The Atlanta Braves have followed up their 2011 collapse with an 0-4 start to the 2012 season. The Braves have simply been terrible in 2012. Their .229 wOBA is 29th in the majors, they rank 29th in BABIP against, and they are tied for 29th in run differential. Not all of this can be blamed on the manager and it is only four games, but Gonzalez is in line for criticism for his bullpen usage and playing time decisions.
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Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
Colorado’s 2011 Ranking: #10
2012 Outlook: – 50 (17th)
The Rockies has a disastrous 2011 season, finishing 4th in the NL West, 21 games behind the Diamondbacks and 17 games off the wildcard pace. The Rockies led the NL West in runs scored with 735, but the Astros were the only team in the NL to give up more runs than the 2011 Rockies. The team threw in the towel on the season at the trade deadline, sending its ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the Cleveland Indians for a package of prospects including highly regarded pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.
This is the time of year I begin my annual ritual of collecting and merging together various player projection systems in preparation for my Scoresheet draft. This is often a long and arduous process that involves lots of merging on string variables — thanks to no common id — and lots of data cleaning. Thankfully, FanGraphs provides a number of projection systems free of charge on the website that are both exportable and available with a common id number!
In this post I’ll focus on three projection systems — Steamer, Marcel, ZiPS — to see if there are significant differences in how they project various players to perform in 2012. Read this post by Matt Schwartz to see how this systems performed in the aggregate for 2011 and be sure to visit the websites of the authors of these systems to learn more about the details of how they are estimated.
I’ll echo Dave Cameron and start by saying I do not know if Ryan Braun cheated. What we do know is that he will not be facing a suspension based on his October 2011 drug test. The independent arbitrator determined that the irregularities in the process were serious enough to warrant tossing out the apparently positive test. It is worth noting that the arbitrator did not declare Braun “innocent,” rather he simply refused to uphold the “guilty” result. In social science terms, the arbitrator decided the risk of making a Type I error was greater than a Type II error. A Type I error occurs when a null hypothesis –- in this case that Braun was clean –- is rejected despite being true. The flipside is a Type II error where a null hypothesis is maintained –- again Braun is clean –- when rejection of the null is warranted.
The fact that the arbitrator decided to potentially commit a Type II error is certainly good news for Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers, but is this good for Major League Baseball? I would argue yes. Our society has a long history of preferring Type II errors to Type I errors. The best example is our criminal justice system. Defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty. A defendant does not have to prove that he or she is innocent of the crime he or she has been charged with, he or she simply has to raise enough reasonable doubt to prevent the state from proving that they did in fact commit the crime. This bias towards Type II errors is often controversial, as there are cases where many people believe that a guilty defendant was freed through the trial process (i.e. e.g. Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson), but our society still supports a system that attempts to minimize the extent to which innocent individuals are falsely convicted.
With Spring Training approaching the Atlanta Braves claim to have put their historic 2011 collapse behind them. Unlike their brethren in collapse — the Boston Red Sox — the Braves made very few changes to the team or baseball organization in the wake of the collapse. Significant off-season transactions were limited to the firing of rookie hitting coach Larry Parrish, trading Derek Lowe to the Indians in a salary dump, and allowing shortstop Alex Gonzalez to leave as a free-agent and replacing him with Jack Wilson (and Tyler Pastornicky, as noted below).
The lack of moves by the Braves stands in contrast to the rest of the N.L. East where all of the other teams made major moves. The Marlins, Phillies, and Nationals all added major pieces through the free-agent market, while the Mets cut payroll and allowed Jose Reyes to move to the Marlins. While claiming to have an open mind about adding players later in the Spring, Braves GM Frank Wren seems to be betting that the Braves will be competitive without a major addition, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley:
If everyone bounces back, then we’ve got a good ballclub that doesn’t have a major need.
In essence, Wren is betting on regression to the mean. Hoping that players who struggled last year will revert to their normal performance level. In 2011 the Braves were generally quite good at preventing run, as there 605 runs allowed was second in the N.L. behind the Phillies. Scoring runs was the problem for the Braves, as they finished 10th in the N.L. with 641 runs scored. At what positions can the Braves expect increased offensive production this year?
For fans wondering how new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine will run the team, his recent comments on pitch counts and pitcher health could make fans of the Red Sox and/or logic cringe and make Red Sox pitchers fear for the health of their pitching arm. In a recent interview, Valentine made it clear that he was neither a fan of pitch counts nor innings limits on his pitchers. On the topic of pitch counts, Valentine offered:
The one thing that doesn’t compute is less is better. It doesn’t match. More is better.
Valentine is partially correct that there is little evidence to demonstrate that strict adherence to a pitch count prevents injuries to adult pitchers, but at the same time I am not aware of any studies that demonstrate that having a higher pitch count actually reduces the risk of injury.
The end of the 2011 season does not seem to have ended the Red Sox spell of misfortune as two-thirds of their projected everyday lineup outfield is now out with injury. It was reported earlier this offseason that rightfielder Ryan Kalish would be out until at least June as he recovers from shoulder surgery. This week came that Carl Crawford will likely miss the start of the regular season due to wrist surgery. Crawford is not expected to miss a lot of playing time, but wrist injuries can linger and sap a player’s bat control for an extended period of time. That leaves the Red Sox with exactly 3 outfielders who (a) are on the 40-man roster, (b) have played an inning in MLB, and (c) project to be healthy on opening day.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continued their makeover of the Chicago Cubs roster by acquiring first baseman Anthony Rizzo and minor-league pitcher Zach Cates from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Cashner is 25 year old former first round draft pick who has great stuff, but one who has struggled with injuries and control in his time with Cubs. Rizzo is a familiar player for Epstein and Hoyer as the Red Sox drafted him when Epstein was GM and was acquired by the Padres during Hoyer’s tenure as Padres’ GM as a major player in the Adrian Gonzales trade. Rizzo’s 2011 was mixed, as he combined a breakout year in Triple-A with a horrendous cup of coffee in San Diego as he “hit” .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Given the horror that Petco Park is for left-handed sluggers, the move to Wrigley Field should sit well with Rizzo.
Despite his struggles at the big league level last year, Rizzo has rocketed through the minor leagues reaching Double-A as a 20 year old and seeing the majors at age 21. Rizzo’s 2011 was one of the best offensive seasons in the Pacific Coast League despite him being the youngest everyday player in the league at age 21. As Noah Isaacs demonstrated nicely, very few players make it to AAA at such a tender age. A quick look at the new minor league leaderboards demonstrate that most of the best offensive performers in the PCL last year were several years older than Rizzo. In fact, the offensive performance that most closely mirrors Rizzo’s was that of Cubs farmhand and fellow first baseman Bryan LaHair. As the table below demonstrates, the only significant difference between Rizzo and LaHair last year was age, with Rizzo looking like a prospect and LaHair profiling as a classic AAAA hitter.
The Atlanta Braves are entering unchartered waters with their youth movement in 2012. With their lack of interest in re-signing Alex Gonzalez or any other potential starting shortstop, the Braves seem likely to enter the 2012 season with rookie Tyler Pastornicky as their everyday shortstop. If this comes to pass, it would mark the third consecutive year that the Braves have begun a season with one of their farm system products as an everyday starter with Jason Heyward (RF-2010) and Freddie Freeman (1B-2011) being the other two. The fact the Heyward, Freeman, and Pastornicky will all be 22 years old on opening day 2012 started an interesting conversation between the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Dave O’Brien and his Twitter followers due to the claim that no team in recent history has made the postseason with three starting position players under the age of 23.
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With their 10-year, $250 million commitment to Albert Pujols, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are making a huge bet that Pujols will continue to be one of the game’s premier offensive threats and be healthy enough to be in the lineup through his age-41 season. His health history to date provides reasons both for optimism and concern on the part of the Angels and their fans.