Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Uncounted HoF Vote

I'll never have a Hall of Fame vote.

That's not really an admission of defeat, considering the BBWAA's standards for voters. I know I'd rather be on Keith Law's side of the fence than Jon Heyman's.

It may not count for anything, but I'll still cast my ballot for Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven. If you read baseball stats websites, you're probably bored to death with everyone pushing these two. Still, their supporters are correct.

A common argument used to support a player's Hall candidacy is "He is better than HoFers A and B, so he should get in too." This is terrible logic--why should past voting errors lead to future ones?--but to list all the Hall of Famers worse than Raines and Blyleven, I'd need multiple alphabets.

By Offensive Win%, Raines was one of the NL's five best hitters in six different years between 1981 and 1987. Jim Rice is getting a lot of support for the Hall this year; Raines has significantly better career hitting stats than Rice (.307 career EqA to Rice's .294), played 400 more games than Rice, and is the best basestealer in baseball history, while Rice set a record by grounding into 36 double plays in one season. Raines isn't just better than Rice, he smokes him across the board.

Blyleven, as I'm sure you know, was a dominant starter in his prime and accumulated some impressive career numbers, but he didn't get to 300 wins, didn't throw in a pitcher's park, and didn't get great run support. GG.

"Be Home" Blyleven had a better career ERA+ (118, which means an ERA 18% below the league average) than almost all his contemporaries in the Hall: Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Catfish Hunter, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton(!), and Dennis Eckersley(!!). In a just world, Catfish would have to pay admission to check out Blyleven's bust in Cooperstown.

Those are the only two I'd definitely vote for, but Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell are also legitimate candidates. McGwire had a nice little career, and he was one of the 25 best hitters in history by rate stats. Unfortunately, he averaged less than 124 games per season, and it's hard to be a Hall of Famer when you miss almost one in every four games. Even with the injuries, he's a definite candidate if you ignore the PED issue, as I did.

Trammell has suffered in the voting because he's not the fielder that Ozzie was or the hitter that Ripken was. Additionally, the offensive expectations from shortstops have changed in the past ten years, thanks to A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar. Tram was still a gold glove shortstop in his prime, and his .282 EqA compares favorably with Ripken's .283.

One last point. I'm seeing a lot of support for Don Mattingly, and the argument is always the same: his career numbers are the same as Kirby Puckett's (they really are), and both had their careers cut short by maladies. If Puckett is in, why not Donnie Baseball?

These are all fair points, but they ignore an important consideration: Puckett played center field and Mattingly first base. The offensive expectations for those positions are light years apart. Chris Shelton has a higher career OPS than both Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand, but he was basically given away for free this offseason, while Hunter and Rowand will collect a combined $150 million between now and 2012. The difference in offense between center field and first base is larger now than it was in the eighties, but the gap is still very relevant.

Happy 2008, everyone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If You Think I'm Drinking Too Much 2008 Rays Kool-Aid...

...you might not want to order the 2008 Baseball Forecaster, because Ron Shandler and co. seem fully on board with the notion that the Rays will top .500 next year.

I won't publish all the BF projections for Tampa's pitching staff, mainly because I'm not allowed to. But I will say this: BF has a stat called Base Performance Value (BPV) that captures all the things a pitcher is supposed to do: strike out lots of batters, minimize walks, keep the ball down, and give up few hits. Browsing the starting pitcher BPV projections for 2008:

- James Shields ranks fourth in the majors.
- Scott Kazmir ranks seventh.
- Matt Garza is 26th.
- J.P. Howell and Andy Sonnanstine aren't projected for enough innings (180) to qualify, but if they did, they'd rank 16th and 22nd, respectively.

By at least one measure, the Rays will feature five of MLB's top 30 starting pitchers next year. That's just plain sick.

Do I actually think Sonnanstine and Howell are front-of-the-rotation pitchers? No, but they're way better than the fourth and fifth starters everyone else will be throwing out there.

Just in case Mr. Shandler's attorneys are reading this, I'd like to close by saying that I heartily recommend the Forecaster to any serious baseball fans or fantasy players. Not only are the projections good, but the book specifically points out buy-low opportunities, and does a damn good job of it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why I Don't Make Stupid Predictions

There are few things I enjoy more in sports than when an underrated team beats an overrated team, proving ignorant fans wrong. But there is a huge difference between:

- Saying Cleveland has a 45.6% shot at beating the Yankees based on mathematical analysis of each team's players, and

- Declaring that you're sure the Jaguars will beat the Patriots, simply because they're underrated and the Pats are overrated.

"There are a couple of things I am pretty sure about as the 2007 playoffs approach: the New England Patriots are going to finish the regular season at 16-0 and the Jacksonville Jaguars will beat them if they play in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Now I am going to tell you why the Jaguars would beat the Patriots in the postseason. The Jaguars are motivated, this team is built for the cold weather, the Patriots defense is overrated and Jaguars QB David Garrard is underrated."

ESPN writers can make as many silly predictions as they want, because no one scrutinizes their work. Besides, who wants an article that simply says the Jags can stay in the game? We demand a definitive statement, dammit!

What exactly makes this team built for cold weather, the fact that they won against Pittsburgh? If one ball had bounced the other way in that game and Jacksonville lost, would that mean they can't deliver in winter temperatures? Are the Jaguars poorly built to win in domes because they're 0-2 indoors this year?

"The third reason is the Patriots' run defense. Can anyone find it lately? Sure, the Patriots are ranked No. 10 against the run in the NFL, but that stat can get thrown out the window because it will be useless against the Jags. The Patriots have such a high ranking because they blow teams out and negate their running game."

At least Jeremy Green seems to understand that teams run because they win, rather than vice versa. But why include this stat at all when it is clearly meaningless? Green could cite the Patriots' DVOA against the run, which shows that on a per-play basis, they're slightly better than the league average.

On the same page, he'd find that the Jaguars are below average against the pass this year, which just might be slightly relevant if they face the best passing offense in history.

If the Jags face New England in the playoffs, they'll probably be at least 4-1 underdogs, and I'll bet their chances of winning will be far closer to the actual moneyline than to what Jeremy Green thinks it should be.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Should the Patriots Try in Week 17?

As everyone knows, the biggest story of this football season has been the New England Patriots' quest to go undefeated. Assuming the Pats win this week, should they go all-out in the final game or rest their star players for the playoffs?

Ordinarily I don't like jeopardizing team results for personal glory, but you have to ask yourself: Which is more important to the team, going 16-0 or winning the Super Bowl? After all, a Super Bowl win doesn't mean that much in the abstract; it is only because football fans lionize the Bradshaws and Montanas of the world that we think it's such a huge deal. After all, 41 teams have won a Super Bowl. None have gone 16-0 in the regular season.

If the Pats absolutely had to lose one game, they'd probably rather do so in Week 17 than in the playoffs. But that's not the case here; playing their hardest in Week 17 only has a small chance of costing them anything.

Let's say that Tom Brady getting hurt reduces the Pats' chances of winning each game by 25%. So if he sits in Week 17, the Patriots will go undefeated 60% of the time rather than 85%.

Meanwhile, there's perhaps a 2% chance that Brady will be seriously hurt in Week 17 and miss the playoffs. The market currently puts the Pats at about 56% to win the Super Bowl; if Brady goes down, that number dips to 18% using these assumptions.

With the 2% probability of a serious injury costing them 38% of their chance at a championship, the Pats are costing themselves less than 1% of a Super Bowl title in expected value by letting Brady play the whole game, while giving up 25% of their chance to go undefeated.

You can use slightly different numbers if you like, but you will reach the same conclusion: Unless winning the Super Bowl is much, much more important than going 16-0, the right move for is to go for the undefeated season.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Brian Westbrook

Everyone here probably saw Brian Westbrook do this yesterday. For his unselfish play, Westbrook has received universal praise from everyone, with the notable exception of his fantasy owners.

Personally, I think this play should be automatic. At the end of the game, when the offense can run out the clock by taking a knee, they do it. Every time. It doesn't matter if the team has an seemingly insurmountable lead. Why give the opponents any chance to win when they could have none?

It's a little more difficult to make this decision on your own without the coach's orders, but I'm sure every NFL player is capable of it. It's not hard to recognize a situation where a first down will put the game on ice: under two minutes remaining, no timeouts for the defense.

The media doesn't rip on players who take the touchdown in this spot, because everyone does it and it very rarely cost their team the win. By now, you should know the motto of this blog: the results of any one trial don't matter. If Westbrook had scored, the Eagles still would have won the game over 99% of the time. But scoring is the wrong decision EVERY TIME, not just the one in a thousand that the Cowboys make a miracle comeback.

When I was in high school, our football team made it to the state semifinals. With a one point lead and one minute remaining, they faced a third-and-1 at midfield. Our running back broke free, giving the team the first down they needed to run out the clock. He wanted more, and he got it, scoring a touchdown to put us up by 8. The opponents ran back the ensuing kickoff all the way, made the two-point conversion, and went on to win in overtime to advance to the championship game.

In a way, our running back was unlucky; the vast majority of the time, his poor decision would not have factored into the final outcome. But he knew that a first down would win the game, yet he still jeopardized a sure victory for personal glory. I believe he fully deserved all the criticism he received after the game.

Even though I think Westbrook's decision should be the standard for all NFL players, I'm glad everyone is talking about it. Maybe if players think they can get attention by being unselfish, they'll do it more often, and teams everywhere will benefit*.

*- Yes, I know no team will really benefit overall, since it's a zero-sum game.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Awful Sportswriting

Via a great piece at Home Run Derby, I came upon this atrocious article at USA Today. (Wait a minute, aren't bloggers supposed to be the ones that can't write?)

In a column that's ostensibly about how tough life is in the American League in general and the AL Central in particular, Bob Nightengale hammers home his point by mentioning that the AL Central has produced four--count 'em, four--playoff teams in the last three years. I have no clue why the author didn't go with the more impressive "three playoff teams in two years," not that this would have been a meaningful stat either, since the division is expected to produce 1.36 playoff teams per year. I guess as factual statements go, "fourteen playoff teams in the fourteen years the AL Central has existed" wasn't as sexy.

Nightengale also argues that the AL is more competitive because it has had far more 91-win teams than the NL in the past three years. First off, it's easy to make your point when you draw arbitrary cutoffs like this. The NL has had more 100-win teams (one) over that span. Does it matter?

Furthermore, this stat is NOT automatically an indicator of tougher competition. Remember, the AL plays almost all its games against other AL teams. If a bunch of teams are winning a lot of games, it necessarily follows that other teams are losing lots of games.

If you forced Little Leaguers to play 162-game seasons, the best Little League teams would win well over 100 games, because talent is not distributed as evenly in Little League. Does this mean that it would be harder for the White Sox to win the Little League World Series than the real World Series?

Nightengale also talks about how easy it is to win in the NL--"like a preschool battle on the jungle gym at recess"--then immediately bludgeons his own point by mentioning that the big-market NL teams haven't won a World Series in 20 years. Apparently the rich kids keep getting their lunch money stolen by bullies before they can buy any championships.

The best part of the column, though, is when Nightengale lists all the high-profile players AL teams have signed this offseason: Alex Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Jose Guillen. Then he derides the signing of Francisco Cordero because "he was in the [NL], pitching last season for the Milwaukee Brewers." Um, what? Actually, even this might be more logical than his assertion that Jacque Jones makes the AL a tougher place to win.

The article concludes with a chart of the "stars" who have gone from the NL to the AL in the past five years. The list includes Joe Borowski and J.D. Drew, neither of whom has been mistaken for a star since arriving in the Junior Circuit. It includes Jim Thome, who has arguably been less valuable since 2005 than just one of the players he was traded for, Aaron Rowand.

As you might expect, there's no mention of Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Orlando Hudson, Chris Young, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Lee, Barry Zito, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, or any of the other big names to cross over in the opposite direction. Hanley Ramirez is briefly mentioned as the cost for acquiring Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, as if he was the $24 the British had to surrender for the rights to Manhattan.

I also find it ironic that the article centers around the tough road faced by Kenny Williams, who put together one of the weakest World Series-winning teams of all time in 2005. That squad had exactly zero future Hall of Famers, unless you want to count 105 at-bats from Frank Thomas. They won 83 games with essentially the same cast the year before, and 72 games two years later after making some big-money moves to "improve" the team. If you want to write an article about how tough it is to win the World Series out of the AL, focus on the 2001-07 Yankees.

Let me finish by saying that I firmly believe that right now, the quality of competition is significantly higher in the AL than the NL. There are plenty of good ways to make that point without calling Joe Borowski a star or Jacque Jones an impact acquisition.

Sports and The Weakest Link

I'm a game show junkie, and one of my favorites is The Weakest Link. For those of you who've never watched the show, it combines trivia questions with a Survivor-style vote to eliminate the weaker contestants. This eventually whittles the team down to one member who collects the entire prize pool for himself.

What does any of this have to do with pro sports, you ask?

- The Voting

Players are encouraged to vote off the opponent who answered the fewest questions correctly. However, this is very rarely the case in practice. In fact, the show's host will regularly point out when the contestants have voted "incorrectly".

Usually, they will vote for someone who missed one prominent question, often one the voter considers to be "obvious". Frequently a voter will explain that, as a history teacher, he can't excuse his opponent not knowing the answer to a World War II question.

I can think of two obvious parallels to the world of sports analysis. First, scouts and fans often argue that statheads don't really understand baseball, because they don't watch enough games. In fact, this is reportedly why Rob Neyer and Keith Law were not given Hall of Fame votes. But the players on the show--who observe their opponents firsthand the whole time--constantly get the vote wrong. When you ignore the numbers and simply follow your observations, your opinion is bound to be biased.

Also, if American sportswriters and Alex Rodriguez played The Weakest Link together, A-Rod would be voted off the first time he got a question wrong about the playoffs, even though he had aced all the others. It's not like he needs the money anyway, right?

- "Banking"

As with most game shows, The Weakest Link allows the players to "bank" the money they have earned rather than risk it to try and make more. However, there is a strong added incentive to bank on this show: If you don't bank, then get your question wrong, you are very likely to be voted off the team. Often, gambling is +EV for the team but -EV for the individual, so he will choose to bank rather than go for it.

Similarly, most NFL coaches would do far better if they pursued a more aggressive approach, particularly on fourth downs and late in games when the other team has the lead. However, the coach's first priority is to make sure that he will not be fired. If a coach plays by the book and his team loses, the players get the blame; if he makes an unusual decision and the team loses, the coach becomes the scapegoat.

So while every pro and college team would win more games by cutting down on punts, it wouldn't be the best strategy for the coaches, who have to explain their strategies to team officials that will never begin to grasp them.

- The Final Round

The final round of the show is a best-of-5-questions format. This, much like the playoffs in any major sport, is designed for entertainment and not to determine which player is actually the best. As in a baseball playoff series, the underdog in any reasonable scenario will never have less than about a 25% shot to win.

This isn't a problem, so long as we understand that the best team is not always the one that wears the crown. I find it funny that the 2001 Patriots, who at the time were considered a Cinderella story, are now viewed as the beginning of a dynasty. The Pats have been the best franchise in football since 2001, but that year's team got lucky. If they were better than the Rams, they wouldn't have been 14 point underdogs.

Brief Transaction Recaps

Cubs: Signed OF Kosuke Fukudome for 4 years, $48 million (Rating: 6/10)

This was probably a little more than he's worth, but the Cubs can afford it and they're right in the thick of playoff contention, where an extra couple of wins make a huge difference.

I don't get the argument that the Cubs "need" a jolt of OBP in their lineup. All teams prefer more OBP to less, and Fukudome should be no more valuable to Chicago than an outfielder who gets on base less but compensates with better power, fielding, or baserunning.

Giants: Signed CF Aaron Rowand for 5 years, $60 million (3)

Another deal, much like Jose Guillen's, where a team that should be in full-scale rebuilding mode wastes lots of money (and in the Giants' case, a draft pick) on a player who still leaves them far out of contention. The money isn't that bad--I might rather have Rowand than Torii Hunter over five years--but the Giants have no reason to be interested. At least this prevented them from doing something truly stupid.

Blue Jays: Signed SS David Eckstein for 1 year, $4.5 million (5)

Wow, that's a lot less than he was reportedly looking for. I can't believe I'm giving a respectable rating to an Eckstein signing, but this deal doesn't pay him to be anything more than he is, a below-average shortstop with the bat and glove. This isn't the greatest fit, because Toronto's pitching staff is very groundball-heavy, so John McDonald should still see a lot of time at short.

Presumably, the Cardinals wanted the compensation pick, since they're paying Izturis almost as much as Eckstein to be considerably less effective.

Twins: Signed SS Adam Everett for 1 year (7)

I can't find a contract value, but it can't be more than a couple million. I like this signing a lot; Everett will save the team a cool 30 runs over Brendan Harris at short, and an AL team should have more flexibility to pinch-hit for him late in the game.

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No comments on the Mitchell Report from me. I don't go for that Schadenfreude.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ed Wade is Deluded

Astros Receive: SS Miguel Tejada (Rating: 2/10)

Orioles Receive: OF Luke Scott, 3B Mike Costanzo, SP Troy Patton, SP Matt Albers, RP Dennis Sarfate (7)

Oh, Ed Wade. I feel like he's channeling Art Alexakis, telling Lance Berkman that he'll buy him a shiny new team and soon it will all be better.

It's not like the Astros gave up a future Hall of Famer in this deal, but they began the offseason as non-contenders and all they've done is get maybe one win closer to .500. I've praised the Reds for striking while the division is winnable, but the Astros are a lot further from contention than the Reds in the next few years. Houston has no Jay Bruce or Joey Votto about to graduate from its farm system, nor a Homer Bailey or Johnny Cueto to dangle in a deal for Erik Bedard. This team is spinning its tires, only now they're doing so with a highly-paid middle infield.

Consider that the Astros effectively exchanged Luke Scott and Adam Everett in their everyday lineup for Tejada and Michael Bourn. Scott and Tejada are projected (by both CHONE and ZIPS) to put up similar hitting numbers this year; Bourn's projections are slightly better than Everett's. So that's all Houston is really getting at the plate, a slight upgrade. In the field, they're now playing two center fielders, but exchanged the best shortstop in the majors for a below-average defender. To make this "upgrade," they also gave up a capable closer and three young arms. Not the best way to build a championship team.

This deal effectively ends Everett's tenure in Houston. Everett is a tremendous glove at short, maybe the best since Ozzie Smith, but he can't hit a lick and is entering his thirties. Still, any team interested in Jack Wilson should consider Everett; his career OPS is only 34 points lower than Wilson's, and he's a better fielder.

Scott will easily outhit Jay Payton for 1/10 of the price. This is a good buy-low move, as Scott was pushed out of the outfield mix by Bourn. I'm lukewarm on Costanzo's prospect status, but he'll at least be a cheap starter when Melvin Mora's time is done, and might develop into a 25-30 HR hitter in the majors.

Troy Patton is the best of the arms Houston sent packing. Baseball America called him a potential number 2 starter in last year's Prospect Handbook, but his strikeout rate took a big hit in 2007. He's still just 22 and has big tools, so he has plenty of time. Matt Albers won't be more than a back-of-the-rotation guy, but the going rate for those is $7-10 million/year, so he could still have plenty of value in that role.

Pay no mind to Sarfate's dominant MLB numbers, as they're completely out of line with anything he's done in the minors. In a perfect world, he becomes an effectively wild bullpen arm a la Santiago Casilla, but the more likely scenario is Franklyn German, who simply walks too many batters to pitch in the majors.

I'd rather have one Top 10 Prospect than this assortment, which takes up a full eighth of the 40-man roster by itself, but it looks like that option wasn't available to the Orioles, so they did a pretty good job getting value from Tejada, even though he was traded two years too late.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Baseball's Biggest Inefficiency

Despite my constant rants about the things MLB teams get wrong, they generally do a good job. League-wide, profits have never been higher, and we're in a very competitive era. Teams have found new revenue streams, ticket pricing has gotten much more efficient, and generally teams are awash in money.

However, there's one major facet of the game that teams still get wrong: They're not willing to spend an appropriate amount of that money to acquire elite amateur talent through the draft.

I was prompted to write this by Tom Tango and the Detroit Tigers. Casual fans don't often think about just how much a young player is worth, because his salary is restricted for six years by MLB. As Tango points out, if Troy Tulowitzki was a free agent this offseason, he could probably sign a five-year contract for roughly $136 million. (If this number sounds high to you, compare Tulowitzki from ages 23-27 to Torii Hunter from 32-36, and ask if the difference really isn't worth $46MM.)

Though he's worth $136MM on the open market, the Rockies could probably lock him up through 2012 for $35MM or so, given the going rate for pre-arbitration players. (Last year, Jose Reyes signed an extension through 2010 for $23 million, and that even bought out a year of his free agency.) If you're counting at home, that's a $100 million surplus the Rockies created by drafting and developing well.

Young players as good as Tulo are rare, but it's not all that uncommon for a young stud to be worth a killing. The Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for a package centered around Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, two players that fell in the draft to Detroit because of their "high" bonus demands: a combined $8 million.

What would it cost to sign two talents like Cabrera and Willis for two years each on the open market? I doubt you could ever convince Cabrera to take a two-year deal at this stage of his career, but I think $100 million over two years is a reasonable estimate for the pair. The Tigers will actually pay them a combined $45 million, give or take. Net profit: a cool $55MM.

I'm simplifying the math, but essentially the Marlins put a $50 million price tag on Miller and Maybin. The duo were signed for a combined $8 million, and both have basically followed their expected progression since they were drafted. That's one hell of a good investment by Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the Tigers organization.

Obviously, not every guy who demands a big signing bonus becomes a success. Joe Borchard and Drew Henson are notable failures, and Jeff Samardzija looks like he'll join them. But the overwhelming trend favors the big-bonus player becoming a valuable MLB commodity. The list includes names like J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett, Mark Teixeira, and Jered Weaver. They're not only great players now, but were widely regarded as the top talents in their respective draft classes.

But the Phillies decided they'd rather get nothing out of their number 2 pick than give in to Scott Boras' demands. The Devil Rays figured Josh Hamilton was a safer bet than giving Beckett a Major League contract. The Rays and Phillies went with cheaper options Dewon Brazelton and Gavin Floyd rather than Teixeira. And the Padres...oh, the Padres. They passed on Weaver--and #2 pick Justin Verlander--to go with high schooler Matt Bush, who wasn't demanding a major league contract. If you've never heard of Bush, don't bother remembering his name, because his baseball career is DOA.

It's not a coincidence that the Rays and Phillies showed up on the list twice apiece. The Rays had an organizational philosophy not to spend big money on draft picks, and the Phils weren't about to relive the Drew nightmare with Teixeira, a classic example of letting the past cloud their judgment.

Philadelphia, who wouldn't give an extra $4 million to take Teixeira over Floyd, did deem it necessary to spend $85MM so Jim Thome could block Ryan Howard. And that's the problem: teams are willing to break the bank for free agents, when they could be putting that money to much better use developing from within.

Prospects are never a sure thing, but in a world where teams will spend $45 million to "upgrade" their center fielder from Matt Kemp to Juan Pierre, why is it such a big deal to throw a few bucks at an elite young talent? I think it's Proven Veteran Syndrome on a grand scale: teams will happily overpay a scrappy vet by $30MM, but are so afraid of signing a Borchard that they ignore the relatively small magnitude of the mistake.

In the baseball world, a $5 million signing bonus is practically nothing, but drafting an inferior talent like Bush or Floyd is the kind of mistake that, like signing Mike Hampton, can doom your franchise for years. Yet teams are still guilty of this error every year. I think it's a safe bet that in 2012, the Pirates would gladly pay a lot more than $3.6 million--the difference in their signing bonuses--to exchange Daniel Moskos for Matt Wieters.

But hey, at least these teams are sticking it to Scott Boras, right? In the end, that's all that really matters.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Kenny Williams is Deluded

This is awesome.

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Reacting Wednesday to the blockbuster deal that sent power-hitting third baseman Miguel Cabrera and former All-Star left-hander Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins to the Detroit Tigers — wrecking the Sox’ latest offseason plans — Williams said: ‘‘All this has done is put the Tigers in a better position to contend with us.''

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I've said before that it's okay for Williams to continue to publicly state that the White Sox are contenders, as long as he doesn't let that attitude guide his personnel decisions. However, no sane fan still believes the Pale Hose are the favorites in the AL Central, so I think Williams is trying to convince himself, rather than the fan base, with this comment.

A statement like this--combined with his decisions to re-sign the same veteran team that went 72-90 last year--tells me that Williams really does believe the Sox are much better than they are. World Series or no World Series, he has to go. Short of making terrible trades--something Kenny knows about--the worst thing a GM can do is completely misjudge the direction of his team. Under good management, Mark Buehrle and Jermaine Dye would have been traded for top prospects, Chris Young would be patrolling center, and the outlook for the 2010 Sox would be much brighter, at no real cost to their 2008 chances.

But hey, maybe I'm wrong, the Sox will win 95 games, and Kenny will laugh his ass off at all the doubters. Only time will tell.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Best Lineup in Baseball? Hardly.

I enjoy the Baseball Analysts blog, but pieces like this one make me wonder if these guys really run numbers before they proclaim a team "the best lineup in baseball."

Detroit, Cabrera or no Cabrera, does not have the best lineup in baseball, and it's not really that close. To wit, here are some 2008 CHONE projections:


Detroit wOBA New York wOBA
C Pudge .304 Posada .381
1B Guillen .366 Giambi .383
2B Polanco .345 Cano .358
3B Cabrera .420 A-Rod .431
SS Renteria .330 Jeter .358
LF Jones .333 Damon .340
CF Granderson .355 Melky .329
RF Ordonez .380 Abreu .357
DH Sheffield .364 Matsui .366






Average .355
.367

(I edited Boston out of this chart for formatting reasons, but their team wOBA clocks in at .363.)

If you're not familiar with wOBA, go here. Basically, it takes everything a batter does and scales it like an On-Base Percentage. So .330 is about league-average, and .380 is a star hitter--Ryan Braun and Carlos Pena are projected at .380 next year.

The .012 team wOBA difference between the Tigers and Yankees may not seem like much, but it's the equivalent of replacing two league-average bats--say, Renteria and Jones--with Braun and Pena. That's closer to a chasm than a gap. The Tigers could trade for another Miguel Cabrera, play him at shortstop, and still not have the best lineup in the league.

PECOTA and ZiPS haven't been fully published yet, so I can't use those for this comparison, but all projection systems will agree that the Red Sox and Yankees are comfortably ahead of the field when it comes to hitting.

I'm not trying to pick on Baseball Analysts here; my beef is with the process rather than the authors. When you look at a team's perception, rather than the numbers, it's easy to get mixed up. This is the same mistake everyone made in expecting the 2007 White Sox to contend, even when every mathematical projection system had them in fourth place.

The Tigers are loaded with players whose perceived value outstrips their actual 2008 projections. Ivan Rodriguez took nine walks--NINE--last year, but he still has that "Future Hall of Famer" rep, so he doesn't seem like an offensive sinkhole.

Magglio Ordonez has no chance whatsoever of repeating 2007, but he was second in the MVP vote, so he seems like a huge asset. He's this year's Jermaine Dye, the right fielder coming off a breakout year who's doomed to return to his established level of production.

Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, and Edgar Renteria are going to combine to lose about 100 points of batting average next year (to go along with Maggs' 50); that's a lot of lost run production, but not everyone will see it coming. Carlos Guillen seems like an offensive asset, and he is--as a shortstop. As a first baseman, he's below the AL average.

I'm not sure what people are expecting out of Sheffield this year. Certainly the Tigers expect a lot, because they extended his contract for $28 million through 2009. The reality is that he's not going to play a full season, and he's below average for a DH at this point.

The message here is: when you're crowning 2008's best batting order, use the numbers. That way, you won't be stunned when Detroit misses the playoffs.

Transaction Recap: Dodgers

Dodgers: Signed CF Andruw Jones for 2 years, $36 million (Rating: Contract 6/10, Long-term plan 2/10)

I've seen far worse contracts--Torii Hunter's comes to mind--but that's not the problem here. Rather, the Dodgers think that adding Jones and shifting Juan Pierre to a corner will somehow improve their lineup, and that doesn't add up.

Remember when Darin Erstad got hurt playing center field, so the Angels moved him to first base even though he was the worst-hitting first baseman in the majors? Starting Pierre in a corner is just as senseless. But hey, the White Sox did the same thing with Scott Podsednik and lucked their way into a World Series title, so why not give it a shot?

Bill James projects Andruw to have a worse OPS than Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp, one of whom will probably be traded to clear a spot for Pierre in the lineup. If the Dodgers trade Ethier, they'll be no better on offense than they were before, maybe a win better on defense, and $18 million poorer.

Apparently Ethier will be dangled for starting pitching. You'd think that the Dodgers filled this hole already by picking up Esteban Loaiza and his $7 million contract. You'd think they could look at Hong-Chih Kuo's career 10 K/9--that's in the majors, not AAA--and figure that maybe he can pitch a little. Nahhhh...that's crazy talk.

To the Dodgers: You don't need another starting pitcher. What you need to do is get Juan Pierre out of your everyday lineup. If that means throwing in $20 million to trade him for a six-pack of Milwaukee's Best, fine. The solution is not to spin your tires by signing a redundant player, or to block your most valuable assets--talented young players--by blocking them with Pierre, Jones, Luis Gonzalez, or Nomar Garciaparra. Make sure you open 2008 with Andy LaRoche and Matt Kemp playing every day, and you might actually get back to your former glory.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Trading Within the Division

Trading in baseball is essentially a zero-sum game. Yes, a franchise will often swing a deal for the future or to balance its budget, but the bottom line is that if a trade benefits Team A, it will usually do so at the expense of Team B.

With that in mind, why do so many teams have a problem with trading within the division? After all, if a trade makes your team better, it should make the other team worse, giving you an even easier road to the playoffs.

In fact, it can be even better than that. Let's say you have a stud pitcher--let's call him John St. Ana--who's projected to be worth six wins in 2008 but is only under contract for that one year. Afterward, he will probably leave as a free agent*.

In return for St. Ana, you get a package of prospects worth two wins in 2008, three in 2009, and four from 2010-2013. You can take these prospects either from a divisional rival or a team in the other league. Why wouldn't you choose the package that will not only make your team four wins stronger for the future, but also make your rival four wins weaker?

Maybe it's just me, but if I know I'm making a move that helps my team, I want to hurt the competition at the same time. I think what's really going on is that teams are afraid the trade will "come back to haunt" them, just like dealing a top prospect away. Fortune favors the bold; teams should get over their fears and take risks that maximize their chances of winning.

Here's one relevant example: The Orioles have virtually no chance of contending before 2010, and Erik Bedard's contract is up after '09. The Blue Jays are interested, but the O's don't want to trade within the division. Why? Sure, there's some miniscule chance that Baltimore makes an improbable run at glory in 2008, only to have Bedard thwart them as a Blue Jay. There's a much better chance that in 2011, the Orioles have a legitimately good team, but Dustin McGowan puts up a big season for Toronto because Baltimore didn't want to "help out" its rival.

This is an even more senseless bias, because the Blue Jays aren't going to be the best team in the AL East anyway in 2008 or 2009. The Orioles should not be worried one bit about the team Toronto fields for the next two years; if they're really playing for 2008, they should focus on Boston and New York.

Major League GMs: If you're really worried that your trades will help your rivals more than they hurt them, either make a different offer or find a new job.

* Yes, I know the real Johan will likely sign an extension with his new team. That changes the math a little for the Twins in this specific case, but not for most teams, like the Orioles with Bedard or the Cardinals with Scott Rolen.

Transaction Recap: Tigers, Marlins

Tigers receive: 3B Miguel Cabrera, SP Dontrelle Willis

Marlins receive: OF Cameron Maybin, SP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo, three minor leaguers

(No ratings until the identities of the minor leaguers are revealed)

Well, perhaps I wrote the Tigers off as a 2008 contender just a wee bit too early.

That said, this deal probably doesn't improve the team as much as you think it does. Despite what NL Rookie of the Year voters think, they still play defense in baseball, and Detroit just replaced perhaps the best defensive 3B in the majors with one of the worst.

I'm not suggesting Brandon Inge is a more valuable player than Cabrera, but if Miggy is perhaps 55 runs better with the bat, he gives 20 of those back with his terrible glovework. This deal doesn't instantly make them World Series favorites; it simply brings them up to contender status.

In fact, the best plan for the Tigers is probably to start Cabrera in left field. Jacque Jones is a slightly better hitter than Inge, but it's not worth the defensive hit. Of course, the team won't do this, because they'll want to keep their new superstar happy.

As for Willis, the bloom is off his rose already, but it's important to understand that he's no better than a league-average starter going forward; the Marlins waited far too long to deal him. (Reportedly, two years ago they turned down a package of Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson. Oops.)

The package the Marlins receive is loaded with upside, even though the three minor leaguers haven't been ID'd in a major news source. (One is reportedly Eulogio de la Cruz, a hard-thrower who has no clue what to do with it.) Maybin is one of the top five prospects in baseball, and fills an immediate need in center field for Florida. You may remember Miller as the most talented pitcher in the 2006 draft. He needs to bring his walk rate way down to realize his potential, but his K/9 and GB/FB numbers are already star-level. Rabelo is a generic backup catcher.

Overall, this was probably about as well as the Marlins could have done, considering that the Dodgers and Angels were balking at their asking price. Maybin and Miller are not only top talents, but both are basically Major League-ready, much like Hanley Ramirez two years ago. The next step for the Fish should be to trade all their players who won't be part of the next championship-caliber squad, guys like Dan Uggla and Josh Willingham. If they can get good value in those deals, the 2010 Marlins could be a very dangerous team.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

2008 Anti-Sleepers: Detroit Tigers

I've blogged before about the similarities between the 2005-06 White Sox and the 2006-07 Tigers. Both teams won the AL pennant with a fluky good pitching staff, low team OBP, and decent power. The next year, both teams got fluky good seasons from a few hitters to balance the pitching regression, although they still missed the playoffs.

In 2007, the White Sox offense crashed, going from a 103 OPS+ to 87. People who don't believe in computer projections think that Chicago's 72-90 record wasn't representative of the team's real talent, and they're right: their Pythagorean record was 67-95.

Will the 2008 Tigers suffer a similar fate? I don't think they'll lose 90 games, but they should feel some serious decline. The Tigers figure to get substantially worse at three offensive positions just by regression to the mean: Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, and Magglio Ordonez all gained 140 or more points of OPS from 2006 to 2007. That sort of sudden growth doesn't stick, especially when it's heavily driven by batting average spikes.

Much was made of the Tigers' trade to pick up Edgar Renteria, but his 2007 was another batting average-driven mirage, and he's not really a much better hitter than Sean Casey, the man he's replacing in the lineup. Detroit will get more offense out of the first baseman next year, but the loss at shortstop should balance it out.

The Tigers, much like the White Sox, have an old everyday lineup--only Granderson is under 31--and it's easy to underestimate how much total decline a team will suffer when its entire batting order is past their prime.

Detroit does have one player who figures to improve substantially, assuming he is healthy: Jeremy Bonderman is much better than last 2007's 5.01 ERA would indicate. But he can't single-handedly rescue a pitching staff that has one of MLB's worst bullpens and only one other above-average starter (Justin Verlander).

If you want your co-workers to think you're a genius, tell them that in 2008 the (Devil) Rays will win more games than the Tigers. There's probably about a 50% chance it'll happen, and everyone will think you're the second coming of Nostradamus.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Transaction Recap: Mets, Nationals

Mets receive: OF Ryan Church, C Brian Schneider (Rating: 2/10)

Nationals receive: OF Lastings Milledge (8)

What was Omar Minaya thinking? I give Omar a hard time on R-D because I don't like how he gets credit for turning around the Mets franchise when he was simply authorized to spend more money on Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez than other teams. In my book, inheriting Jose Reyes and David Wright from the previous regime is not a feather in your cap.

Minaya's acquisitions haven't even done that well. Beltran has been fine, but Pedro's deal has been a disaster, Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Delgado have turned into pumpkins, and Shawn Green was a terrible idea right from the start. Scott Schoeneweis might get cut before 2008 despite being owed another $8 million. Minaya does get credit for Oliver Perez and John Maine, but neither is as good as his 2007 ERA.

Back to this deal. Milledge and Church have similar projections for 2008, so why is the deal so bad? Because Milledge is a young 23 next year and should get much better in the next five years for the Nats, while Church is already 29 and past his peak, with less service time remaining. Schneider is a backup catcher stretched in an everyday role, and the Mets just "won" the right to pay him $10.3 million over the next two years, including the insult of a $500,000 "assignment bonus" for being traded.

In a sane trade, Schneider would have played the role of Mike Lowell in the Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez trade: the unattractive girl you pretend to like in order to get at her hot friend. Looking at this deal, it certainly seems as though Minaya viewed Schneider as the equalizer.

But there is a bright side for the Mets: As a player traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, Schneider has the right to demand a trade after the 2008 season or become a free agent. So there is some chance he spares the team of the need to pay him $4.9 million for 2009.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Transaction Recap: Twins, Devil Rays

Twins Receive: RF Delmon Young, SS Brendan Harris, CF Jason Pridie (Rating: 5/10)

Devil Rays Receive: SP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Eduardo Morlan (8)

It certainly seems like the Rays' new management team "gets it." For two years, they've ditched some dead weight (Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Joey Gathright, Jorge Cantu, Seth McClung, Ty Wigginton, Greg Norton), receiving useful players (Justin Ruggiano, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour) in return. In 2007, they spent pennies on the dollar to ink Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, and Al Reyes; key pieces of a competitive 2008 squad. Now, Tampa has pulled off a nice trade that gives them an outside chance of contending for a playoff spot.

For the past several years, the team has been stockpiling hitting prospects, plus a few live arms. In 2007, Tampa put together an above-average offense, a pitching staff that led the AL in strikeouts...and a defense that might as well have waved a red cape at the ball in lieu of a glove.

This trade greatly improves the Rays' defense at two positions without really hurting the 2008 offense. Delmon still has tremendous potential, but his power hasn't developed yet and his plate discipline is unacceptable, leaving him a well below average bat for a corner outfield spot--despite what the Rookie of the Year voters think.

As for his defense, you can look all day and not find a metric that thinks he'll be a plus fielder in 2008. Add it up, and despite his ceiling, Young doesn't project as a star, or even a league-average player, next year.

In exchange for Young, the Rays added two players who should be above-average contributors right away. Matt Garza is a big-time young pitcher who's a good number 3 starter now and could easily become a good number 2. Scouts and statheads alike are impressed with his upside, and he immediately provides a big upgrade for the Tampa rotation, especially since he might boot Edwin Jackson out entirely.

The trade is being billed as Young-for-Garza, but the Rays made a big upgrade at shortstop as well. Bartlett's .700 career OPS is no great shakes, but he brings a great glove with him. According to the Fielding Bible ratings, he's saved more runs from 2005-07 than any shortstop but Adam Everett, even though Bartlett has played only 313 games in that span.

CHONE projects Bartlett at +13 fielding runs next year, and Harris at -8. (The Harris number might be conservative, since he was far worse than that in 2007.) Give Harris a 5-run edge with the bat, and that's a net gain of 16 runs. Bartlett has accrued more service time than Harris, but that doesn't matter a whole lot, because he's not the kind of player you build around long-term and he won't cost a lot in arbitration.

As for the throw-ins, Morlan is a AA reliever with a very live arm, and could be the Rays' closer of the future. Before you start thinking that's a good thing, remember that the last man to hold that tag was Chad Orvella. Pridie had a great year with the bat in AAA, but his stat line looks very much like a batting average-driven fluke. If he's really over the injuries that plagued him in 2005, there could be some value here, but he's not the heir apparent to Torii Hunter just yet.

Despite their league-worst 66-96 record this year, Tampa is ready to contend. Though the AL East remains a tough division, the Red Sox and Yankees both look closer to 90-win squads than 100. If the Rays put together 85-win talent--and it looks like they're close--they have a very real shot of sneaking into the playoffs through a combination of player development and good fortune. As we know, once you get there, anything can happen.

Even though this was a great deal for the Rays, it wasn't a terrible move for Minnesota, assuming this is part of a cohesive plan to rebuild. The trade makes them significantly worse for 2008, but it does give them a potential superstar and a possible long-term center fielder. However, if the team isn't trying to contend right now, they MUST trade Johan Santana and Joe Nathan for packages of young studs. The Twins have control through 2010 of Young, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano. Between those four and the players received in a potential Santana or Nathan deal, they should have the core to make a run or two in the next three years. But making this deal and then holding onto those two doesn't make a lot of sense.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Transaction Recap: Reds, White Sox

Reds: Signed RP Francisco Cordero to a 4-year, $46 million contract (Rating: 6/10)

White Sox: Signed RP Scott Linebrink to a 4-year, $19 million contract (2)

Why am I giving a much higher grade to the Reds, who spent twice as much to sign a good reliever as the Sox spent to sign a "good" reliever?

1. Francisco Cordero is much better than Scott Linebrink

Even though Jon Daniels may not think so, Cordero's peripherals are still above those of the average closer, and he was the biggest impact pitcher left on the market with Mariano Rivera returning to the Yankees. Reds fans, would you really be much happier throwing that same contract at Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva?

Meanwhile, Linebrink's numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, and the Sox will be lucky if he performs at the league average during the life of his contract. Throwing $19 million at him is just gratuitous, especially if you ask Dan Szymborski.

2. The Reds are addressing a spot of greater need

Cincinnati's 2007 bullpen was just terrible. Dave Weathers was serviceable as a closer, but his strikeout rate keeps eroding, indicating the end is near for him. No one finished 2007 with a K/BB ratio significantly better than 2:1, and several bullpen regulars had an ERA over 5.00.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are nowhere near as bad off. Bobby Jenks is one of baseball's best closers. David Aardsma and Matt Thornton had poor ERAs in 2007 but promising peripheral stats (better than Linebrink's). Mike MacDougal had a down year but is coming off a highly effective run in 2005-06. The Pale Hose had areas of much greater need than this.

3. The Reds are in a much better spot to contend in 2008-10 than the White Sox

Yes, I really just went there. The 2008 South Siders look every bit as bad as this year's 73-89 edition; I'd be mildly shocked if they top 80 wins without a major move. Rather than rebuild the roster, they've simply brought everyone back with an extra year of age-related decline, and despite what Kenny Williams thinks, that doesn't make them a year better. Furthermore, unlike Cincinnati, they face stiff competition from the rest of the division, especially Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Reds are poised to make a run at the division crown for the next several seasons. Here's the 2008 Reds lineup, along with each player's projected OPS (per Bill James):

CF Josh Hamilton .979
2B Brandon Phillips .757
RF Ken Griffey .840
LF Adam Dunn .923
1B Joey Votto .914
3B Edwin Encarnacion .856
SS Alex Gonzalez .724
C Dave Ross .773



B Jay Bruce .965

I'll take the Under on Hamilton and Bruce, but that's still a group that's going to kick ass and take names next year. On the mound, they have a solid 1-2-3 in Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and Matt Belisle. If Homer Bailey develops as expected, that's a good enough rotation to win, especially in the NL Central.

Are the Reds now the favorites in the division? I won't go quite that far, but they're definitely running close with Milwaukee and Chicago, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see them play in October.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Transaction Recap: White Sox, Angels

White Sox: Traded SP Jon Garland to Angels for SS Orlando Cabrera and cash (Rating: 2/10)

Angels: Same trade (5/10)

You don't often see trades where neither team really comes out ahead, but I think that's what we have here. The Angels, once stocked with shortstop prospects, have no one who's really ready to step in and take Cabrera's place, unless they opt for a short-term free agent signing. Acquiring Garland helps their rotation some, but he's not a big upgrade over Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana. Basically, this move only makes sense if the Angels plan to make a big move later in the offseason, either by trading Santana or signing a certain free agent. Though the trade created a hole rather than filling one, the Angels did acquire the better player, so there's something to be said for that.

If the deal made little sense for the Angels, it made Zero Kelvin sense for the Sox. They just spent $4.5 million to re-up a defense-first shortstop who can't hit, so why not bring in an even higher-paid one? Wasn't Garland supposed to be worth a top prospect in trade? Didn't the Sox just win 72 games with an old team, indicating that they should rebuild rather than get even older?

Cabrera had a "career year" in 2007, hitting .301 and winning a Gold Glove. There are only a few problems with this:

- Cabrera didn't walk or hit for any power--as usual--so his OPS was just .742
- This was his best year offensively since 2003
- At 33, he's well past his prime
- His defense has slipped to league-average; the Gold Glove was won on his reputation

Depending on whether you ask ZIPS or Bill James, Cabrera is due for a .701 or .709 OPS next year, well below the .750 league average for shortstops. Toss in no decline in his defense--an optimistic view, if you ask me--and you have a 5-runs-below-average shortstop at a cost of $7.5 million after the cash throw-in.

Remember, the Sox had to trade away a player (who ostensibly had value) to acquire this incredible bargain of a contract. Your grandfather is right: A dollar really doesn't buy what it used to.

What's really pointless about this deal is that it doesn't accomplish what should be the Sox's prime objective: Acquire young, cost-controlled talent. The Sox could have cashed in Jermaine Dye and Mark Buehrle for prospects at the trade deadline, or let them walk and collected compensation picks in the draft. Instead, they signed both to overpriced deals, giving the team a fighting chance at .500 for 2008, along with a less optimistic outlook for 2009 and beyond.

Even though I'm not Kenny Williams' biggest fan, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he could probably still collect draft picks when Cabrera leaves as a free agent after 2007. That was before I read this:

"Last year did not sit well with any of us. I'll be damn if we're going to go through that again. We will aggressively pursue a championship," Williams said.

Look out, Cleveland. Williams thinks Orlando Cabrera represents aggressive pursuit of a championship, the kind of player who single-handedly takes a team from 72 wins to 95. As a Chicago native, I'm deathly afraid he thinks the next step is to throw $90 million at Torii Hunter to take them from 73 wins to 75.

By the way, I love how quickly everyone has forgotten PECOTA's 72-90 preseason projection for the Sox--one which nailed their win total exactly. The story linked to in this FJM post is now gone from the Web, and everyone within the Sox organization seems to be treating 2007 as a one-season fluke. That's fine as a PR move--you can't tell your fans you're already giving up on next year--but once that philosophy starts to guide your roster moves, it's time to forget 2005 and hire a new GM.

Quickly.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Defense-Independent Award Voting?

Brian Bannister finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting, even appearing on Keith Law's ballot. Though Bannister had outwardly good numbers, he was buoyed both by strong run support and impeccable defense.

Though the BBWAA still thinks W-L records are the bee's knees, nearly every intelligent analyst now ignores them when filling out their ballot. This is a good thing, but I wonder if we aren't extending this concept far enough.

Thanks to Voros McCracken and others, we've known for some time that a pitcher's ERA is heavily influenced by the defense behind him as well as plain dumb luck. If a pitcher--let's call him Ryan Canister--pitches worse than his competition but benefits more from luck and defense, does he really deserve an individual award for that?

Brian Bannister's xFIP (fielding-independent ERA) was 5.14, near replacement-level. He certainly was nowhere near as effective as Jeremy Guthrie (4.41 xFIP) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (4.42 in 40 more innings). But it's votes that count, and the same voters who ignored Ryan Braun's defensive numbers seem content to ignore Bannister's peripherals.

That's not a big deal, because awards are meaningless. Just don't draft Bannister in your 2008 fantasy league, because he's in for a serious sophomore slump.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I am so sick of hearing this

"The Orioles do not want to trade Miguel Tejada to a division rival."

YES THEY DO.

The Orioles have no chance to compete during the life of Tejada's contract. The ideal Tejada trade would be one that not only gives the Orioles some useful young players, but also depletes the talent base of their division rivals for the year 2010.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WOULD ACCOMPLISH BY TRADING TEJADA TO THE YANKEES.

Given the choice between:

a) your division rival having Miguel Tejada when you're not a contender, or
b) your rival having Phil Hughes when your team is good

Which one is really more damaging?

Rant over.

Transaction Recap: Phillies, Astros

I'm going to try this feature again this year. Who needs readers when your blog has pizzazz?

Phillies: Traded OF Michael Bourn, RP Geoff Geary, and 3B Mike Costanzo to Astros for RP Brad Lidge and IF Eric Bruntlett (Rating: 6/10)

Astros: Same trade (Rating: 7)

This is a polarizing deal. Nate Silver loves it for the Astros, while Keith Law is stunned they didn't get more for Lidge.

I'll come down in my usual spot, in between. Bourn does not look set to become an everyday center fielder, though he makes an excellent fourth outfielder. In any case, the combination of Bourn in center and Hunter Pence in right does not look like an overall improvement from Pence and Luke Scott.

Costanzo's stats and scouting reports indicate that he is not ready to be a major league average third baseman right now, even though Nate may think so. He has the potential to get there at his peak, but for now he looks like a fringe starter, certainly not someone the Phillies are eager to throw out there every day as a 2008 contender.

The centerpiece, of course, is Lidge, an interesting case study in how DIPS can fool the best of us. Even some intelligent analysts were taken in by Lidge's 2006, when he posted his usual dominant rate stats, but some terrible luck sabotaged his ERA. Lidge has settled in as a 3.25 ERA pitcher, short of his dominant 2004-05, but still easily good enough to close in the NL.

As for the psychological damage from the Pujols home run, I'm not buying it. If giving up a homer to Albert can turn one of my pitchers into a 12 K/9, 3 K/BB machine, I'm sending my whole staff out there to throw BP for the Cardinals.

I do have a bone to pick with Nate's method of valuing Lidge's 2008 season. He says that if Francisco Cordero--a good comp for Lidge--receives four years and $40 million on the open market, we should fairly value Lidge at $10 million for 2008. This is flatly incorrect. If a team had the choice to sign Coco for 4 years/$40MM or 1 year/$10MM, they take the one-year deal all day. In fact, most teams would rather shell out $15 million for one year. The short-term deal serves these functions:

- Reduces the risk of injuries or performance decline
- Provides a higher likelihood of draft pick compensation at the end of the contract
- Provides compensation picks three years sooner

Furthermore, signing Cordero would cost the Phillies their first-round draft pick, while trading for Lidge does not. Thus, I think it's more accurate to say that Lidge is saving the Phillies $9 million (or more) and a first-round pick. That's a hell of a lot better than it looks from Nate's perspective, though it still may not justify giving up three useful young players.

However, the trade has a big fringe benefit for the Phillies, in that they can now move Brett Myers back to the rotation. Since Myers was about as good in relief as Lidge, they're essentially trading for a number 2 starter, which makes the deal look a lot better for them. It's not exactly fair to credit this move to the trade, since it was the correct move anyway, but c'est la vie.

What do you get when you put all that together? I call it a push for the Phils, and a win for the Astros. The Phillies probably added two 2008 wins in this deal, which is a big boost for an NL contender. The Astros got a good return and showed that their franchise is moving in the right direction, rather than trading a bounty of young players for one year of Jason Jennings.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unorthodox Free Agent Solutions: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera

Continuing our series of moves that make too much sense to happen, so they won't:

Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera to the Devil Rays

You can stop laughing now. Why would these Yankee icons jump to the AL East cellar?

Well, for one, Tampa will be the best team in the division if they add these three. You might not realize this, but the Rays project as an 80-win team next year. In fact, they had .500 talent this year, except for those pesky fielding issues.

The Rays' 2008 ZIPS Projections show that next year's Rays should feature an offense significantly better than the league average. The pitching staff, which led the AL in strikeouts this year, is headed by a very strong 1-2 of Scott Kazmir and Jamie Shields, plus a 3-4 of Andrew Sonnanstine and J.P. Howell, who would be league-average starters with a better defense behind them.

The team as a whole is very young and has big breakout potential. So what are they missing?

- Defense
- A shortstop
- A catcher
- A closer

The three Yankees won't help Tampa's fielding, but team defense is subject to heavy fluctuations and it's very likely the Rays defense will improve by 50 runs or more next year due to regression alone. Evan Longoria gets rave reviews for his glove, and should be a big help when he arrives.

As for the other holes, A-Rod, Posada, and Rivera fit them like a glove. Check out this potential 2008 lineup:

LF Crawford
CF Upton
SS A-Rod
1B Pena
C Posada
3B Longoria
DH Gomes
RF Young
2B Iwamura

This is a lineup whose WORST projected hitter is probably Delmon Young, and Delmon is as good a bet as any player to pull a B.J. Upton and explode on the scene next year. High-upside players like Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes remain on the bench, possibly providing a big impact; Baldelli can DH if healthy.

Meanwhile, the pitching looks more than good enough to complement the hitters and win 90+ games for several years in a row:

SP Kazmir
SP Shields
SP Sonnanstine
SP Howell
SP Davis/Price/Hammel

RP Rivera
RP Wheeler
RP Reyes
RP Balfour
RP Dohmann

Remember, you can throw out the 2007 ERAs for Sonnanstine and Howell; they were sabotaged by terrible defense. These guys were not that far behind Kaz and Shields this year in fielding-independent pitching.

The fifth starter's job should eventually go to Wade Davis or David Price, but neither is likely to stick in the rotation for at least a few months. For now, the spot will most likely go to a placeholder like Jason Hammel who won't actively hurt the team.

Tampa's bullpen was terrible in 2007, although a lot of the blame goes to the defense. Rivera brings a much needed stopper; perhaps no other team in the majors would benefit more from adding an ace at the back of the pen. Meanwhile, Wheeler and Reyes are not bad pitchers, and should be serviceable as a bridge to the new closer.

We haven't gotten to the most important point yet: the future. This Devil Rays team will stick together. Of all the players listed above, only Reyes is eligible for free agency after 2008, and only Pena after 2009. Everyone else is locked up for at least three years at below-market prices, so if A-Rod really wants to be with a perennial contender, this is the place for him.

Furthermore, this team is very young. The four starters average 25 years of age next year. No lineup regular will be 30 on Opening Day 2008. The three Yankees and Carlos Pena will see some age-related decline, but time will work in Tampa's favor for the rest of the roster. In 2010, Carl Crawford and Shields will be 28, Kazmir 26, Upton 25, Young and Longoria 24. That's a hell of a core at or before their peak years.

As far as money goes, the $55 million/year required to sign these three will obviously be a lot for a small-market team. On the other hand, who has more money to burn than the Devil Rays? A couple of big names and a winning season will give instant credibility to the franchise, giving them a reasonable chance of developing a fan base. Is Tampa really better off just cashing their revenue sharing checks and never attempting to contend?

There is no way the Devil Rays sign A-Rod, let alone all three of these guys. But if he's not lying about wanting a secure future with Posada and Rivera, this is probably the best scenario for the three of them.

Unorthodox Free Agent Solutions: Barry Bonds

Here at R-D, we like to focus on what SHOULD happen, not what WILL happen. In this series, we'll look at potential free agent signings that make a lot of sense, but have a snowball's chance in hell of actually occurring.

Barry Bonds to the Twins

Bonds is an odd sort of potential bargain this year, because signing him is such a negative PR move. Barry is the best hitter (non-A-Rod division) on the market, but might have to sign a below-market deal because of a lack of suitors. Given a team with holes at DH and left field--and no team fits that bill quite like the Twins--Bonds could easily be a four- or five-win player over 120 games.

Besides having a gaping hole at Bonds' position, Minnesota also is at a point where an extra five wins can make a big difference for their playoff chances. Despite a 79-83 season, things are looking up for the Twins. If Francisco Liriano bounces all the way back, the Twins have the two best starting pitchers in baseball, and even a less-than-full recovery makes him a devastating pitcher. Matt Garza is ready to step up as a solid number 3 (or maybe be dealt for Jason Bay). Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey aren't studs, but they represent a competitive advantage in the 3-5 slots. The bullpen, led by Joe Nathan and Pat Neshek, remains excellent.

The Twins featured below-average hitting last year, but that's mostly the result of awful production from Nick Punto and the DH spot. The Twins head into next year needing a center fielder, second baseman, third baseman, and DH. Bonds fills the DH void. If the Twins trade Garza for Bay, they can deal Jason Kubel for a third baseman (Kevin Kouzmanoff?) or sign fan favorite Corey Koskie, assuming he's fully recovered. The market is full of free agent center fielders; I'd target Aaron Rowand or Mike Cameron, though the Twins may stick with Torii Hunter for sentimental reasons. At second base, Alexi Casilla is still the future, but a short-term deal for a Tad Iguchi type makes a lot of sense.

For about $30 million in additional salary commitments for next year (not counting the savings from the departing Torii Hunter, Luis Castillo, and Carlos Silva), that gives us this lineup:

CF Rowand/Cameron
C Mauer
DH Bonds
1B Morneau
LF Bay
RF Cuddyer
3B Kouzmanoff/Koskie
2B Iguchi
SS Bartlett

SP Santana
SP Liriano
SP Baker
SP Bonser
SP Slowey

RP Nathan
RP Neshek
RP Guerrier
RP Rincon
RP Reyes

That's a team that can absolutely run with the Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees; I might make them the preseason favorites to win the AL.

The point isn't that the Twins will actually do all this, but that they are this close to being a top contender again. It's a lot easier to improve this kind of stars-and-scrubs team than a balanced top-to-bottom squad like Oakland's. The above scenario doesn't involve anything outlandish like signing A-Rod or trading for Miguel Tejada.

If Minnesota won't trade Santana and Nathan this offseason, they owe it to the fans to take one last shot at a title with them. Signing Bonds may be the biggest step they can take in that direction.

O/T: Miller Lite

And now for something completely different...

I watch a lot of sports, so I see a lot of Miller Lite commercials. Over the past couple of years, the beer's primary selling point has been that a 2005 study showed it has "more taste" than Bud Light. If you read the fine print, however, you see this:

"Results reflect which beer has more taste, not preference."

Now, I have to imagine there is zero chance that someone held a taste test and did not ask the participants which beer they preferred over the other. I see only one possibility: the tasters preferred Bud Light over Miller Lite, yet Miller nonetheless managed to spin this as a positive. Apparently more bad taste > less good taste.

If I'm right, I think it's fair to say Miller has done more with less than any other ad campaign in history. Of course, they're still getting killed by Bud in market share, so maybe they need a new approach.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne has become something of a polarizing figure. He's become a running joke in the playoffs as the Red Sox have refused to let him try and protect a lead of fewer than nine runs. Meanwhile, Nate Silver suggests that Gagne will be one of the biggest bargains on the free agent market this offseason. Other analysts seem to be taking Nate's side. Who's right?

In baseball, it's hard to get more results-disoriented than evaluating pitchers by their DIPS numbers. When we do that, the picture becomes clear:

Gagne with Texas, 2007: 2.16 ERA, 4.19 xFIP
Gagne with Boston, 2007: 6.75 ERA, 4.21 xFIP

Hmm. Suddenly it looks like Gagne didn't forget how to pitch, but his defense forgot how to field (or his ground balls forgot how to find gloves). Either way, we were basically watching the same pitcher the whole year; the Texas version just had fortune on his side.

Gagne's stuff wasn't all the way back from his peak, but his dominant 2002-04 does hint at some upside. If Gagne can go from this year's 4 BB/9 and 9 K/9 to 3 and 10, he becomes a dominant closer again. Remember, he did this all in the AL, so a league switch alone might give his rate stats a big boost.

The big question with Gagne, of course, is health. No one should be throwing four guaranteed years at him, and even three is dicey. But in a market where Danys Baez gets $19 million over three years, I'd certainly offer Gagne two years and $12MM and see what happens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joel Skinner

I should probably consider that my last post, blasting J.A. Adande and anyone else who says Joel Skinner single-handedly cost the Indians the AL Pennant, is in a way not true to the blog's name. After all, when evaluating Skinner's decision and what it really cost the Tribe, what happened afterward should not be considered. Since Lofton scores basically 100% of the time he is sent, Skinner's stop sign cost the Indians about 10% in win expectancy, from 50% to 40%. That's an unforgivable sin in a Game 7, probably far worse than Grady Little's choice to leave Pedro in. It's hard for any coach to hurt his team more than that with one decision.

Still, while Skinner did his job terribly in a clutch spot, there's simply nothing behind the argument that this play "changed the whole rest of the game," as so many column inches opined on Monday. Not even a butterfly flapping its wings in Australia could have stopped the Boston offense in the late innings Sunday. Joel Skinner cost the Indians 10% of a trip to the World Series at the time, and 0% in hindsight. No more, no less.

Monday, October 22, 2007

J.A. Adande is an Idiot

Adande: "I'm not going to hold Joel Skinner solely responsible for the Indians losing this series."

ARE YOU (EXPLETIVE) KIDDING ME? Cleveland lost this game--one of their four losses in the series, by the way--by nine runs, and you're telling me that a third base coach who cost the Indians no more than one run is "not...solely responsible" for the defeat?

I don't have the energy for a full writeup of Game 7. Cliffs notes:

- Why was Okajima left in to face Asdrubal Cabrera if he didn't stay to face Travis Hafner?
- Why was Jonathan Papelbon still pitching with the Sox up nine runs?
- No, it wasn't worth it for Coco Crisp to risk an injury to make the final out of the game, given the huge cushion. Of course, Crisp probably didn't think he would hit the wall running when he reached out to make the grab.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Disastrous Trade Idea

The Yankees have been mentioned as players in the Johan Santana sweepstakes. MLB Trade Rumors suggests they may offer the Twins a package of Melky Cabrera, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ian Kennedy in exchange for the lefty ace.

This is the type of deal that could make sense for both clubs. Santana is a virtual lock to leave the Twins, so he has no value to them beyond 2008. Meanwhile, the team is in need of a cheap center fielder to replace the departing Torii Hunter, and could use affordable starting pitchers with Santana on his way out and lots of question marks in the rotation. The Yankees, with large cash reserves and in need of superstar talent, get the only ace on the market and the upper hand in signing him long-term.

That said, this deal is completely lopsided and the Yankees would be crazy to offer it. In exchange for one year of Santana's services, they give up four years of Wang, four years of Cabrera, and six years of Kennedy. Wang and Cabrera have established themselves as valuable major leaguers, and they will make less than a million dollars combined next year (versus the $20MM+ they would get on the open market). Kennedy isn't an elite prospect, but he should become a solid starter while earning the major league minimum through 2010.

(Side note: Does Melky have leprosy or something? The dude's been a league-average center fielder for two full seasons at ages 21 and 22. Maybe that's not good enough for the Yankees, but how many others have performed this well so many years before their peak? It's a short list.)

The difference between Wang and Santana next year should be in the neighborhood of three wins. The Yankees could probably use the $13 million difference in their salaries to buy three wins on the open market anyway. Why not do that, and save their young, cheap commodities? I thought The Boss wasn't running this team anymore.

As for the first crack at re-signing Santana: I love Johan, but the track record for mega-contract starting pitchers is pretty effin' brutal. He's unlikely to return positive value over the life of his next contract, so the value of exclusive negotiation rights is damn near zero and may actually be negative. Furthermore, Santana is quite likely to test the market even if he's traded.

I wonder how many times teams will deal three good young players for one year of a veteran before they realize it's* not worth it. Maybe the Yanks should throw in Robby Cano; I hear the Twins need a second baseman.

Many Yankee fans are up in arms over the "insulting" contract offer to Joe Torre, which was for twice what any other team will offer him. Maybe they should switch their focus to something that could actually damage the team's World Series hopes for years to come.

*-This refers to the first Big Unit trade; the D-Backs didn't give up any elite prospects in their deal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barry Rozner is an Idiot

This is why you should never believe anything you read.

Apparently, if the White Sox spend $300 million on A-Rod, "[t]hat money would come back to the Sox five-fold in ticket sales, TV money, team marketing, jerseys brought [sic], and -- best of all -- winning." So, it looks like an expensive contract, but really the White Sox would be generating a $1.2 billion profit by signing him--apparently by selling 30 million extra tickets, plus jerseys and TV revenue. Why, they'd be stupid not to do it!

Does Barry Rozner actually believe this estimate? If A-Rod is really worth $1.5 billion over the duration of his contract, why are teams only offering him $300 million? Apparently none of the 30 MLB teams hires a guy who understands baseball revenues quite like Rozner.

Or, it could be that Rozner is pulling numbers out of his ass, that A-Rod will actually be worth far LESS than $300 million, and that the team that signs him will inevitably regret it years down the road. Let's take another look at the biggest free-agent contracts in MLB history, shall we?

1. A-Rod: After three years, Rangers pay $67 million to dump his contract on the Yankees.
2. Manny Ramirez: Boston places him on irrevocable waivers three years into his deal, attempting to give him away for free. No takers.
3. Mike Hampton: Two years in, Colorado pays $27.5 million AND takes on two bad contracts just to get rid of him.
4. Jason Giambi: Yankees attempt (and fail) to void the remainder of his contract.

This is pretty cut-and-dried. The team that signs A-Rod will grossly overpay for his services, they will NOT get $1.5 billion in revenues out of it--not even if they win five straight World Series--and Barry Rozner should be permanently banned from writing on baseball.

(Hat Tip: MLB Trade Rumors)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Playoff Reliever Usage

As regular readers know, I'm an outspoken critic of reliever usage in the majors. Each MLB team could gain an extra win every season--the same win they'll willingly spend $20 million for--by telling its ace reliever that he will now pitch in tie games rather than protecting three-run leads.

But I digress. The playoffs present some unique applications for reliever leverage, because they feature frequent off days and "must-win" games. Since this lowers the costs associated with giving additional innings to your top relievers, it makes sense that we actually see teams frequently using their closers for multiple innings in October, while never going to their mop-up men except in complete blowouts.

If it's Game 7 of the World Series, there's really nothing to lose if your top reliever's arm falls off. Thus, if you have the choice between having your closer pitch either the ninth inning or innings 5 and 6, it's not even close; you take the higher workload and smile. In fact, if Terry Francona announces Jonathan Papelbon as his Game 7 starter, it will be one of the greatest moments in baseball history, at least for me.

Any elimination game is a similar situation. When the Cubs went to Carlos Marmol early in Game 3 of the NLDS, some friends asked me if the team made a mistake by not waiting for a better spot. Lou Piniella did the right thing. With your back up against the wall, it doesn't matter in what order you use your relievers; the key is to make sure your best arms are throwing as many innings as possible. If an inferior reliever is going to blow the game, it doesn't matter whether he does it in the fourth or ninth inning.

Getting Marmol in right away was the best way to maximize his output for the game, even though the leverage index in that situation wasn't especially high in a vacuum. For the same reason, Boston should have been willing to use Papelbon in the sixth inning tonight if Josh Beckett wasn't pitching like a super-stud. Why have him wait for a save opportunity that may never come if Eric Gagne blows the lead?

Of course, that doesn't mean you use Papelbon to protect a six-run lead in Game 5, as the Red Sox did tonight. But the Red Sox know Paps better than I do, and maybe he needs an inning here or there to keep his arm fresh. If, however, this represents one less inning he can pitch in Fenway this weekend, the Sox fully deserve to lose.

----

Random terrible announcing of the day: Tim McCarver has spent the entire game pushing for Jacoby Ellsbury to start Game 6 over Coco Crisp. After Ellsbury replaced Manny Ramirez for defensive purposes tonight, McCarver said (and I'm paraphrasing): "If you can come in for defense up by six runs in the eighth, you can certainly start a Game 6 in Boston."

Um, what?

Friday, October 12, 2007

October 12

Cleveland +150 (1)
Arizona +106 (1)

Monday, October 08, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear results-oriented sportswriters everywhere,

You are wrong. C.C. Sabathia was still the right choice to start today's game.

Allowing ten baserunners in five innings does not make the starting pitcher the "Chevrolet Player of the Game" or a good clutch performer. Paul Byrd remains a fringe fourth starter who didn't pitch particularly well and was lucky not to get lit up by a strong lineup.

Also, on behalf of the other 29 teams in MLB, thank you for your upcoming articles on why Alex Rodriguez should leave the Yankees.

Forever yours,

R-D

10/8

Tonight: Indians +205 (1 unit)

I just don't follow the decision to start Byrd. Everyone is all over this, and for good reason.

It seems possible that the Tribe is ready to give Byrd a quick hook in favor of C.C. if he's got nothing. But if that's the plan, why not start Sabathia? If he looks that tired, Byrd is available for long relief, and the Indians have a good bullpen. Meanwhile, you don't risk Byrd getting lit up and putting the game out of reach right away.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Moving the Playoff Odds Project

Because I get so many readers here, I'm experimenting with moving the Playoff Odds to a new home.

(Edit: That link doesn't appear to be forwarding yet, so use this one for now.)

Yes, that's the actual design I have picked out (for now). It's a wonder I actually managed to create a website on Frontpage once. Actually, looking at that site, no it isn't.

Friday, October 05, 2007

10/6 Update

Team DS% LCS% WS%




Boston 90.7 52.2 37.8
Cleveland 83.0 35.2 22.8
Los Angeles 9.3 4.1 2.6
New York 17.0 8.4 6.1




Arizona 83.1 40.2 12.6
Chicago 16.9 9.4 3.2
Colorado 85.3 41.7 11.7
Philadelphia 14.7 8.6 3.1

If you didn't get Philadelphia earlier, they're a borderline 1-2 unit play at +143.

Playoffs YTD: 3-0, +4.57 units

Edit: You may notice that the NL numbers have changed around a little even though no games were played. This reflects Philadelphia shifting their rotation to start Hamels in Game 4 and Kendrick in Game 5. If you're wondering how Kendrick getting an extra start can possibly help the Phillies, well, Kyle Lohse is just that bad. Enjoy him, whoever shells out the $50 million price tag!