For a team hoping to contend in the much vaunted AL East, the Baltimore Orioles have had a relatively uneventful offseason. However, uneventful does not mean that they’ve sat quietly like the Milwaukee Brewers (who have yet to sign a free agent to a major league contract). Baltimore has signed over half a dozen free agents, settled with a handful of arbitration eligible players, and even made a trade. Despite the apparent activity, the Orioles focus has been building depth at the bottom of the roster rather than adding to the core. Spring training will prove to be a crowded battle.
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I’ve always been fascinated with how teams and players react to advance scouting reports. I love to read up on how players incorporate the reports into their game plan and how managers use the information to inform their decisions. But it’s an aspect of baseball that is difficult to access for an outsider. Generally speaking, we don’t know what scouts are saying about any player. We can look at the data and do a little amateur scouting in order to make a guess, but we don’t know.
What I wondered was if by looking at the data, we could find some examples where it appeared that a scouting report was dead wrong. Since sample size issues make it a necessity, I had to look for players that every team scouted incorrectly. One of the things contained in an advance scouting report is how aggressively an opposing hitter should be attacked, so the first place I went looking was plate discipline data to see if any hitters were pitched more or less aggressively than the data suggests was wise. To my surprise, I found somebody immediately – Carlos Gomez.
The suspension portion of the Alex Rodriguez Legal Battle Royale Season One has finally been resolved. The Yankees and the writers who analyze them can officially remove the A-Rod variable. Yesterday, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz released his decision that Rodriguez’s suspension would be reduced from 211 games to 162 games. While Rodriguez benefits in the decision, it’s quite a bit less than he anticipated. A-Rod will appeal to federal courts, but as Wendy Thurm noted in her article yesterday:
Late last week, it was announced that the Philadelphia Phillies had reached a 25-year, $2.5 billion TV rights deal. The club will remain with its current network, Comcast SportsNet. The Phillies have reportedly upped their equity stake in the network to 25 percent and will receive some portion of the ad money. 2016 is the first season under the new contract and revenues are expected to escalate over time, starting at around $65 million. I assume that our own Wendy Thurm will offer her usual sharp analysis on the business components of this deal. Today, let’s focus on why this won’t immediately affect the team’s overall strategy.
Between free agent signings, trades, and the non-tender deadline, this past week was ridiculously busy for major league clubs. Surprisingly, the Houston Astros joined the fun by trading for Dexter Fowler and signing Scott Feldman. Jeff Sullivan already discussed the Fowler trade, so we’ll focus on the Feldman signing and what the pair of moves mean for the Astros.
Just two days ago, Bradley Woodrum reviewed the remaining catchers on the free agent market along with the teams looking to sign a catcher. He concluded that there were four starting catchers available for seven jobs. Now it’s three catchers for six jobs after the New York Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract yesterday. And Kudos to Woodrum for predicting this signing in his article.
This is what we know of the deal thus far. It is a five-year contract worth $85 million that contains a no trade clause and some kind of vesting option for a sixth season. Details on the option year are still unclear. If reached, the option will bring the total value of the deal north of $100 million.
In many ways, this move is a match made in heaven. McCann is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, he combines a good feel for the basics of the position with excellent pitch framing skills. Per Woodrum’s article, McCann’s saved 65 runs over the last three seasons via pitch framing. In addition to his defensive reputation, McCann carries a loud bat that is typically 20 percent above league average. That’s not catcher average, it’s league average.
Steamer projects McCann to compile 3.6 WAR over 402 plate appearances. With the designated hitter role now available to him, McCann may see as many as 600 plate appearances (barring injury). If we’re being thoroughly pessimistic, we can call that 600 plate appearance projection about 3.5 WAR. Add another 1.5 WAR for catching contributions not currently included, like framing, and McCann projects as a roughly five WAR player in 2014.
If we assume that the cost of a win will be around $6 million, then the Yankees are paying for 14 wins over the guaranteed portion of the contract. While catchers do tend to age more rapidly than other position players, McCann is entering his age 30 season, so he’s relatively young. At this point in his career and given that we project him to about five wins in 2014, he may be able to earn the entirety of the contract over the first three seasons.
There is also the consideration of home stadium. McCann is a pull hitter and drives most of his home runs out to right field. Per Fangraphs’ own park factors, McCann is moving from a stadium that is league average for left-handed home runs (100 park factor) to one that inflates home runs by 14 percent (114 park factor). Below is an overlay of the two stadiums.
And here is McCann’s spray chart from 2013, so you can visualize how many warning track shots might have found their way over the wall.
This information is not accounted for in the earlier projection that we discussed. Since McCann’s offense game is particularly well tailored to his new home park, it should mean that the Yankees will get an even greater return on their investment.
From the Yankees perspective, this deal may indicate a lesson learned. Last offseason, the Yankees were attempting to cut costs and refused to offer Russell Martin a reasonable, two-year contract. He eventually signed with the Pirates and helped them reach the postseason for the first time since the height of the Roman Empire 1992.
Meanwhile, the Yankees received almost no offense from the four catchers they employed and missed the postseason. It’s worth noting that they missed the postseason by more than just one good catcher, but that was one of the black holes on the roster. Third base, shortstop, first base, right field, and designated hitter were also varying degrees of terrible. Really, it’s amazing that they won 88 games, but I digress…
With McCann off the market, other clubs looking for starting catchers will have to choose between Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, and a variety of backup quality options. Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan also remains available on the trade market. The Red Sox are the most tangibly in need of a catcher at this point.
There is some speculation that the signing could affect negotiations with top free agent Robinson Cano, but that strikes me as unlikely. With the paucity of reliable catchers on the market, the Yankees needed to strike quickly to plug that void. I have little doubt that they would have acquired McCann with or without Cano.
It feels as though this match was inevitable. The Yankees had every reason to value McCann more highly than any other team. They have a hungry fan base that supplies massive revenue, a dearth of quality internal options at the position, and a home stadium that maximizes McCann’s offensive potential. Of teams interested in catchers, only the Rockies can match the Yankees on that latter point, but they can’t come close on the revenue side. All told, this deal smells like a winner for both team and player.
The Hot Stove is still pre-heating, so while we wait on the oven timer, let’s reflect on a topic that we rarely question. Provocative title aside, why do we use miles per hour, more commonly referred to as mph, to talk about velocity in baseball? After all, it’s a game of feet, inches, and seconds.
It’s 60 feet, six inches from the rubber to the back corner of the plate. Home to first is 90 feet. Home to second is 127 feet, three and 3/8’s inches, which can also be expressed as 90 times the square root of two (h/t Pythagoras). The outfield fence is typically somewhere between 310 and 410 feet from home plate. A really long home run will travel 500 feet in about four to six seconds. Billy Hamilton can steal second base in 3.1 seconds. When Jose Fernandez hits a home run, it takes him about 28 seconds to wander around the bases.
In other words, no other single activity in baseball is meaningfully measured using miles or hours.
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Lately, there have been persistent rumors that Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) are considering a major change to the posting system – perhaps in time to affect Masahiro Tanaka. One of the most commonly rumored proposals is a system that would allow three teams to “win” the post. In New York beat writer Joel Sherman’s words:
There had been speculation the system would undergo radical changes, with perhaps even the teams with the three highest posting bids all gaining the rights to negotiate with the players.
He goes on to note that the posted player may get the opportunity to pick one of three top bidders. For the sake of simplicity, let’s leave that wrinkle aside for now.
The 2013 postseason was a wild ride. We witnessed crazy endings, ill-timed errors, bizarre managerial gaffes, and plenty of the usual heroics. Perhaps you may be interested to learn how certain plays affected a team’s odds of winning the World Series. Luckily, we have a stat for that.
You may have heard that Game Three of the 2013 World Series had an unusual ending. The kind that nobody could have predicted. Even @CantPredictBaseball had trouble finding the right words to describe the play.
Imagine, if you would, a vast scale of all difficult-to-predict ways a game could end, ranging from unlikely to unbelievable. On the unlikely side of the scale you have something like a 1-2-3 double play. On the unbelievable end is Bud Selig arbitrarily deciding that he’s seen enough (oh wait…). An obstruction call at third base on a play that included a tag out at home plate falls smack dab on the end of the unbelievable side. In case you want to see the play again (h/t @CJZero):