“The Astros sale so far has none of the drama that came with the Rangers last year.” That’s from an Associated Press story written in mid-May.
Five months later, we have drama. According to the prospective buyer, Houston-based businessman Jim Crane, Major League Baseball is pressuring him to move the Astros from the National League Central to the American League West. Richard Justice and others have reported that there might be other issues preventing MLB from approving the deal.
I’d rather not speculate about what is or isn’t true, but both sides seem to be doing all they can to intimidate the other into acquiescing. Just this week, a flurry of stories came out suggesting that Crane could walk away from the deal if he isn’t approved by the Nov. 30 deadline stipulated in his agreement with Drayton McLane. Meanwhile, MLB continues to dig into Crane’s past, perhaps sending Crane the message that his options are the American League or no team.
But whatever the reasons for the hold-up, the bottom line is that if the Astros move from the NL Central to the AL West, the team should receive some compensation. In addition to the concerns that Crane has expressed — more 9 p.m. start times and the addition of a designated hitter to the payroll — the real issue is that the American league is the stronger league. And switching leagues will have a direct effect on the Astros’ win total.
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Good starting pitching is always important, but it seems to take on added significance as the pennant race heats up. And often it seems that the teams with the freshest, strongest arms are the teams able to emerge out the grind of a 162 game season into the playoffs.
This year fatigue could be especially important to monitor since there are several pitchers pitching deeper into the year and/or logging more innings than ever before whose performance could have big implications on the pennant race.
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With the August signing deadline having come and gone close to two weeks ago, taking the time to look at which teams chose to spend big on the draft and those that took a more conservative approach is always an interesting task.
Baseball America does a fantastic job of covering the draft every year, and I recommending checking out the series of posts they ran covering draft spending this year. But sometimes I find it easier to view this type of data visually.
There will be some differences between BA’s numbers and mine. First, Baseball America limited what they considered draft spending to bonus totals. In the graphs that follow, I incorporated all spending. For example, the Mariners signed Daniel Hultzen to a major league deal worth at least $8.5 million. As part of that deal, Hultzen received a bonus worth $6.4 million. Baseball America would record the Mariners as spending $6.4 on Hultzen, I record them as spending $8.5. I don’t think either way is necessarily right, they’re just different.
Earlier, we found that teams do indeed pay a premium to acquire early-round talent in the later rounds of the draft. (And I would suggest reading the first part of the study before you read this so that you are caught up on the methodology and some of the terminology). Today, we’ll look at over-slot signees selected from the supplemental to the tenth round, differences among position players and pitchers, as well as differences between high school and college players signed to over-slot deals.
While teams had to pay a fairly significant premium to acquire early-round talent in the later rounds, teams appear to have gotten solid, even good value signing players to over-slot bonuses in the supplemental round through the tenth round of the draft.
Since it’s creation, the August 15th deadline for teams to sign drafted players has become one of the most important days on the baseball calendar. Interspersed among the headlines of which early picks have signed are the reports of players drafted in later rounds, sometimes even outside of the first ten rounds, signing six and seven-figure deals. These ‘over-slot’ signees are a bit of a mystery. Few outside of the scouting industry know much of anything about these players, and it’s difficult to judge the value of an over-slot signee relative to a team’s other draft picks. Is the 12th rounder who signed for $500,000 a better prospect than the third rounder who signed for $400,000? What type of premium do teams pay to sign players to over-slot deals? How much does it cost to sign a ‘second-round’ talent late in the draft? Can it even be done? These are the questions I sought to shed light on.
Unfortunately, reliable bonus data on players who sign late in the draft is tough to find before 2005, so our sample will be restricted to the 2005-2009 drafts. Because many of these players are just starting their major league careers or are still playing in the minors, we can’t know precisely how much value each draftee will ultimately provide, but using Erik Manning’s translation of Victor Wang’s research, we can come up with a fairly accurate approximation of each player’s value based on how they ranked on Baseball America’s Top 100 lists and in John Sickels’ team-by-team rankings.
Earlier this year, The New York Times’ Economix blog had a discussion of a study conducted by the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger (Princeton). The researchers looked at the value students derive from what they termed ‘elite’ colleges. Their study’s twist was that instead of only looking at the schools students attended, the researchers also looked at the schools students applied to. Interestingly, the researchers found that the average SAT score at the most selective school a student applied to was more predictive of that student’s future earnings than the average SAT score at the school the student attended. The researchers hypothesized that applying to selective schools may be an important indicator of future success since the decision to apply to a selective school may be an indication that the student has characteristics that will help them later in life beyond measures such as high school GPA, SAT score, etc… which typically factor heavily into college admissions decision.
I bring up this piece of research because as I was analyzing the data for the return on over-slot signees I was struck by the number of players who signed for just a few thousand dollars over MLB’s slot recommendation but with the benefit of hindsight would have been drafted much higher. Mike Stanton signed for $55,000 above slot in the second round of the 2007 draft; Brett Lawrie signed for $20,000 above slot in 2008; Danny Duffy signed for a mere 500 dollars above slot in 2007; Brandon Belt signed for $25,000 above slot last year, and the list goes on.
Over the past decade, a tremendous amount of progress has been made in quantifying if and when managers should do everything from sacrifice bunt to issue an intentional walk, but one area that has been (at least to my knowledge) overlooked is when to pinch run. One of the main reasons pinch running hasn’t been investigated to the same degree as these other strategies is that there are a lot of moving parts to look at- how much more valuable is the pinch runner than the previous runner? Will removing the starter hurt the team’s defense? What’s the opportunity cost of losing an available bench player? While the answers to each of these questions are needed for a complete analysis of when to pinch run, there is one question we can answer relatively simply- how often can we expect the pinch runner’s spot in the order to come up again later in the game?
The more often a pinch runner can be expected to have to come to the plate, the less appealing pinch running is likely to be, as the players who are most often removed for pinch runners are generally very strong hitters (or catchers), and pinch runners are generally light hitters.
Take for example the White Sox-Twins game on April 9th of last year. Tied in the bottom of the 8th inning, the White Sox elected to have Mark Teahen pinch run for Paul Konerko following Konerko’s 1-out single. The next two White Sox hitters went down in order, and two innings later Teahen stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th with men on first and second and one out. Teahen grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and the White Sox went on to lose in 11 innings.
Over the past week there has been a lot of discussion about the report that MLB is considering moving a National League team to the American League, doing away with divisions, and adding a fifth playoff team from each league. While most of the discussion has focused on how such a move would free the Jays, Rays, and Orioles from the Hurculean task of going head-to-head with the Yankees and Red Sox, realignment may be needed to avoid a similar situation in the National League East.
Now that most of the dust from the 2011 draft has begun to settle, one of the more interesting story lines to follow this summer will be how many early picks the Blue Jays will be able to sign. As has been well documented, the Blue Jays came into the 2011 draft with 8 of the first 60 picks, giving them a total of 20 selections in the first 15 rounds. But what is particularly interesting is that of those 20 picks, the Blue Jays used 17 on high school players. That’s a lot of high school players. In fact, since 2000, teams have, on average, selected fewer than 6 high school players in the first fifteen rounds.
Here’s a look at the number of high school players each team drafted in the first fifteen rounds this year.
* I looked at only the first fifteen rounds to limit the sample to draftees teams were likely intent on signing.
With the draft quickly approaching, it’s time to take a closer look at some of this year’s better prospects. You can check out reports on Sonny Gray, Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito, and others here.
Possessing arguably the highest ceiling of any player in this year’s draft, Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer shouldn’t last long come draft day.
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