Thursday, January 8, 2015

The One About the Hall of Fame

As you know, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz all garnered enough votes for the baseball Hall of Fame. The fact that they all will be inducted this year isn't an issue, as all are very worthy. Rather, the obvious issue is that only those four will go to Cooperstown.

You don't need me to tell you the ten person limit is silly, but given that rule it would be expected in a deep year for several worthy candidates to not make the cut. In a perfect world there would be no limit. In a slightly less perfect world, eight or nine people would be enshrined with a few down ballot people not making the cut as the voters couldn't all agree on their last choices. Of course we don't live in a perfect world, far from it as only four were voted in. 

If you ignore steroids and its cousin steroid speculation, and I do, by my count there are 15 worthy candidates - Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina, Larry Walker and Mark McGwire. If you are a stickler about those who cheated then that number goes down to a whopping 13 once you remove Bonds, Clemens and McGwire. So, naturally only 4/13 were voted in then. The BWAA is really a pain, isn't it?

However I've yet to really say anything that hasn't been said before, both in these parts over the last few years and on any other site that houses honorable baseball thoughts. My main concern is the lack of support for Mike Mussina (and Curt Schilling) who only received a paltry 24.6% of the vote in his second year on the ballot. He made some progress from his initial 20.3% last year but he's still far off on what will still be a crowded ballot in future years. 

John Smoltz was a fantastic pitcher and a certain hall of famer. His stats speak for themselves - 213 wins and 154 saves in 3473 innings pitched with a 3.33 ERA (125 ERA+) in the steroid era. His 78.7 fWAR ranks 22nd all time. The voters got this one right.

Let's look at two other pitchers that for convenience sake we will call Curt and Mike compared to Mr. Smoltz.

Smoltz - 3,473 IP, 213 wins, 3.33 ERA, 125 ERA+ 154 saves, 3,084 strikeouts (7.99 K/9) against 1,010 walks (2.62 BB/9), 78.7 fWAR, 79.7 RA-9 WAR.

Curt - 3,261 IP, 216 wins, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 22 saves, 3,116 strikeouts (8.60 K/9) against 711 walks (1.96 BB/9), 83.2 fWAR, 81 RA-9 WAR. 

Mike -  3,562.2 IP, 270 wins, 3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 2813 strikeouts (7.11 K/9) against 785 walks (1.98 BB/9), 82.5 fWAR, 82.8 RA-9 WAR. 

Curt is obviously Schilling and Mike is obviously Mussina. You knew that. Did you also know they were all basically the same player value wise?  They did it in different ways of course with Smoltz starting and relieving, Schilling having a higher peak and Mussina just generally being great for the duration of his career.  But, is Smoltz deserving while the others aren't? I'm asking a lot of easy questions here.

John Smoltz was a fantastic closer after returning from Tommy John surgery. From 2002-2004 Smoltz threw 226.1 innings out of relief with a 2.47 ERA/173 ERA+ and 144 saves while racking up 243 strikeouts and 7.3 WAR. Those are fantastic numbers for a reliever, but starting is more important. 2.5 WAR is a solid season from a starting pitcher but it's nothing to write home about and you have to consider that all of those innings in relief also helped lower Smoltz's ERA. While Smoltz was relieving, Mike Mussina threw 595 innings in the AL and was worth 14 wins. It's funny, Mussina was twice as valuable as Smoltz over that stretch but Smoltz gets all the credit because he dominated in a roll that's easier to dominate. Life's not fair. 

But wait, I forgot about the postseason! Let's take a look. Clearly Smoltz is more worthy...

Smoltz - 209 IP, 15-4 2.67 ERA, 2.97 K/BB.
Schilling  - 133.1 IP, 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 4.8 K/BB.
Mussina - 139 IP, 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 4.39 K/BB.

Smoltz had the most opportunity was definitely fantastic in the playoffs but Schilling was fantastic-er and Mussina was pretty damn good himself. If we're going to give Smoltz more credit for his extra innings pitched, W/L record and performance in the playoffs we have to then give Mussina credit for his extra innings pitched, W/L record in the regular season.

Smoltz, Mussina and Schilling are all HOF pitchers in my mind but Smoltz got in the first ballot for a few reasons, none of which actually make him more qualified than his peers who were left off:
  • He closed. It didn't add much actual value to his career, but it certainly helped our perception of his value.
  • He played with Maddux and Glavine. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were always the big three and since Smoltz was HOF caliber he was propped up to no-brainer/first ballot because of his teammates.
  • He pitched in the NL. This helps, duh.
  • He crushed in the postseason.
  • He won a Cy Young. 
Mussina and Schilling aren't in danger of falling off of the ballot but they're also not close to induction at this current time either. Bert Blyleven had a similar situation and thankfully smarter heads prevailed by the end. Let's hope that Mike and Curt face similar paths in the future. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The One About Jon Lester

The Dodgers, Giants and Yankees toyed around for a little while but we all knew the Jon Lester bidding would be between the Red Sox and the Cubs. In the end, the Cubs won out with a six-year $155 million deal. 

Lester floundered a bit in 2012, at least ERA wise, and had a nice bounce back in 2013 before conveniently posting his career year this season, just in time for his free agency. That's not to say that Lester isn't the real deal because he is and he just earned himself a boatload of cash. Even in Lester's down year he put up 3.2 WAR, which in today's baseball economy could be a $20 million pitcher. That's the low end of a healthy Lester, which is certainly no guarantee for any pitcher but it shows you how consistently solid Lester has been in his career.

Max Scherzer puts up gaudier strikeout numbers and is expected to make more money than Lester during but production wise they are very similar. Considering that Scherzer is looking for $200 million, Lester's contract in comparison might end up a bit of a bargain.

There were rumors during the season that the Sox offered Lester a four-year $70 million extension. Lester appropriately declined and ended up being shipped to Oakland for a year of Yoenis Cespedes. I'm not entirely sure what was offered and what was said but since we now know that Lester will be making more than double the initial Red Sox amount, that's the definition of a low-ball offer. It's hard to say it had an affect on the current negotiations as Lester was still considering Boston, but chances are the Red Sox could have had Lester at whatever price they offered this time, if they only offered it in the summer.

Either way, Lester is now a Cub and the Cubs are now ready to compete for the playoffs, division titles and the World Series, maybe even as early as 2015. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta make a very formidable front end of the rotation and if Theo has taught us anything it's that he's very capable at filling out the rotation with solid pieces. Behind the big two are Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks with Edwin Jackson and his contract lingering somewhere. 

The previous talk about the Cubs was always about their young hitters and the "need" to swap a young bat for a pitcher. Well, I'm not sold that ever was the case, and it certainly isn't now. The Cubs have three solid starting pitchers and Theo isn't going to trade a young bat to fill out a rotation in the National League as he can do that on the scrap heap in his sleep. In fact, if the Cubs have any holes it's in the field. Third base and left field are currently being filled by Luis Valbuena and Chris Coghlan/Junior Lake but there is someone named Kris Bryant that can and will fill in one of those slots before the summer. The Cubs lineup isn't particularly good right now but given the ages of their core, it should only improve. 

Smarter people than me, like Dave Cameron can tell you more specifically why the Cubs are contenders now, so I'll just lead you there if you don't believe me.

For baseball fans this is exciting because Lester is the first truly compelling domino to fall this offseason. Now we get to watch the Hot Stove heat up with Max Scherzer and trade rumors for those teams who missed out on Lester.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Didi Trade

The Trade: As you know, the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers agreed to a three-way trade. The Yankees are sending Shane Greene to Detroit and receiving shortstop Didi Gregorius. The Diamondbacks will receive Robbie Ray from Detroit along with a young SS Domingo Leyba. 

Shane Greene was never expected to do what he did in 15 starts last year at the major league level, but the fact is he did it and he can be counted on to be a solid fifth starter for the Tigers. Greene doesn't have excellent control (3.32 BB/9) but misses bats at a an above average clip (9.9% SwStr% and 23.4% K%). Even with some regression he should be a nice option for the Tigers rotation and a definite upgrade over Robbie Ray for 2015. 

Ray is still 23 with some projection left and Leyba, as a 19 year old middle infielder with solid results thus far in the minors certainly has a lot of potential. Considering the Dbacks decided on Chris Owings as the every day shortstop, this isn't a bad move for the Dbacks, trading an area with depth. 

However, the best player in this deal is likely Didi Gregorius and this should be considered a win for the Yankees. Although Gregorius has been very mediocre at the plate (84 wRC+) he's considered a plus defender and has succeeded in that area so far at the major league level. Also, while a 84 wRC+ is below average across all hitters, it's average for the position and at 25 years by Opening Day, Gregorius still has some upside with the bat. Steamer projects Gregorius at 1.2 WAR in 392 PAs, so across a full season the Yankees are looking at a two win player with some additional upside.

We all like to anoint winners and losers immediately with trades but this one looks pretty even all around. The Tigers upgrade their rotation on a team trying to win a title, the Yankees acquired their current and future SS at a reasonable cost and the Dbacks traded a position of strength for some guys with potential. Not bad.

This trade only happened in the morning but it hasn't taken long for people to talk about the struggles of someone replacing Derek Jeter. While it's an interesting thought, I don't actually think Didi is going to struggle with being the guy after Jeter. This simply wasn't a large enough move to merit high expectations. If the Yankees sold the farm for Tulowitzki, then I could see where his play would be under immense scrutiny. Gregorius is simply a nice, young player at a premier position and given the baseline (or lackthereof) that Jeter set last season, Didi shouldn't have any issues clearing it. But maybe I'm just the idiot that expects Yankee fans to be reasonable. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Matt Williams, Bad Bullpen Manager

Matt Williams, like many other managers, doesn't always use his bullpen efficiently, especially in close games in the playoffs with his season on the line. But, as Dave Cameron delightfully laid out in Just A Bit Outside, he was pretty terrible last night

It's a story we have all seen too many times before. I won't lay out all the details because Cameron does that better than I can but the general gist is the that back of the Nationals bullpen lost the game, while their best relievers watched. 

However, I do want to point out Cameron's specific take down of this logic in baseball and how it would never play in other sports:
There is no parallel to this in other sports. NFL teams that trail by a touchdown don't put in their backup linebackers until their offense takes the lead again. NBA teams don't use their worst bench players in the first half, saving their good reserves for the end of the game, as long as they're winning when the fourth quarter rolls around. Baseball is the only sport where it's perfectly acceptable to lose a game because the worst players on your roster didn't create a lead for your best players to protect. Not using your best relievers in a tie game, or even down a single run -- while employing them to "save" a game where you only need to get three outs before you give up three runs -- just doesn't make sense.
What's funny is that oftentimes you will hear arguments for keeping in an ace starting pitcher because you want to go down with your best. Now, I would disagree with that statement as it's proven that even the best pitchers facing a lineup for the fourth time are less successful than regular old middle relievers, but the general idea makes some sense, even if it's factually wrong. In this same NLDS series, Matt Williams took out Jordan Zimmermann who was throwing a fantastic game for Drew Storen who ended up blowing the lead. Drew Storen for his one inning is a better pitcher than Zimmerman in the ninth, but I can at least appreciate the idea of someone sticking with their guy. Grady Little clearly should have taken out Pedro, but you can somewhat understand him wanting to sink or swim with his guy, unfortunately/unsurprisingly he sank.

By that same logic, once a starting pitcher is out, you would think managers would generally want to go down with their best of the pen. Right? But no, they go down swinging with the soft under belly of their relief, hoping and wishing for a three run lead to secure.

Old habits die hard. Kill the save.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Quick NL Wild Card Game Preview

If we learned anything from last night it's that in a one game playoff, no team should leave in their starting pitcher for too long.

With the best relief in the league, the Royals allowed James Shields to start the sixth inning and he inevitably struggled. 

With a four run lead ethe A's allowed Jon Lester to start the eighth inning and he inevitably struggled.

Madison Bumgarner is a great pitcher, but if it's the sixth inning or later, the Giants are better off going with one of their relievers than forcing Bumgarner to face someone for a fourth time.

Edinson Volquez has a great ERA, isn't quite the same pitcher as Bumgarner, but he too shouldn't be allowed to pitch many innings tonight. If I was the Pirates, I would ask for Volquez to get through the Giants lineup twice, and not get greedy for anything more.

The Giants have the pitching edge with Madison Bumgarner, but if Bruce Bochy overuses him, that advantage could become a glaring weakness as we saw with Jon Lester and his 111 pitches. 

Assuming the Pirates don't get too greedy with Volquez and that the Giants use Bumgarner reasonably, this game could come down to the lineups, of which the Pirates have a sizable advantage. While the Giants 101 wRC+ as a team ranks third in the AL it is behind the Pirates 108 wRC+ which ranked second behind the Dodgers (110). However, against lefties the Pirates only had a 97 wRC+ as a team compared to a 99 wRC+ for the Giants against righties. 

That might be too broad analysis as the Pirates are unlikely to start too many left handed hitters tonight. Travis Snider might be the only one. Madison Bumgarner is still a fantastic pitcher, one of the best in the league, but he won't be feasting on Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Gregory Polanco and the other Pirates that can't hit a lick against south paws. The Giants meanwhile could throw a slew of left handed hitters to battle Edinson Volquez, but Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa don't really inspire fear. 

Checking the marquee this seems like an easy victory for the Giants, but it's not as simple as Bumgarner for Volquez. The Pirates have a smart front office with the manager that listens. I'm thinking they go to the pen early, only asking Volquez to throw 3-4 innings which he can do and I think that their lineup gives them a slight edge. 

Prediction: Pirates, 5-4 (because last night's prediction was so close...)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brian Cashman to Stay in NY

According to Buster Olney, Brian Cashman will be staying in New York as the GM of the Yankees.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Looking at the very recent history during the past offseason, Cashman (*or the Yankees generally, as it's tough to know exactly who decided what move) has failed pretty miserably.

Carlos Beltran: 3 years/$45 Million and -0.5 WAR
Brian McCann: 5 years/$85 Million and 2.3 WAR
Jacoby Ellsbury: 7 years/$153 Million and 3.6 WAR
Masahiro Tanaka: 7 years/$155 Million and 3.2 WAR

In total for 2014 this came to $75 million for 8.6 WAR. Even if you assume a win is roughly $7 million, that's about $15 million the Yankees wasted, just on this year. Now, those are long term contracts and there is time for the players to theoretically earn their money but the youngest hitter among them is 31 years old and the starting pitcher has a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and could require Tommy John surgery in the immediate or not too distant future. So, the likelihood that all of these players suddenly earn their keep, isn't necessarily a smart bet. There is also a chance that a $15m loss of value could be the best the Yankees get from their 2014 buying spree.

On the other hand, Cashman had a terrific trading deadline this season where he really used the Yankees financial strength to acquire good talent without overspending $9m per win as he did in the offseason . Dave Cameron laid out the case for Cashman's great deadline acquisitions in his "The Yankees Successful Summer of Reclamations" so I will just lead you there rather than re-has all the details. The simple point is that guys like Chase Headley, Martin Prado, Brendan McCarthy and co. were able to be productive players for the Yankees this summer, unlike the ghost of Carlos Beltran.

That's just talking about the last 12 months and Cashman has been the GM since 1998. There is a lot to consider when analyzing Cashman's track record, both good and bad. Also, the Yankees operating system might be slightly different than some other teams. Yes, they have deeper pockets than most, if not all, but Brian Cashman doesn't have as much say as some of the other teams' GMs do. It's certainly helpful when ownership is willing to spend money, but it's also problematic when there is a power struggle between the GM and people telling the old boss what to do down in Tampa. That was apparently (somewhat) aired out a few years, with Cashman given more power but let's just say Billy Bean has more say than Mr. Cashman. But yet again, Carlos Beltran three years? 

A more thorough analysis of Cashman's record is necessary, especially being able to decipher, if possible, what was a Cashman move and what what wasn't. It's well known that the Yankees have struggled to develop young talent, but what is a systematic issue and what is just bad luck? Is someone like Jesus Montero a point for Cashman since he was a top five prospect, or is it a point against as his MLB track record has been piss poor. When people point to Cano as being the last solid position player the Yankees developed, can we point to Austin Jackson or Brett Gardner? Are Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain evidence as to Cashman's inability to produce front line pitching or just bad luck because, well that's pitching. 

The Yankees have been a contender throughout Cashman's tenure but they also enter 2015 with an injured C.C. Sabathia owed at least $48m, they owe Mark Teixeira $45m to be an average player, they owe all the salaries mentioned previously and we still haven't addressed the elephant in the room - Alex Rodriguez who plans on playing and is still owed $61m not accounting for any pay bonuses he could receive for certain HR milestones. I think we all know that resigning A-Rod to a $275m deal wasn't Cashman's idea, but he's still largely responsible for the situation the Yankees find themselves in, and unfortunately I'm still not sure if it's a good or bad idea to keep him on to get through it. 

A's v. Royals

It's been a while since I've posted here. Actually, I haven't even posted an article, or blog post if you will, this entire season. But, the postseason is as good a time as any, so aw here it goes!

At 8:07 PM, and most likely at least a few minutes after, the Royals and A's will face off in the American League wild card play-in game. The most thrilling playoff games are undoubtedly the game sevens (or I suppose the game fives in the 'first' round in the playoffs or if you can remember, the first round in the old NBA playoff format) and as a one-game playoff we're essentially getting an immediate game seven. This should be fun.

It would be fun if the matchups weren't exciting but they most certainly are, and it starts with the guys on the mound. The A's and Royals are fortunate enough to throw their best starters on the mound for the biggest game of their season. The A's are sending out their mid-season ace acquisition, Jon Lester while the Royals have their 2013 offseason acquisition James Shields on the bump. 

An ace is a funny and elusive title with pretty arbitrary definitions. Is the ace simply the best starter on a team meaning there are 30 and only 30 aces at any  given time? Is an ace one of the top 20 starters in the league? Is an ace someone that simply is consistent and provides innings for his team throughout the season, saving the bullpen for the rest of the team? It's certainly arbitrary but by any definition you would like to choose, Jon Lester and James Shields are very good starting pitchers and most likely can be defined as aces. 

On Boston and Oakland this year, Lester has thrown 219.2 innings this year, pitching to a phenomenal 2.46 ERA. ERA, as we all know, can be a misleading statistic, but Lester's peripheral numbers back it up with a 2.80 FIP, 3.10 xFIP and 3.09 SIERA. Overall, according to Fangraphs, he's been worth 6.1 WAR. Shields, while not as good as Lester, has been great himself pitching to a  3.21/3.59/3.56 ERA/FIP/xFIP line while being worth 3.7 WAR in 227 innings pitched.

If you care about the sort of thing, both players could be defined as "clutch." James Shields has earned the nickname "Big Game James" and won a World Series game in 2008, but he also has a disappointing 4.98 ERA in 34.1 postseason innings. Meanwhile Jon Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 76.2 postseason innings, while also winning 4 games on the Red Sox run to the World Series last year. Whether or not the numbers back up the narrative and whether or not you believe such a thing, neither player will be backing away from the moment. 

I would easily say that the A's have the starting pitching advantage here, but in a one-game playoff with a fully rested bullpen, the starting pitcher doesn't have as much of impact or at least shouldn't have as much as an impact if the manager was smart. The Royals probably have the best bullpen in the AL, leading the league in WAR (5.9). The bottom of their bullpen may not be elite but their main guys have been absolutely fantastic all season. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera setting up Greg Holland is probably the best trio of relievers on any team in baseball. Kelvin Herrera throws over 98 mph consistently and had a 1.41 ERA in 70 IP. Wade Davis had a 1.00 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 72 innings pitched and Greg Holland simply saved 46 of 48 games while striking out over 37% of the batters he faced. 

James Shields' biggest strength might be his ability to log tons of above average innings for whichever team he is on but in this one game, the Royals don't need him for another 7+, just four good innings would be enough. Jon Lester is the better pitcher but James Shields + that bullpen is good

Sean Doolittle is as good a closer as they come, but the Athletics bullpen although certainly not a weakness, isn't in the same class as Kansas City. They have a lower ERA (2.90 compared to 3.30 for KC) but that could also be a part of the ballpark and defense. Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero setting up Doolittle is quite delicious, don't get me wrong, but Herrera/Davis/Holland could go down as the new Nasty Boys, if the Royals were to make a run here. 

Of course, there will be players hitting the baseball, and that's where the Athletics have the edge. It's not a major advantage, but the A's as a team had a 101 wRC+ this season, compared to 94 wRC+ for the Royals. A team's total stats for a season against righties and lefties isn't too indicative of what to expect in one game but the A's hold the edge with the bat regardless. Against lefties (Jon Lester), the Royals had a 97 wRC+ and against righties (James Shields) the A's had a 102 wRC+. It's not a large advantage, but the Athletics undoubtedly hit the ball better than the Royals. 

The Royals have great base running but very little power and on base ability. Their team .263 batting average was second in the American League but their .314 OBP ranked 10th and their .376 SLG ranked only 11th. The Royals get on base via the base hit, but not necessarily the double. They do get to second on the steal however, with the most stolen bases (153) in the AL by a 30 steal margin. The Royals hitting isn't the optimal way to score runs but it 'worked' for them this season. However, their singles approach may not find as many holes against the A's solid defense. According to UZR, the Royals actually had the best team defense in the AL this year and the A's fifth, but the A's aren't as reliant on batting average and singles to generate their offense. 

Assuming the Royals don't allow Shields pitch for more than four (or at most five) innings, they have the overall pitching advantage. However, even with that edge, they might struggle to line up enough hits against Jon Lester and the A's solid bevy of relievers. The A's are no longer the station to station and wait for a dinger team that people pegged them as during the original Money Ball era, but with Adam Dunn, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss they can still throw three power hitting lefties at James Shields and the right-handed power relievers of the Royals. 

We might hear a few points about how the A's limped into the playoffs and have struggled for the last third of the season, while the Royals are flying high in their first appearance since 1985, but I personally wouldn't put much weight into that line of thinking. Including their second half slide, the A's still scored 157 more runs than their opponents, the highest total in the AL while the Royals' +27 ranked only seventh. The Royals are the feel good story but the A's are the better team.  As we know, it's only a one-game series so one swing of the bat could be everything but if I had to pick, I would bet that one swing comes from one of the A's power bats over a string of singles for the Royals.

Prediction: Oakland, 3-2.