Archive for October, 2010

World Series Game 3 Live Blog

Contract Crowdsourcing Results: First Baseman

Well, you guys certainly don’t see much of a difference between the second tier free agent first baseman. The results of our afternoon crowdsourcing:

Average length:

Paul Konerko: 2.43 years
Carlos Pena: 2.25 years
Aubrey Huff: 2.20 years
Lance Berkman: 1.68 years
Lyle Overbay: 1.44 years

Average salary:

Konerko: $10.96 million
Pena: $8.94 million
Huff: $8.80 million
Berkman: $7.70 million
Overbay: $4.80 million

Median contract:

Konerko: 2 years, $20 million
Pena: 2 years, $16 million
Huff: 2 years, $16 million
Berkman: 2 years, $16 million
Overbay: 1 year, $5 million

Standard deviations:

Konerko: 0.90 years, $3.73 million
Pena: 1.00 years, $3.44 million
Huff: 0.76 years, $2.88 million
Berkman: 0.69 years, $2.85 million
Overbay: 0.70 years, $2.24 million

The Berkman result is, to me, the most surprising one yet. I’ll take the under by a good margin on his deal, as I think he ends up settling for something like 1 year, $5 million. I’ll take the under on Huff as well, though I could see the Giants rewarding him for a good 2010 season after getting the World Series. If they let him test his market value as a free agent, though, I don’t think he’ll get 2/16, given his history of inconsistency. I’ll take the over on Konerko’s average salary, though I agree that two years is probably all he’ll get. Pena and Overbay sound about right.

Add in the availability of Adam Dunn, along with guys we didn’t project like Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche, Nick Johnson, and Russell Branyan, and the market for first baseman is going to be very crowded this winter. I don’t think anyone’s going to land a big deal as teams will have too many other options to get tied into overpaying any one player.

Should Cain Have Been Pulled for a Pinch Hitter?

It is difficult criticize a manager’s decisions when his team wins 9-0. This is particularly true when his counterpart puts on a managing performance so memorably horrible. Yes, I bravely hold the position that Bruce Bochy is out-managing Ron Washington this series. Indeed, Washington’s decisions (or lack thereof? It’s really hard to tell) from Vladimir Guerrero in Game One to the eternal eighth inning of Game Two have been so bad that my response has gone from baffled to amused to sad to thinking they are so obviously bad they aren’t worth arguing about. So I won’t dwell on Washington’s various mistakes, but on what some think is one of Bochy’s: not pulling Cain for a pinch hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on second and the Giants only leading by 2-0.

Given the Giants’ seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered either way, but obviously Bochy couldn’t have known that would happen. That is why there is some traction to the notion that Bochy should have hit for Cain. Like most pitchers, Cain is a terrible hitter, so much so that we don’t need to worry about the pinch-hitting penalty from whomever would have come in. With two outs, a bunt wouldn’t have done any good, so Cain had to swing away. A two-run lead isn’t impregnable, even with Cain pitching well. With no game on Friday night, the bullpen was available, why not use them for the last two innings? These reasons for pulling Cain after a job well done make sense, and seemed pretty persuasive when, with a runner on, Josh Hamilton came up to the plate in position to tie the game with one swing. Bochy ended up going to the bullpen and bringing in Javier Lopez to face him.

On the other side of the argument, just as it’s unfair to consider that the Giants ended up blowing out the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth in evaluating Bochy’s decision, it’s also a not the right move to judge it from the standpoint of Hamilton coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game. We have to go from the information Bochy had available to him at the time. While a two run lead is far from insurmountable, Cain had indeed been pitching well. Perhaps he hadn’t been as dominating in the sixth and seventh innings as he had been earlier, but despite the overall lack of strikeouts, he appeared to be handling the Rangers hitters well for the most part. Whatever stock one puts into pitch counts, Cain wasn’t over 100 at the time he came up to bat. Moreover, the beginning of the eighth didn’t look to be that challenging — Bochy knew Cain would be facing a pinch-hitter (who turned out to be the noodle-batted Julio Borbon; but even Vladimir Guerrero still would have faced both the platoon disadvantage and the difficulty of hitting off of the bench), then Elvis Andrus (who has been hot in the playoffs, but still isn’t much of a hitter), and then Michael Young. Hamilton would only come up if at least one runner got on, which is what happened. However, Bochy still had the option to use Lopez versus Hamilton, which he did. Bochy may not have wanted to bring in closer Brian Wilson because, other than the two innings issue, he still wanted to be able to bring in Wilson later if necessary. One could make an argument for say, Sergio Romo at the beginning of the eighth, but even that’s a judgment call based on how Bochy and his coaches felt Cain was pitching.

I can see the arguments for both sides, and things did get tense once Andrus got on base. But one more bit of data: the leverage index for Cain’s plate appearance was on 0.55. In terms of the Giants chances of winning at that point, the situation wasn’t all that crucial. I can see the arguments for pinch-hitting for Cain and using Romo to start the the eighth inning, but given the low leverage of Cain’s plate appearance, his chances against the likely Rangers hitters, and the availability of Lopez to face Hamilton if he were to come up, if I can’t heartily endorse Bochy’s decision, I have a hard time criticizing it. Given how the game turned out, I realize my position doesn’t take much courage, but hey, I’d say the same thing if Hamilton had homered, right? Uh, right.

Cain’s Pitch Type Usage in Game 2

Matt Cain’s seven-and-two-thirds inning, four-hit performance last night leaves him with 21.1 innings of playoff ball having allowed just a single run (and it was unearned). With all the other amazing playoff performances, Cain has flown a little bit under the radar. Part of Cain’s inconspicuousness might be because he hasn’t done it with overpowering stuff – just 13 strikeouts – but instead by inducing weak contact. This is a skill Cain has shown throughout his career, with a BABIP of 0.274.

I was mostly interested in last night’s game because, looking at the pitchf/x numbers, Cain was throwing a drastically different mix of pitches than he usually does. Cain is a four-pitch pitcher, and his fastball, slider, curve and change distinctly cluster in horizontal movement vs velocity space — making them easy to classify. Here are his pitches for 2010 and last night.

You can see how clearly Cain’s pitches cluster out, so there is little ambiguity in classifying them. Last night, compared to the season as a whole, Cain threw more changeups (26% versus 15%), more sliders (20% versus 10%), fewer fastballs (52% versus 62%) and many fewer curveballs (under 2% versus 13%).

I wanted to know whether the difference from his average pitch usage was anything out of the ordinary compared to other games (i.e., was it just standard fluctuation between games or a real shift). Here are the fractions of Cain’s non-fastballs over the course of the 2010 season for each game, with the same color-code: purple for curves, red for sliders, and yellow for changeups.

It looks like last night’s game was the continuation of a trend in decreasing curveball use, throwing the fewest curves of any game this season. On the other hand he threw the greatest fraction of changeups of any game this season, and there have been few games where he has thrown as high a fraction of sliders.

It is interesting that Cain would so drastically change his pitch usage during the World Series — and the playoffs in general, where we see the decrease in curves — but, obviously, the results have been good for him.

Contract Crowdsourcing: First Baseman

Since Major League Baseball made the step of beginning free agency just five days after the World Series ends – a terrific move to get the off-season going earlier, by the way – and the Giants are threatening to end the postseason sooner than later, I figure that we have some catching up to do on contract crowdsourcing. So, instead of doing them one by one, we’re going to start categorizing them by position, save for a few of the more interesting players we haven’t covered yet – Cliff Lee will get his own post, for instance.

Today, first baseman. We’ve already covered Adam Dunn (who was projected for 3/36), but there are quite a few alternatives for teams who want to go another direction. The forms are after the jump, and we’ll cover the results later today.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Bryce Harper Experience

Spending this week at the Arizona Fall League has been a great opportunity to check an item off my Baseball Bucket List, but from a practical standpoint, an equally great opportunity to try and match reputation to reality with many of the players I write about. No player in this league comes in with a reputation larger than Bryce Harper, so to see him play one game and take two batting practices has been a good chance to decide how much of what I’ve read is hyperbole. Turns out, not much. I didn’t get to see Harper at this best — he was 0-for-4 with 2 Ks in the game — but the process is worth writing about. I realize that at this point Bryce Harper stories are a dime-a-dozen, but until you all have had a chance to see him, you should pain yourself to read another.

To me, one of the most amazing parts of seeing Bryce is seeing the amount of attention he draws from his opponents. When I saw him take batting practice in Scottsdale on Tuesday, the other team was stretching on the third base side when Harper entered the cage. Each time he was up, a number of players stopped what they were doing to watch him take batting practice. You can’t help it. And, during the game on Wednesday, his approach on the opposing pitchers is palpable. Starting pitcher Robert Carson hit 94 mph only twice during the game, both during his lone shot at retiring Harper. In his next at-bat, this time against Chris Carpenter, we saw the Cubs prospect pull back and hit 98 on the fourth pitch of his at-bat.

The other thing worth pointing out, that has nothing to do with his physical tools or swing, is that it’s clear that Harper is a baseball rat. What Jason Grey wrote on Twitter Monday is absolutely true: “You can tell Bryce Harper not used to sitting – for multiple games constantly on front step of dugout fidgeting with a glove & ball or a bat.” When the Scottsdale offense registered the third out, Harper was always the first out of the dugout. When he was not up at the plate, he was always on the top step, and the most vocal of any player. Normally, make-up stories don’t do it for me, but I think Harper being a baseball rat is going to be a massive help in marrying his potential with his ultimate results.

Because, in case you haven’t been told this when things get hyperbolic with Harper hype, there is work to be done. The most glaring is the new position, right field, which Harper is clearly still learning. His reads of balls off the bat are still slow, as they are going to be while he learns to judge angles and distance from a new place on the field. The physical tools are more than enough to succeed at the position, however, and my belief in his work ethic gives me confidence the move will work. We saw Harper’s arm on a couple occasions, the most impressive of which is when he threw out Kirk Nieuwenhuis at home plate when the Met prospect tried to tag from third base. It’s either a 60 or 65 grade on the 20-80 scale, which means that it’s more than enough to be an asset in right.

The other thing that needs development is Harper’s approach, which will be hard to help much with two games a week in the Arizona Fall League. Harper swings too often: the last seven pitches he saw on Wednesday were all swings. He flied out in the last pitch of the Carpenter at-bat, then three straight swings (two of which were misses) in a strikeout against Brian Leach, and three straight swings in a groundout against Chris Kissock. Harper will find that his great power is much easier to use when he gets in good hitter’s counts. It will be interesting to see how often he walks in a full season league next year.

The weakness you’ve probably read about, which is true, is that Bryce Harper is going to strike out. Probably a lot. Power hitters often do, and Harper is no exception — he swings incredibly hard at the baseball, and sometimes goes after pitches that he shouldn’t. What I will point out, though, is that we should not be worried about his strikeout rate. Because Harper swings so hard, and is so strong, what was clear in batting practice is that he is going to hit a ton of line drives. Like he will with home runs, he will be among the top of the Major League leaderboards in that category one day. All this leads me to say that we safely project Harper to have BABIPs above league average, which will help mitigate a strikeout rate north of 20%.

I saw Bryce Harper go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. I saw him take a batting practice where he failed to hit a single home run. And I can say, unequivocally, that Harper is the best player I saw in Arizona, and one of the two best prospects in baseball. Swings this mature, with the balance, the extension, the load and the transfer, don’t find themselves with teenagers often. But there I go, telling you something you’ve already read again.

Szymborski’s MLEs: Five Notable (Triple-A) Batters

Yesterday, after talking at length about godknowswhat, I introduced five notable pitcher zMLEs — that is, minor league translations courtesy of beloved Pole Dan Szymborski.

Though, as Szymborski shouts at the top of his lungs, the numbers are subject to all manner of caveat, they still provide an interesting point of departure for developing ideas about players come 2011.

Below are five notable batter zMLEs, with notations of varying helpfulness. As to what constitutes “notable,” there’s no hard definition, but I’ve generally looked for hitters with at least 100 ABs and have omitted more well-known prospects — like Carlos Santana or Mike Stanton, for example.

Ages are as of today, October 29th. The wOBAs (for the MLEs, that is) are approximate; players, ordered according to author’s whim. The reader will also note that all of the following are Triple-A players. Five Double-A players will appear in this space next week.

Name: Marquez Smith, 25, 3B
Organization: Chicago (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 341 PA, .314/.384/.574 (.358 BABIP), .412 wOBA
zMLE: 341 PA, .278/.340/.502 (.317 BABIP), .366 wOBA
• So far as I can tell, has never, ever, never, ever, never been on a prospect list of any sort. Or, at least not recently he hasn’t.
• Per, was drafted a total of four times: 36th round of 2003 draft by Twins, 46th round of 2004 draft by Angels, 35th round of 2006 draft by Cubs, and, finally, by Cubs in eighth round of 2007 draft from Clemson University.
• Finished at +15 runs afield in 2008, per TotalZone, and +22 runs in 2009.
• Is native of Panama City, Florida, home of Shuckums Oyster Bar.
• Shuckums: “We Shuck’um, You Suck’um.”

Name: Danny Dorn, 26, 1B
Organization: Cincinnati Level: Triple-A
Actual: 319 PA, .302/.398/.545 (.387 BABIP), .409 wOBA
zMLE: 319 PA, .250/.342/.468 (.333 BABIP), .355 wOBA
• Is a “poor defensive player,” per our man Marc Hulet.
• As of August 20th of last year had .197/.239/.394 career mark against southpaws in his career, but .293/.358/.475 against right-handers.
• Slashed .313/.420/.562 against righties in 2010, only .259/.306/.483 against lefties.
• Small sample, small sample, small sample.
• Blocked at the ML-level by Joey Votto who, in addition to being a better hitter than Dorn, is also way more Italian.

Name: Justin Turner, 26, 2B
Organization: New York (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 348 PA, .333/.390/.516 (.351 BABIP), .395 wOBA
zMLE: 348 PA, .288/.340/.434 (.308 BABIP), .343 wOBA
• Is graded as -9 run true-talent fielder by Sean Smith’s most recent CHONE projection.
• A good thing is how he struck out in only 12.2% of his plate appearances at Buffalo this season.
• That ranked him 20th among batters in the International League with at least 100 PAs.
• Was claimed by Mets off waivers after being DFAed by the Orioles to make room on the 40-man for Scott Moore.
The Scott Moore.

Name: Chris Nelson, 25, MI
Organization: Colorado Level: Triple-A
Actual: 356 PA, .317/.379/.498 (.348 BABIP), .384 wOBA
zMLE: 356 PA, .280/.331/.443 (.311 BABIP), .341 wOBA
• On the one hand, played more innings at short this year than any other position.
• On the other, is rated as a -19 run fielder by the most recent iteration of CHONE.
• Was originally considered a top prospect, but then kind of a bust, but now kinda good again.
• Broke his hamate bone in 2008, thus stalling his development for a time.
• The hamate is neither a ham, nor a mate: discuss.

Name: Cord Phelps, 23, 2B
Organization: Cleveland Level: Triple-A
Actual: 273 PA, .317/.386/.506 (.357 BABIP), .388 wOBA
zMLE: 273 PA, .271/.335/.409 (.312 BABIP), .331 wOBA
• Without even checking, I’m gonna guess he’s from the American South — with a name like that, I mean.
• Ack. Wrong. California.
• Had zero home runs through first two college seasons at Stanford (278 AB).
• Had 13 his junior year (259 AB).
• Is on zero prospect lists, so far as I can tell.

The Girardi Extension

Along the way, a person hatched the idea that being the New York Yankees’ manager was the most difficult job in the land. The validity of this statement was at its peak back when George Steinbrenner was at his feistiest. Nowadays the job experience seems different in the Bronx. There is such a thing as job security, even after a “down” season. One couldn’t tell by the reaction to Joe Girardi’s three-year extension.

Girardi is not the game’s best tactician. He makes mistakes like every other manager in the world. He also makes his share of good decisions while receiving more blame on various non-decisions than he should – not pinch hitting for Lance Berkman with Austin Kearns comes to mind. Evaluating just how good Girardi is presents itself as a nearly impossible feat for an outsider. Even if he is only average tactically, there are other aspects of a manager’s job that need to be taken into account. The two flaws that Girardi’s detractors seem to be railing upon right now are: 1) he uses a binder during games to make decisions; 2) he failed to replicate Joe Torre’s early success.

Pretend for a moment that Girardi’s binder contains information about platoon splits and the basic rundown of data that a manager should be equipped with for in-game decisions. Whether this is the case or not is unbeknown to outsiders, but just pretend. Is there any downside to a manager having the information on hand with which to consult? Perhaps if the information itself is trivial or useless (i.e. how batters fared versus lefties over the last week or on Sundays), then Girardi is hurting the club, otherwise it’s hard to think of a downside.

Assuming that is not the case, the mocking of Girardi’s binder highlights the weird juxtaposition of the media’s treatment toward baseball managers who use information and prep work and their football counterparts who absorb film and schemes. Using numbers does not make Girardi a great manager, but it also does not make him a nincompoop. If he acknowledges that his gut and experience in the game does not hold all of the game’s answers, then he might be more self-aware and conscious than quite a few of his managing counterparts.

The ghost chasing aspect involved in the Girardi hate is equally weird. Torre’s first three seasons as Yankees’ manager included two World Series titles and regular season win totals of 92, 96, and 114. Girardi’s Bombers have only won a lone World Series and 89, 103, and 95 games. Torre is a better manager by that analysis, right? Well, no, because there are so many other variables in play that a direct comparison requires a lot more context.

But if the above analysis is believed to be true, then Jim Tracy deserves a ton of credit. Tracy’s first three seasons as Dodgers’ manager were also his first three as a manager at the Major League level, meaning he was a total novice. Yet those three seasons actually resulted in more wins than Torre’s first three seasons with the Dodgers. Not a soul out there claiming Girardi is inferior to Torre would be as bold in proclamation that Tracy is superior to Torre – and why should they? Rosters change, other teams change, luck changes, and even managers themselves change.

Evaluating managers is difficult, and whether Girardi is worth the money is probably beyond our analytical means. That he looks at a binder and is not his predecessor should not factor into the equation.

Giants Rewarded For Good Decisions

In the seventh inning, Bruce Bochy put Nate Schierholtz in the game for defensive purposes in order to give his team the best possible chance to win. Two batters later, Schierholtz rewarded him with a great running catch in the gap to save an extra base hit in a one run game.

Ron Washington used four relievers in the eighth inning, none of whom were Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando, probably his two best bullpen options. He couldn’t use Ogando after having him pitch two innings in a blowout yesterday, and he didn’t use Feliz because he was saving him for a situation that would never exist. The Giants put up seven runs and the game turned into a blowout.

Life doesn’t always reward people fairly for their decisions. Tonight, it did. Bochy put his best players on the field, Washington did not. The Giants deserved to win that game more than Texas did. The result matched the process.

World Series Game 2 Live Blog