George ‘Sparky’ Anderson 1960 Topps Baseball Card – YES!!! In mid-November, I shared the Top Ten Most Wanted Cards for my collection with the readers of this blog. The list had cards that were old, and cards that were new. … Continue reading →
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Tony Gwynn 2012 Topps ‘Golden Greats’ About a month ago, I scored the ‘Golden Moments’ card of Tony Gwynn from the 2012 Topps set. I like the card; I like Tony Gwynn. So, I wanted to see what other cards … Continue reading →
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When the Miami Marlins first made a series of midseason trades, beginning with the Anibal Sanchez trade that netted the team Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly among others and continuing with the Hanley Ramirez trade that brought in Nathan Eovaldi, the thought process was that the Marlins were punting the rest of 2012 and re-focusing their efforts, and more importantly their money, in trying to compete in 2013. The team was decimated by injuries following those trades, so the club looked a lot worse than it probably was for the remainder of that season. With a smart signing, you had to figure the Marlins would at least be a passable 75-win team or so, and with some wise trades looking towards the future, the team could even keep some of the players from 2012 like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and still pick up future pieces for a true contending team in 2014 or 2015.
But after the mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, it seemed clear that the Marlins scrapped any hopes of that type of long-term plan and decided to reset the roster entirely. One 69-win season can influence an owner like Jeffrey Loria very strongly, it seems. But as we noted at the end of this season in our season review, the Marlins really under-performed their projections, and one figures that, with those kind of struggles, the team would at least be expected to rebound a decent amount just from regression.
Unfortunately, in retrospect the team's moves make it seem as though the club had already given up on the 2012 core by the trade deadline, as the team had begun shopping everyone but Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason and eventually traded the entire core away. That means that there is a very good chance that Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins front office gave up on the team they thought was a contender in just three months. Should this team have been given more time?
Reviewing the Trades
The Marlins traded their core in part because they figured that the group could not perform up to snuff. But you have to figure that the team liked some of the players that were involved in these trades and were not fans of others. The Marlins sent away numerous players, but some had extenuating circumstances.
Anibal Sanchez: The Marlins only had half a season left of Sanchez before he was going to become a free agent, so with a losing season on the way, it seemed like a guarantee that he would be traded.
Hanley Ramirez: Ramirez and the Marlins had a shaky relationship as it stood, and with his struggles continuing from 2011, it was not surprising to see the team think he was not a three-win player going forward. That trade was justifiable if the club was planning on using at least part of Ramirez's freed salary to reinvest into wins for the team.
Josh Johnson: Johnson was dealt with only one season remaining, and his 2012 year was questionable in terms of his level of performance. With the team not going anywhere in 2013 and Johnson unlikely to receive an extension, a trade seemed like the wisest move.
Heath Bell: Bell had such a terrible season that he was bound to leave for the first team that would pay half of his salary.
John Buck: The reason for Bell was the same for Buck.
The five above players, along with the relievers in Randy Choate and Edward Mujica, had legitimate reasons to be dealt. Each guy was either on his way out soon for a team that was not going to compete or was being paid too much money. The Marlins could have turned these six players into assets that could have helped the team starting in 2013, and the club indeed did do that with at least the Ramirez deal.
However, the other players had legitimate reasons to stay with the Marlins in 2013. Omar Infante was being paid a pittance and was performing well. Jose Reyes fell short of expectations for his first season, but his performance throughout all of the year but April indicated that he was not far away from matching his expected play. Buehrle had a similar situation as Reyes. There is an argument that the Marlins traded and gave up on Gaby Sanchez too early.
Imagine if the Marlins traded Johnson, Sanchez, and Ramirez along with the other easy sells for a package essentially akin to Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rob Brantly. Such a set of moves is not difficult to imagine and would not have significantly affected the Marlins' core for 2013, as Sanchez was already on his way out and Ramirez seemed to have worn out his welcome. Given that, in the most recent SB Nation Winter Meetings simulation, I was able to trade Johnson for two well-regarded prospects, it seems likely that a Sanchez / Johnson / Ramirez combo could net that sort of return.
A return like Turner, Eovaldi, and Brantly would give the Marlins perhaps 5.5 wins in 2013. The players traded away would be worth closer to 10.5 wins, but they would also be worth $48 million more, and that is if you do not count Bell's salary in the mix. With one signing at around $10 million to $15 million, the Marlins could have picked up an Angel Pagan to make up 3.5 of those wins while still shaving close to $23 million off of the payroll in 2013. The club could even go one further and add another $10 million per year average player and essentially make up all of the difference between the two packages.
Such a trade-off would have kept the Marlins even with their likely 2012 regressed counterparts while saving money and building towards a future team. The organization would have also kept a number of other players like Omar Infante, Emilio Bonifacio, and Gaby Sanchez to fill holes that the team would have otherwise left open.
Would a roster with Bonifacio at third base instead of Ramirez and a free agent center fielder and Rob Brantly at catcher, with the rest of the 2012 starting lineup intact, been a competitive group in 2013? One has to figure they would at least be even with the 2012 core, and that 2012 core could not be too much worse than a mid-70's win team. Such a starting lineup would have cost the Marlins just $33 million in payroll in 2013.
A Lack of Patience
The core of the 2012 team itself would have done a similar job in 2013 at a slightly higher payroll. But even that should not have scared the Marlins off that quickly. With the influx of some high-level prospects coming in 2014, the Marlins would have had cavalry assist this team and allow them to recuperate from the losses of players like Johnson and Nolasco in future seasons. But yes, a set of strategic trades would have likely made more sense for the Fish at the time, given the colossal struggle of the team in 2012.
It seemed the Marlins were doing that when they did make their deals, but the front office and ownership lost their patience and once again failed to see a middle ground. I think the Marlins were right to make those midseason trades, but I think a compromise between keeping the entirety of the 2012 core that struggled and selling them all off should have been made. There were parts that could have stayed on the roster and done well and there were other players who should have been traded.
But you get the feeling that Loria and company only saw that the Marlins won fewer than 70 games with a $100 million-plus payroll and decided that paying money was a mistake. And that is why the Marlins may continue to struggle as the years progress, whether the team's trades work out or not. The Marlins lack patience and long-term planning, so when disaster strikes, the organization panics. A reasoned plan could have kept the best of both worlds, of 2012 and of the future, on the Marlins. But the club saw failure and resorted to its old ways once again.
The 2012 season was no doubt an exciting season to be a Baltimore Orioles fan. Despite less-than-favorable odds to compete in the tough American League East entering the season, the Orioles had a tremendous season that saw them earn a playoff birth as a Wild Card team. After winning the first ever AL Wild Card game, they pushed the Yankees to Game Five before bowing out in the ALDS.
In an interview in August with Steve Melewski of MASN, Orioles' Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations of Dan Duquette spoke very frankly about the cut fastball, and how it fits with his developmental philosophies for pitchers.
"The philosophy of the organization is to encourage pitchers to develop a good delivery, command of their fastball, an off-speed pitch and a good breaking ball," Duquette said. "The first breaking ball that we work with our young pitchers on is a curveball. So that is basically the level of progression of our instruction and our organization philosophy.
"First of all, the cut fastball, we don't like it as a pitch, OK? And we don't like it for young pitchers because it takes away from the development of their curveball, which is a better pitch long-term and also, the velocity of their fastball. So we encourage development of an overhand breaking ball that has depth along with command of their fastball and, of course, velocity and movement will get the hitter out."
But in Bundy's case, the 19-year-old right-hander has said that is his best pitch. Have the Orioles taken away Bundy's top pitch?
"Why don't you take a look at the chart with the average against cutters in the big leagues, batting average against and then come back and tell me that that's a great pitch," Duquette said.
"We don't like the cutter. We don't like the cutter as an effective pitch. Name me all the great pitchers that used it as their primary pitch in the big leagues."
Duquette makes a number of statements here, piling on arguments against the cut fastball. Eno Sarris already nicely covered the batting average on cutters point as well as the developmental philosophy against the cutter for young pitchers.
The point that interests me the most here is the idea that he does not appear to be a fan of the cutter at any level. This is not just about not teaching it in the minor league system at the expense of the development of a curveball. He has a fundamental problem with the pitch and its effectiveness, even at the major league level.
There is one other reason that I can see that could be driving Duquette's feelings about the cut fastball. It has everything to do with how Orioles pitchers have been faring on the pitch in recent years.
Since the introduction of Pitch F/X part way through the 2007 season, data has been available that attempts to quantify success per type of pitch. These pitch type linear weight metrics aim at capturing the effectiveness of each type of pitch and representing this value with a number that shows how many runs were either saved or allowed on these pitches. Positive values indicate better than average performance, while negative values indicate worse than average performance.
I should note that there is a debate over the usefulness of the pitch type linear weights. Some of the issues with the metric are that it does not control for things like base/out states, nor does it capture pitch sequencing that can lead to subsequent pitches becoming more effective. It also does not compensate for factors like ballpark or the defense of the team behind the pitcher. While the data is not perfect, it is the best measure for quantifying success at the runs level by pitch type that we have for which I'm aware, and by averaging the data for each team over seasons, I hope that at least the in game situational differences even out.
In the first several years, up to and including the 2010 season, the Orioles as a team placed in the lower half of the league in both frequency of use of the cut fastball as well as value from the pitch based on these pitch type linear weights.
In the past two seasons, the Orioles have taken cutter inadequacy to new depths. According to Pitch F/X, the Orioles started to throw the cutter more as a pitching staff beginning in 2011, finishing in the upper half in the league in each season in usage of the pitch. However, the success achieved by all these extra cutters plummeted, as can be seen in the following graph.
The Orioles as a team have been getting killed on the cutter like nobody's business over the past two seasons. As every ten runs tends to equate to about one win, their lackluster performance on cut fastballs over the past two seasons appears to be significant. The Orioles finished at the back of the pack in both overall value from the cutter as well as the standardized rate value per 100 cutters.
So are cut fastballs really not effective pitches? Using this same two year period, covering the most recent year of data Duquette would have had to analyze when he took over the position as well as data from his first year in his post, the data would suggest otherwise.
Data: Fangraphs, Pitch F/X, Average over 2011-2012
In looking at the league as a whole, we can see that the other 29 teams in the league on average achieved more success than not with the cut fastball, with a positive wFC linear weights value on the pitch. In fact, the cut fastball has scored better than the curveball league-wide over this period according to the linear weights.
Could what Duquette have realized is not so much how effective the cutter is in general at the major league level, but that his Orioles are inept at the pitch?
If so, then stopping to throw the pitch is certainly one attempt at a solution. It would seem to me another, more reasonable approach, would be to dial back on the use of the cutter while simultaneously seeking to find a resource that could be brought into the organization to help teach or refine throwing cut fastballs, at least to some pitchers at the major league level.
Of current Orioles that could perceivably start in the coming season, Pitch F/X classifies Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman as throwing the cutter, with only Hunter having held his own with the pitch over the past two seasons. An interesting note is that all three of these pitchers threw more cutters in 2012 than in the previous season, before Duquette arrived in Baltimore. They did not experience improvement in their results through this increased usage, either.
It is important to note that these metrics measure past performance, and thus are not designed to predict future success or lack thereof for particular pitchers using particular types of pitches. With the Orioles finishing in the basement in cut fastball prowess in each of the last two seasons though, perhaps Duquette feels that he's seen enough to decry the cutter.
It will be interesting to see how far this distaste extends. Will current Orioles pitchers start to throw the cutter less in 2013? Will Duquette avoid free agent starters that rely on the cutter in their pitch arsenal?
You can follow me on Twitter at @MLBPlayerAnalys.Follow @MLBPlayerAnalys
Credit and thanks to Fangraphs for data upon which this analysis was based.
Grant Brisbee of Baseball Nation goes into great detail on just how bad a defender Michael Young truly is: Michael Young's bat isn't all the Phillies should worry about - Baseball Nation
This is one of those scenarios that you can use to explain WAR to your dad. "Dad?" you say. "Remember how Michael Young can't field?" "Sure, son," he'll reply. "He's kind of the worst." And then you can explain how his lackluster defense has hurt his WAR -- and his overall value -- over the years. Because stats and eyeballs agree. No one thinks Young is a good third baseman. Numbers, scouts, you, me … the fielding isn't good.
Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus compares the Rays trade for Wil Myers to a trade they made by getting rid of Delmon Young, some years ago: Baseball Prospectus | Overthinking It: The Royals, the Rays, and the Problem with Windows
On the surface, the Royals side of this swap looks bold and ambitious. What could be bolder than trading baseball’s top prospect, or more ambitious than trying to send Kansas City to the postseason for the first time since Davis was in diapers? But as much risk as the Royals are incurring, they’re really playing it safe, increasing the odds of immediate gratification (if any gratification long-suffering Royals fans feel can be described as “immediate”) at the potential expense of sustainable success. This trade makes them more likely to reach the playoffs next season and possibly in 2014, too, depending on how quickly Myers comes into his own, but it seemingly lowers their ceiling in 2015 and beyond, even with Davis signed through 2017. The Royals won the prospect lotto, but instead of opting for the annual annuity that could have kept them in contention as regularly as the Rays, they chose to receive the lump sum and splurge. Even when they aimed high, they set their sights low.
Mark Simon of ESPN explains how the Royals can win the AL Central in 2013: How the Royals can win the AL Central - SweetSpot Blog - ESPN
What would it take for the Kansas City Royals to unseat the Detroit Tigers, overtake the Chicago White Sox and hold off the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins to win the American Central in 2013? Over the past three seasons, the AL Central champions finished the season with a roster totaling around 38 Wins Above Replacement. The 2012 Royals finished the season 25 Wins Above Replacement, so there is a gap to be closed. We’re going to see if we can come up with the combination of numbers to close it.
Beyond the Box Score's own Lewie Pollis has released a new version of his simple WAR calculator for batters: Introducing the Simple WAR Calculator Versions 1.1.1 and 2.1 - Wahoo's on First - A Cleveland Indians Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More
Rollie Fingers 1972 Topps As it stands, this baseball card from the 1972 Topps set is the oldest card in my Rollie Fingers collection. And for a card that is now 41 years old, this card is in unbelievable condition. … Continue reading →
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With the basic addition of close to an entire new pitching staff from the start of last season, the Royals look like they are ready to make a noise in the Central Division. The new staff doesn't matter as much as the position players producing to their talent level.
A couple of years ago, I created a spreadsheet that took a team's projected talent level and calculated the numbers of wins they should expect to have in a season. I ran the numbers before the 2011 season and predicted a record of 69-93. I was a couple wins off with the team going 71-91.
With a near complete turnover in the starting rotation, I decided to see where the Royals stand going into 2013. First, a couple of places have already looked at how the team stands right. Replacement Level Yankees Weblog puts the Royals at 84-78. Mark Simon at ESPN thinks the Royals are 4 Wins shy of having a chance to win the Central.
I decided to go ahead run the numbers myself. I used the Bill James projections available at FanGraphs. For the pitcher's ERA/FIP I took the average of the 2 values. I guesstimated the batting order and playing time. And my numbers come up as:
(Link to spreadsheet which can be downloaded and the manipulated)
Holy Shimies Batman
Really. The big boost is not from the the improved starting pitching staff, but instead from the hitters. They look to improve from 17 WAR last season to to 27 WAR this season. With all the moves surrounding the starting staff, they only go from 15 WAR in 2012 to 18 WAR this season. The team seems is really close to contention looking at the team's talent. The big jumps in improvement from 2011 are Frenchy from -1.5 WAR to +0.5 WAR, Hosmer for -1.1 WAR to 1.5 WAR. Full seasons from Cain and Perez help. No suck of Betancourt, Bourgeois and Pena. My hope are a bit higher, but it would be nice to see 3 WAR in RF instead of .5.
Off Topic - I few days ago I ask people to rate the current Royals hitters according to the 5 traits that scouts rate hitters. Over 300 voted and when I went to calculate the scores I noticed that I missed Moustakas. I would like to have his information before I release the results so could you place take a minute and rate him.
Entering the offseason, the Braves' two biggest needs were clear: a center fielder and a left fielder (or third baseman). While Frank Wren and company filled the former vacancy quickly by signing B.J. Upton, the latter has proven a more difficult spot to fill.
While much of the ink in Braves Country has been spilled on possible free agent solutions (Nick Swisher, Cody Ross, etc.) or on blockbuster trade possibilities (Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, etc.), there is no evidence that the Braves are pursuing any of these players with much vigor. That could change, of course; it's even possible that Wren is putting the finishing touches on a huge deal as I type this. But for now, he's saying this sort of thing:
#Braves GM Frank Wren said the team has interest in some one-year outfield stopgaps. He calls them "Caliparis.''— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 7, 2012
What does this tell us? Well, first of all, it shows that Wren has a wry sense of humor (I know just enough about college basketball to get that joke). Second, it shows that one of the following is true:
I'm of the opinion that the second possibility is more likely, but let's pretend that it's the first one for this post. (Also, I'm assuming that the Braves don't go the Evan Gattis/Juan Francisco platoon route, as covered by Martin earlier.) If the Braves do acquire a stopgap player, what are their options?
The free agent stopgap possibilities aren't inspiring at all. Just about any free agent worth a damn is going to require a deal of more than one year. Even a part-time guy like Scott Hairston will almost certainly get a multi-year contract.
What's left is mostly decrepit former stars (Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Raul Ibanez, etc.) and decrepit role players (Mark DeRosa, Endy Chavez, Scott Podsednik, etc.). I'm hoping Wren doesn't see those guys as options; we've already been down the Garret Anderson / Raul Mondesi route, and it didn't work.
Here are two slightly less hateful options who could reasonably be had on one-year contracts:
Was bad in 2012 and not very good in 2011; hasn't played in the outfield in 7 years; love or hate, TC regulars are already sick of talking about him
Has a history of bounce-back seasons (see 2010); offers solid OBP & power potential; is familiar to the organization; is young enough to rebound; is still a good athlete who could hold his own at LF or 3B
Was terrible with the bat in 2012 and not good in 2011 either; actually, he's declined offensively every year since 2009; is not a good defender overall; also is not a full-time player even in the best case
Had three straight 14+ homer seasons from 2009-11 in limited playing time; has hit lefties well in his career (.345 wOBA); can play 2B, 3B, and the outfield; has solid defensive ratings in left field (smallish sample, though)
And really, that's about it for guys who I'd even consider letting play regularly. Maybe Jack Hannahan to play third base? I'm really grasping at straws here.
But no, I'm not going to grasp at the straw whose name rhymes with Smellmon Dung. The Braves play in the NL, so that's just not a viable option.
Fortunately, there are some (much) better stopgap options who might be available in trade.
I checked this list of potential 2014 free agents and found several interesting (if flawed) options. All of these guys have just 1 guaranteed season left on their contracts, and all could be available in a trade, though the cost would be very high in a few cases. I left off Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence because they play for contenders and haven't been mentioned in any rumors.
The list below is ordered roughly from most to least expensive in terms of what it'd cost to acquire each player. Caveats about availability apply, especially at the top of the list:
Probably isn't really available, though there are rumors; would require a huge return; has a high salary ($13M); is probably in decline defensively; would hit for less power outside of Yankee Stadium; strikes out a lot
Has averaged 16 road homers per season with the Yankees, so his power is not just the park; will take a walk, too (10.1% career rate); glove should play just fine in a corner; has lots of playoff experience
Like Granderson, probably would require a big return (the Red Sox supposedly asked for Cliff Lee from the Phillies); will make around $8M in arbitration; has had two seasons ruined by injuries; has only had one above-average hitting season and likely won't hit nearly that well ever again; speedy but doesn't walk much
That one really good season was freaking amazing; is still young-ish; is an excellent defender and baserunner; could lead off; would still be a valuable player even if his bat doesn't bounce back
Again, would cost a lot in return (though not as much as the guys above); will also make around $8M in arbitration; had awful defensive ratings in 2012 (SSS, though, so I discount that); not much else, frankly
Top-tier OBP guy (.373 last year, .381 career) makes him a great fit at the top of the lineup; has good speed and decent power; just a very good all-around player, much like the Braves' other outfielders; relatively young
Doesn't get on base at all (.305 OBP last year, .294 career); has terrible plate discipline; has not been mentioned in any trade rumors that I know of, so he may cost a lot in trade
Is cheap, money-wise anyway: his arbitration estimate is under $4M; has had a power surge the past 1.5 seasons; is a great fielder; is still relatively young
Making $10M in 2013; bad enough defensively that the Brewers might move him to 1B; K and BB rates aren't great; numbers could take a hit outside of Miller Park
Averaged 29 homers and a .368 wOBA the last 3 years; is a solid, if unexceptional, player; likely wouldn't require a top prospect in return
Probably won't be traded unless Rangers acquire another OF (Hamilton, Upton, etc.); Cruz is signed for $10.5M, while Murphy will make around $6M in arbitration; both have platoon worries, especially Murphy; moving from Texas will definitely hurt their numbers; neither is an outstanding hitter or fielder, all things considered
Could be had fairly cheaply (especially Murphy); Cruz offers solid power and Murphy offers solid OBP; both have extensive playoff experience (Cruz has been awesome in October)
There are also two potentially available players who have affordable team options for 2014:
Is a brutal defender (he's basically the LF version of Dan Uggla); likely will only be dealt if Justin Upton isn't; HR totals will dip outside of Arizona; is owed $7.5M plus a $1M buyout on his option year
Very consistent; has good power and okay OBP; $7.5M option for 2014 could be worthwhile
Doesn't have any notable skill; power is especially lacking by LF standards; is getting up there in age
Is signed to a cheap contract ($4.25M for '13, $6.5M '14 club option with $1.5M buyout); offers solid OBP and defense; doesn't have any huge weaknesses
There's also Mike Morse, who I didn't include because he likely won't be traded in the division and really shouldn't be an outfielder anyway. Beyond that, there are a bunch of mediocre options along the lines of the free agent pool: Franklin Gutierrez, Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, etc.
Personally, I'm still hoping for the Braves to make a bit more of a splash, but if they do go the stopgap route, there are some good options, in trade anyway. The best players would cost a lot to acquire, but even the mid-level guys listed above, like Hart or DeJesus, are perfectly adequate.
Taking everything into account, including trade and salary costs, I'm leaning towards Choo as the best stopgap option; he'd likely cost a top pitching prospect plus a couple other pieces, but that's doable. He's quite possibly better than Granderson and Ellsbury, but he likely would cost less than either (though that's just my guess).
We'll see how Frank Wren plays the situation. There are certainly a wealth of options for him to choose from. As long as he stays away from the late-30s-retread-type player, the Braves should be able to snag a good left fielder for 2013, if not longer.