Author Archive

Don’t Sleep on the Angels

The Los Angeles Angels have already made one big move this week, acquiring Chris Iannetta from the Rockies to hopefully solve their offensive woes at catcher. Now, they have been tied to free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. A Ramirez signing would give them a glut of infielders with him, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and a healthy Kendrys Morales all established as MLB players. With Kendrick establishing himself as a premiere second baseman, the odd man out would probably be Callaspo. Let’s take a quick look to see if swapping out Callaspo could help turn the Angels into a legitimate post-season contender.

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Extending Shaun Marcum

It has been reported that Brewers GM Doug Melvin is interested in signing two of his front-line pitchers, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, to contract extensions before they become free agents next off-season. This would be a big morale boost for a fanbase that will likely be going through Prince Fielder withdrawal this winter. If Fielder does leave, his $15.5 million salary coming off the books would certainly help create the flexibility to re-sign these two important parts of the organization. However, as with any long-term extension, there are plenty of risks to this plan, especially with Marcum.

Marcum was acquired from the Blue Jays in December 2010 as part of the Brewers’ “go all in for 2011” plan. He had a solid first season in Milwaukee, pitching 200.2 innings with a 3.73 FIP, both career bests. These numbers earned him 2.7 WAR, which due to the league switch and the decline in offense in 2011, was actually 0.9 WAR worse than his 2010 campaign with the Jays.

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Open-Market Value — The Free Agent Team

A couple of years ago, Sky Andrecheck used the power of hindsight to see if an MLB team could have built a 2009 playoff contender using only players who were available on the free-agent market that previous off-season. The only caveat was that this team had to have a league-average budget. Using actual WAR and salaries, Andrecheck pieced together the perfect 25-man roster — actually 18, since he left his bullpen to fend for itself with replacement-level players — and on Aug. 24, his hypothetical team was on pace to win 96 games. And it all happened for the bargain price of $78.6 million.

While this is an interesting exercise, and one I replicated for the 2008 season, I don’t need to tell you that a pretty strong team could have been built on the backs of 2011 free-agent steals such as Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Vogelsong. Instead, Mr. Dave Cameron, in his infinite generosity, has given me a budget of $80 million FanGraphs Pesos to piece together a free-agent team for next season, without the benefit of hindsight. In case you’re wondering, the ratio of FanGraphs Pesos to Schrute Bucks is 3:1.

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An Alternative to Pujols in St.Louis

While I’m sure they are still celebrating in St. Louis, reality is going to set in quick, as the Cardinals have a busy off-season ahead of them. Not only do they have to replace their hall-of-fame manager, but they have to decide what to do with the only first baseman the city has known for the better part of a decade: Albert Pujols.

There are numerous factors that are going to affect whether Pujols returns — and many of them difficult to quantify. Letting Pujols walk would be a public-relations nightmare, and it would certainly hurt the Cardinals at the gate – but I’m not going to pretend that I know what that magic number would be. There’s also the question of Pujols’ declining ability as he ages, and whether he will live up to what will inevitably be a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While I’m sure we’ll cover that topic in depth here at FanGraphs, that’s not what I want to cover today.

What I would like to suggest might sound blasphemous, but given the construction of their current roster — and downplaying the previously mentioned factors — it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cardinals if Pujols walks away.

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How Will Prince Fielder Age?

While the upcoming Free Agent crop isn’t the deepest in recent memory, there are a few sexy names at the top of the list. One of those names is of course Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Looking at his stats, we see a player who has accumulated 15.3 WAR over the last three seasons and is a perennial threat to launch 40 home runs and get on base over 40% of the time. However, due to his less than slim body type, it is not prudent to assume that he will age like most other Major League players.

In order to attempt to predict what Fielder will do over the life of his next contract, we should compare him to players with similar body types. Jeff Zimmerman has put together a list of 205 players who weigh more than 3.25 lbs per inch of height in order to construct an aging curve. To put that in perspective, a 6’0″ tall player would have to weigh a minimum of 234 lbs in order to be included in the sample.

Below is a graph that shows the aging curve of the heavy players we identified, and the curve for average sized players. Across the x-axis is age, and the y-axis runs (batting, positional, UZR), with 0 being the peak year. The y-axis shows how many runs below the peak year they are at a given age.

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The Brandon McCarthy Saga – Part Two

Special thanks to Brandon McCarthy for taking the time to walk me through his experiences as a pitcher, and providing me with countless insights I never would have discovered researching on my own. 

When part one ended, we had covered the final changes McCarthy made to his delivery in Winter Ball, and were about to analyze his 2011 season. It’s safe to say that Oakland seems to have been the right choice, as the end result of two years of hard work and frustration was a league-leading 2.86 FIP built on the strength of a 1.32 BB/9 and 0.58 HR/9 – both by far career lows. He also mixed these with a solid 6.49 K/9 and career high 46.7% ground ball rate. The groundball rate can be explained fairly easily by the increased use of sinkers and cutters*, but it’s not often that we see a pitcher cut his walk rate by 2/3 almost overnight. However, these were the stats that McCarthy was chasing going into 2011.

“I CANNOT (emphasis McCarthy’s) stand the “nerd stat” narrative and the disdain for them, especially considering how valuable they can be… They’re accurate barometers of what you’re actually doing… Those are the numbers that I was chasing after. I wanted lower home runs, I wanted lower walks, more ground balls, and to get to the top of that category the first year after the changes is a nice accomplishment.”

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The Brandon McCarthy Saga – Part One

Special thanks to Brandon McCarthy for taking the time to walk me through his experiences as a pitcher, and providing me with countless insights I never would have discovered researching on my own.

There has been plenty of ink spilt this season over Justin Verlander’s American League MVP candidacy, and he is a shoo-in for the AL Cy Young Award. A large part of the narrative is the 24 wins, but one would assume that all the gushing means he had one of the most dominant pitching seasons of the last decade. However, when controlling for run environment, Dave Cameron notes that the last two AL Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez, had better ERA’s relative to league average than Verlander. Moving on to the advanced stats, Verlander did not even lead the league in FIP in 2011. Neither did his nearest competitor for the award, CC Sabathia. It was in fact Brandon McCarthy of the Oakland Athletics.

In 2010, McCarthy was a 26 year-old pitcher with 372.2 Major League innings under his belt toiling away in Oklahoma City, AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He had been cut from the big league club following a rough Spring Training, and was toying with his mechanics and pitch repertoire, all while battling micro stress fractures in his right shoulder. Injuries limited him to 56.1 innings that season, and while the 3.36 ERA looked tidy, a 79.9% strand rate masked a less impressive 4.23 FIP.  As a pitcher who is in tune with defense independent statistics and had experienced severe arm injuries four years in a row, McCarthy said “it was at that point that I was going to have to start considering my options outside of baseball.” A year later, he was the American League FIP leader.  To figure out this transformation, let’s travel back in time.

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