The rosters that were recently released are preliminary rosters and some players will be added, while others could be removed. Today, we’re kicking things off with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, a team that has won the AFL championship title for each of the past five seasons. The club is still waiting for the Toronto and Oakland organizations to assign multiple pitchers to the club.

The Phoenix Desert Dogs (Click HERE for the entire roster)
Oakland, Toronto, Baltimore, Washington, Tampa Bay

Brandon Erbe | RHP | Baltimore
Lost behind the big three of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta in Baltimore, Erbe has the raw stuff to match up with them. Still only 21 years of age, Erbe battled through injuries this year and missed two month of the ’09 season. Even so, he has allowed just 38 hits in 60 innings of work in double-A.

Heath Rollins | RHP | Tampa Bay
Another pitcher who gets lost amongst the “big names,” Rollins has put up some solid pro numbers. He slipped a bit this year in double-A and has been too hittable: 147 hits in 134 innings of work. The right-hander has also lost 2.7 K/9 off of his strikeout rate, although he’s maintained a solid walk rate at 2.23 BB/9. He looks like a middle reliever.

Stephen Strasburg | RHP | Washington
The man everyone wants to see will be making his pro debut with the desert dogs and you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a lot of eyes on his first start. Despite his inexperience, Strasburg could dominate the league… but he’ll also be under a lot of pressure.

Drew Storen | RHP | Washington
The Nationals’ other first-round pick in 2009, Storen has already made 26 appearances in pro ball. Hopefully he won’t see too many innings in the league as he’s already thrown 77.1 innings (college+minors), which is a higher workload than he’s ever had in any other season. His control has been off a bit in eight double-A appearances but Storen is almost MLB ready.

J.P. Arencibia | C | Toronto
Arencibia ended the 2008 season as one of the Jays’ brightest young stars, but things have gone horribly for him in 2009 despite playing in a park (and league) that favors hitters immensely. At fault is Arencibia’s terrible walk rate and hack-tastic approach (2.6 BB% in ’08, 5.3 BB% in ’09), as well as his unwillingness to change. On the plus side, he’s made himself into a very good defensive player, which was a knock against him coming out of college.

Derek Norris | C | Washington
While Arencibia’s star is down, Norris’ is way up. Only 20, he’s shown a nice well-rounded approach with a solid average (.288), good power (23 homers in 423 at-bats, .229 ISO) and a walk rate of 16.1 BB%. The strikeouts are there too (26.8 K%) but the power is a fair trade off. The sky is the limit for Norris, although he may be tired for the AFL after hitting just .169 in August, which is by far his worst month of the year.

Josh Bell | 3B | Baltimore
Acquired earlier this season from the Dodgers, Bell has had a breakout season and could be manning the hot corner for Baltimore everyday by mid-2010. He has a solid understanding of the strike zone, as well as raw power (.250 ISO). Defensively, he has a strong arm, but a slow first step.

Jemile Weeks | 2B | Oakland
Rickie Weeks‘ brother is looking to make a name for himself. The second baseman missed the beginning of the year with an injury but he caught on fire as soon as he was able to take the field. His numbers have been down significantly since a promotion to double-A, but it only spans 72 at-bats. Weeks has yet to utilize his plus speed, but he’s shown more power than expected.

Grant Desme | OF | Oakland
Speaking of power, Desme has made the most of his opportunity to play this year after injuries limited him to just two games in 2008. The former second round draft pick has really opened some eyes by hitting 31 homers and stealing 40 bases between low-A and high-A. The 23-year-old outfielder also swings and misses a lot (30 K%).

The Best Pitcher with a Bad Fastball

Yesterday Adam Wainwright won his league leading 16th game, strengthening his Cy Young case. Of course readers here know how dubious it is to look at wins as a measure of pitching talent. But, without a doubt, Wainwright has been one of the top pitchers this year, with a FIP of 3.33 and a tRA of 3.71.

Interestingly Wainwright’s fastball has been pretty poor this year, and he has succeed on the strength of his very good slider and curve. Those two pitches have saved over 32 runs, the next best breaking pitch combo belongs to teammate Chris Carpenter whose slider and curve have saved 21.8. As a result Wainwright throws his fastball only 50% of the time, which seems to be about the floor for how infrequently a pitcher can throw a fastball (if you consider a cutter a fastball and exclude knuckleball pitchers).

He throws his slider mostly to RHBs, from whom it moves away. Here are the locations of these pitches this year.


Perfectly clustered on the outside of the plate. It is not a huge-whiff inducing slider, only 27% misses per swing, compared to the top sliders which get in the in the over 40%. Instead it gets value from of out of zone swings (35%) and weak contact that results in lots of grounders (49%).

As I wrote about earlier his curveball was one of the best in the game. It still is, ranking second. It gets lots of out of zone swings (40%), while only getting 55% in zone swings. That means hitters are only slightly more likely to swing at it in the zone than out. Showing how deceiving it is and resulting in called strikes and swinging at balls. On top of that it gets lots of whiffs (33%) and grounders (59%). An incredible pitch.

Wainwright has below average fastball. It generates few whiffs and few out of zone swings (although it does get a good number of grounders). So he throws it just enough to get ahead in the count and throw his devastating break stuff.

Bourn Finds His Identity

Not a lot of things have gone right in Houston this year. Despite an aging, expensive roster, they find themselves non-contenders again, caught in the awkward stage of not winning but not rebuilding either. Never a fun place to be.

However, there has been one bright shining light to come out of Houston this year – Michael Bourn showing enough abilities to make himself a pretty decent center fielder.

When the Phillies sent him to Houston for Brad Lidge in 2007, he was purely a speed-and-defense guy, the classic questionable bat center field type. He could run, but whether he could get on base enough to make it matter was less clear. A disastrous 2008 season, where he hit .229/.288/.300, struck out 111 times, and was worth -0.1 wins in 514 plate appearances didn’t assuage any fears. His defense in center was good but not great, so he’d have to get on base at a reasonable clip to justify his spot in the line-up.

In 2009, he’s done that and more. He’s at .293/.366/.406 for the season, and while he’s still striking out at a decent clip, he’s found the key to success for his skillset – pound the ball into the ground and run like mad. Last year, 29.4% of his balls in play were flyballs, which are almost always outs from no-power guys like Bourn. This year, only 22% of his balls in play have been classified as flys, as he’s traded them in for more grounders and line drives, and his BABIP has soared as a result.

His .370 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, but guys with his speed and bunting ability (he already has 15 bunt hits this season) can keep their averages on balls in play well above the norm for the league as a whole. Toss in the solid walk rate (10.4%) and some power (38 extra base hits), along with terrific ability on the bases (48 for 58 in SB attempts) and the total package adds up to around an average hitter.

When you have a guy who can play CF (and Bourn can, with a career +10.9 UZR in over 2,100 innings out there) and produce something close to league average offense, you have a pretty nice piece. The +4 win season he’s produced this year is the very top of his potential, but even with some regression built in he’s a +2 to +3 win player going forward.

As a pre-arbitration 26-year-old, Bourn represents something the Astros badly need more of – young, cheap, productive players.

Damon’s New Digs

At 35 years young, Johnny Damon is hitting for more power than he ever has before. While Damon has always been a player with a little pop, his game has long been about hitting for average and making things happen with his legs. His career isolated power is .151, this season he’s up to a robust .237. I think it’s safe to say that there is at least one Yankee that really enjoys his new digs.


It should come as no great surprise that 17 of Damon’s 24 homers have come at the New Yankee Stadium, which in it’s inaugural season has proven to be quite the hitter’s park. With the help of the ever-resourceful site HitTracker, we can further examine Damon’s ‘power spike’.


Talk about a dead pull hitter. The average true distance of a major league homer is 399 feet and the calculated speed of the ball as it left the bat is 103.6 MPH. Damon’s average distance is 380 feet per homer and his speed off the bat is 101.7 MPH. Does that mean a lot of cheapies for Damon? Hit Tracker actually helps us classify homers further, putting all big flies in four self-explanatory different bins: “Just Enoughs”, “Plentys”, “No Doubts” and “Luckys”.

Using those classifications, Damon has had one lucky homer at the New Yankee Stadium, four homers that had just enough on them to leave the yard, eight homers that were out by plenty and four no-doubters. The average distance on the no-doubter and ‘plenty’ homers was 378 feet; not tape measure shots by any stretch, but they had plenty enough on them to give some Yankee fan sitting in some overpriced right field seats a souvenir.

The Yankees currently have nine players with double-digit homeruns, and it’s conceivable that they could have eight players with 20 homers or more this season, making them the first team do ever accomplish such a feat. While the Yankee lineup very, very good, when you look up down the lineup, it doesn’t quite strike you as Murderer’s Row. We’ve talked about the “Coors Effect” in years gone by. I don’t think the New Yankee Stadium is quite that extreme, but it’ll be interesting to see if the park continues to play this way over the next few seasons.

Angels Add Scott Kazmir

File this one under “unlikely August trades”.

The Angels add the 25-year-old Scott Kazmir to a rotation swamped with doctor visits all season with the knowledge that Kazmir himself is injury prone. His velocity is down from years past, and his stuff isn’t generating the same kind of whiffs as it once did, which is reflective in his contact and strikeout rates. That being said, he’s been quite a bit better since returning from the disabled list in June and working with Rick Peterson.

His deal is only guaranteed for an additional two seasons at 20 million with a club option for 2012 thrown in. As outlandish as this would’ve read when the extension was signed, there’s a real chance that Kazmir will fail to be worth the 20 million over the next two seasons. He’s looking at his second straight ~league average performance and his durability has always been a concern. Pitchers don’t age like hitters, so there’s no guarantee that Kazmir will ever top his 2007 season. That’s not to say he’ll continue to get progressively worse, but Kazmir the strikeout king probably won’t walk through the doors anytime soon.

Still, moving forward ZiPS projects him for a modest 3.82 FIP moving forward. That’s a bit worse than John Lackey, about equal to Jered Weaver, and a bit better than Ervin Santana. Kazmir isn’t an ace anymore, and the Angels aren’t asking him to be one. He has the capability of being a solid starter as long as he remains healthy.

The Rays clear up salary and get three young players in return. Carson mentioned Alexander Torres a few days ago and the book on him is simple: he’s a 21-year-old short lefty with a heavy fastball capable of missing bats and generating grounders while boasting extreme strikeout ratios and just as extreme walk rates.

Matthew Sweeney is a big lefty who is listed at third base but probably moves over to first for the Rays because of that one guy, Evan Langoria, Longoria? Whatever. Injuries have lowered Sweeney’s stock and his numbers are inflated thanks to the California League.

The third player is officially listed as a player to be named later, but it’s believed to be a player currently on the Angels 40-man roster who simply wouldn’t clear waivers.

Both teams seem to fair decently here. The Angels can afford Kazmir and his inherent risks while the Rays simply cannot. People are going to accuse the Rays of quitting on 2009 but the playoffs were a longshot anyways, and the difference between Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine over a handful of starts isn’t going to make or break their chances.

Bradley Taking The Fall

If all you knew about Milton Bradley’s 2009 season was the opening lines from this article, you would think he’s single-handedly destroyed the Cubs season.

Cub fans and Milton Bradley have one thing in common: they both can’t wait for him to go home. The Milton Bradley experience has been the biggest disaster in a season of disasters for Cubs general manager Jim Hendry in 2009.

I know he’s not media friendly, he’s run himself out of nearly every organization he’s ever played for, and he says some stuff that angers people, but can we get a little reality injected into this analysis? Bradley is getting destroyed as a massive disappointment while posting a .387 on base percentage. Sure, the power hasn’t translated to Chicago, and the Cubs had to be hoping for more than a .350 wOBA from the guy, but he’s been an above average hitter and a decent enough fielder for them this year.

In just over 400 plate appearances, he’s been worth +1.2 wins to the Cubs, which translates to $5.4 million in salary. Factor in his expected September production, and he’ll probably end the year with a performance worth around $7 million – less than what the Cubs are paying him, but not anything close to the biggest disaster on the team.

Alfonso Soriano has performed below replacement this year. He earned – sorry, was paid – $16 million this year, and there’s $90 million left on the final five years of his contract. His performance suggests he owes the Cubs $3.3 million for taking 0.7 wins off their total for 2009, so Soriano has cost the Cubs almost $20 million this year. Bradley could cuss out every fan in Wrigley and still not match Soriano for disastrous results this year.

Things have gone wrong in Chicago this year, and Bradley makes an easy target for criticism, much of it earned. But regardless of whether he likes the fans or media, Bradley hasn’t been the thing that caused the club to collapse. It’s hard to win a bunch of baseball games when your “superstar” left fielder plays like he belongs in the minors.

Just because Bradley makes himself an easy target doesn’t mean he’s the right one.

There is Minor Hope for Mets Fans

It’s been a pretty depressing year for Mets fans, but there are some things to be excited about for the future. Along with the resurgence of former No. 1 draft pick Ike Davis and the emergence of teenage pitcher Jenrry Mejia, some lesser-known names are stepping forward. Outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis was recently named the Florida State League player of the week by

Originally a 2008 third round draft pick out of Azusa Pacific University (an NAIA school), the 22-year-old left-handed hitter raised his draft stock after being named Baseball America’s Alaska League player of the year in the summer prior to his junior year of college. He had a modest pro debut and hit .277/.348/.396 with three homers and 11 steals in 285 short-season at-bats. Nieuwenhuis stepped things up this year despite skipping over low-A ball and going directly to high-A.

He is currently hitting .270/.355/.463 with 16 homers and an equal number of steals in 467 at-bats. His walk rate is reasonable at 10 BB% but his strikeout rate is a little high at 24.2 K%. He’s also struggled against southpaws and is hitting just .227/.287/.333 against them this year. Nieuwenhuis has seen his ISO increase from .119 in ’08 to .193 in ’09. If he can continue to develop his power game, he has more than enough arm to play right field.

Nieuwenhuis had an inconsistent performance for much of the year in high-A but he’s finishing the year strong, having hit .442 with five homers and 13 RBI in his last 10 games. For the month of August, he’s hitting .337/.402/.653 with 22 RBI in 24 games. With any luck, the outfielder will build confidence off of this strong finish, which will help him with the jump to double-A in 2010. Although he is no sure-fire Top 10 prospect, Nieuwenhuis is an intriguing name to keep in mind in 2010. Keep the faith, Mets fans… Keep the faith.