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Rarely do I post news of other team's signings, but this news has relevance for the discussion we've been having since the BIG TRADE last week. The Arizona Diamondbacks have signed Martin Prado to a four-year $40 million contract.
Yesterday I wrote about how it seemed cheap that the Atlanta Braves didn't want to pay Prado what he was reasonably worth. MLB Braves writer Mark Bowman had written in his column that the Braves had gained a sense that Prado was seeking more than the Braves were willing to offer. He had mentioned the number of $12 million a year.
Prado will average $10 million over the course of his new deal with the D-Backs. He will actually end up getting $7 million this year and $11 million each of the next three years. I asked Bowman to clarify that this number was still more than the Braves were willing to pay, and he indicated that indeed they did not want to go above $7 million this year, and therefore did not want to pay him $11 million each of the next three years.
This is kind of good news slash bad news for the Braves. It's bad news that this seems like an affordable deal, one that the Braves could have afforded -- though I'm not sore about the outcome of the trade -- but the Braves could have signed him if they really wanted to. Which leads me to the good news: this reluctance to commit to Prado might indicate that the Braves are preparing to commit money to the other young homegrown players on the team.
I'm happy for Marteeen. He deserves this deal, and I hope he does well in Arizona. Now I'd like to see the Braves sign some guys to long-term deals... JHey, Free, Kimmy...
The Royals and home runs aren't exactly synonymous. Thanks to the magic of Baseball Reference Play Index and Greg Rybarczyk's Home Run Tracker there are plenty of ways to dissect the 131 home runs the Royals clubbed in 2012. Maybe this will jog your memory to an individual game or performance you enjoyed last summer. Or maybe it will scratch your baseball itch in the dead weeks prior to spring training.
We thought there would be so many more. How wrong we were.
At this point, he was just mocking us. Or angling for a five year contract extension.
The Royals went almost a full calendar year between grand slams.
I was kind of hoping Dayton would bring back Betancourt to see if he could move up this list. Not really.
Leadoff Home Runs
Alex Gordon - 2
Or "clutch" if you prefer. This list is amazing to me. First, you have Butler, who is great, even if his own General Manager can't see that. Fourteen of his 29 home runs either tied the game or gave the Royals the lead. The fact that The Yunigma makes this list amuses me. Then, there is the absence of Moustakas who finished second on the team with 20 home runs. Only six Moustakas home runs gave the Royals the lead in the game. All six came in the first or second inning in scoreless ballgames.
Four Home Runs in a Game
April 25 at Cleveland (Butler 2, Hosmer, Gordon)
June 24 vs St. Louis (Moustakas 2, Francoeur, Butler) - The Royals lost that game 11-8.
August 11 at Baltimore (Gordon 2, Butler, Perez)
Most Frequent Road Park
Camden Yards - 12
Jacobs Field - 10
US Cellular - 9
Target Field - 7
Angel Stadium - 7
The Royals had seven road games in Baltimore. They had nine each in Cleveland, Chicago and Minnesota.
Hopefully next year we manage to catch Quintana and Sale each time we play the Sox.
Chris Getz Home Run Tracker
1,025 - The number of plate appearances for Chris Getz since his last home run. It was hit on July 19, 2009 against Jeremy Guthrie.
Flash-forward to spring training or June or July of this season. Jed Lowrie is traded to Oakland or Baltimore or any number of places and there's not a major league-ready shortstop coming back to Houston in return.
Or, in another scenario, Lowrie suffers another severe injury and has to miss significant time next season. Where does that leave the Astros? Who fills in at shortstop? Jonathan Villar probably needs at least half a season in the minors before he gets called up. Tyler Greene has the bat at home, but his defense could leave something to be desired.
That leaves Marwin Gonzalez, a Rule 5 pick who played a little last season and got some time at short. He certainly looks the part of a major leaguer with a big frame and good arm, but does that mean he'll be a good fit to start for Houston? What did the Astros see out of him last year and could it make him a viable option if things go sideways with Lowrie?
Let's break things down into three categories.
Heading into last season, Gonzalez had a reputation as a pretty good defender in the minors. He didn't have the flashy plays that someone like Villar did, but he made all the routine plays and showed the same propensity in 347 innings at short last year.
The defensive metrics we have show that he was perfectly average. He had no positive or negative defensive runs saved at short, and his UZR was right around zero. What does that tell us? Well, here's a snippet from an interview with Tom Tango at ESPNChicago:
The issue with the fielding stats that we have now is that we have to infer a lot simply because we aren't recording enough. You'd rather record the fielder's positioning rather than infer it. You'd rather know how many hops a ball takes to get to the shortstop rather than infer it. Basically, all the things we see and we know and we take for granted as a baseball fan isn't being recorded. Even something as simple as hangtime took forever to finally get recorded. You and I know looking at a seven-second lazy flyball is going to be caught by every outfielder in MLB, and is therefore noise. But, if the systems aren't being told that it was a seven-second flyball, it tries to guess based on other parameters on its difficulty, and therefore might suggest it had a 90 percent of being caught rather than 99.9 percent. Instead of that data being treated as noise, the fielding system treats it as valid useful data.
But, just because a metric has bias or noise doesn't mean we should discard it altogether. We need SOMETHING. As long as the bias and noise isn't too extensive, then something is better than nothing.
If we've got reports that Marwin is solid defensively and then see the metrics saying he had a perfectly average season, that tells us something, right? We can't predict how Marwin will do with an increased innings load, and we can't predict that he'll stay as average as he looked last season.
In 219 plate appearances last season, Gonzalez hit .234/.280/.327 with two home runs, 29 strikeouts and 13 walks. That's good for a walk rate of 5.9 percent and a strikeout rate of 13.2 percent. Both of those numbers match his career numbers from the minor leagues, suggesting that his patience should stabilize around this rate in more playing time.
It's the bat that could improve. Don't expect Gonzalez to hit many home runs. His two last season was pretty much par for the course in the minors. But, I do think you can expect him to hit a bit higher than .234, seeing as his BABiP was one of the lowest of his career.
His line drive rate was decent at 19 percent and a slight uptick in him BABiP could lead to a .270/.330/.320 line pretty easily. That's not great, but it would be playable in the short term.
Add in decent speed numbers, despite not being very good at stealing bases, and Gonzalez would be an offensive plus at short if he can keep up those average defensive numbers.
Here's the rub. Gonzalez has never had more than 465 plate appearances in a single season. He got just 262 between Triple-A and the majors last season, so there's not telling how he will hold up over 500-600 plate appearances or if he'd be able to make it that far without getting injured.
There's no reasons he couldn't, though. Just because a young guy hasn't played that much doesn't mean he can't. We just have to adjust the likelihood down a bit.
Could Marwin start? By all indications, he'd be perfectly normal and average at the position. Given the lack of shortstops on the free market at any given time, having a backup plan who can provide average production at a premium position is very handy.
At the very least, Marwin showed enough last season that he could be a capable fill-in for however long the Astros need him. If that's until Villar is ready or until Lowrie comes back from an injury, they shouldn't be hurt by having to play him at short for an extended time this season.
Today is the last day of January and a player that ESPN’s Keith Law ranked as the fourth best free agent, still has still not found a team to sign with. That player would be Michael Bourn, whom played with the Atlanta Braves in the 2012 season. Bourn posted a career high 6.4 WAR last [...]
Rollie Fingers 1976 Topps Jeez, talk about a card design and photo that looks like they were made for each other… This is Rollie Fingers’ base card from the 1976 Topps set. And it looks like it was custom-made for … Continue reading →
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As I traveled to St. Louis last Saturday and drove around Busch Stadium, many thoughts stated to race through my mind about a great St. Louis Cardinal baseball player. Often, on my way home from high school, I'd plug my transistor radio into my ear and listen to a Cardinal baseball game. And the sound of the crowd made me want to be there.
He was nicknamed "Stan The Man," and he played with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1946-1963. He was one of the greatest hitters of all times and a consistent hitter which is what Cardinal fans loved. In his baseball career he hit 475 home runs and tied the All Star selection lists with Willie Mays. A 3x National League Most Valuable Player he was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.
Last Saturday, at 93, his funeral was held in St. Louis where thousands of fans paid tribute to this great man at Busch Stadium. Surely, his presence in baseball will be missed.
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The Miami Marlins may have destroyed the major league team's chances in the 2013 and 2014 seasons with their mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The team's major league group is decimated and loaded with pseudo-rookies at best around Giancarlo Stanton, and while players like Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Adeiny Hechevarria have potential, none are guarantees to be major league contributors. Back in 1998 and 1999, the Fish had to try a lot of different players at various positions before rooting out the top prospects for consistent roles on the major league team, and that process will likely be repeated in 2013 and 2014.
But you cannot argue that the Marlins did not give themselves as good a chance as they could to reload the franchise. The team's dearth in the minor leagues was resolved with just one trade, and now the Marlins are likely better set for seasons in the distant future than they would have been without the trade. Off-field implications aside, the Marlins were able to fill more holes in their flawed roster with this move; it simply took talent (with the benefit of shrugging off a lot of salary) to accomplish this.
The fact that the Marlins turned around the team's minor league organization is evidenced by their suddenly high ranking among the other teams in baseball. John Sickels of Minor League Ball recently ranked all the minor league organizations for the second time, and the Fish did pretty well for themselves. The number at the front is this year's ranking, while the number in parentheses is the previous year's ranking.
8) Miami Marlins (29): Quick turnaround here. Strengths: star power at the top with Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. Trades have added some depth (Marisnick, Nicolino, Hechavarria, Dietrich, Brantly). Some sleeper pitching arms (Charlie Lowell, Mason Hope). Weaknesses: much of the improvement is due to trades and not internal development, especially on the hitting side.
As Sickels mentions, this is quite a fast turnaround for an organization that, just one year before, was clearly among the worst in baseball. The Marlins last year had Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez, and not much else, and neither Yelich nor Fernandez were that highly-ranked. Thanks to their extremely positive developments this year, Yelich and Fernandez have leaped into top-20 or top-30 prospect contention, making both players quite valuable to the Marlins' future.
Many other sources are in agreement with regards to the turnaround made by the Marlins. The recently-released MLB Top 100 Prospects list by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo includes a whopping six Marlins players in the top 100 prospects, including Fernandez and Yelich at sixth and 13th, respectively. Overall, the top-100 presence by the Marlins ranks them fifth among all teams in their "prospect points" weighted ranking system, behind only the Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, and Minnesota Twins. In Sickels's rankings, all four of those teams ranked ahead of the Marlins in overall organization rankings, with the Cardinals, Mariners, and Rays being the top three teams overall.
But we already suspected all of this long before the "official" rankings came out. I mentioned earlier how the Marlins did a great job restocking their farm system with talent and improving their stock for the future with this trade. This no doubt makes the prospects of competing in 2015, 2016, and beyond much greater. The fact that the Marlins have jumped into a top-10 minor league organization after languishing for years is nothing but a positive sign when looked at in a vacuum.
However, aside from concerns that the Fish will never be able to recover from their reputation among players or from Jeffrey Loria's meddling, there is one real concern that Sickels brings up in his blurb on the Marlins' minor league organization. While the Marlins did benefit from breakout years by Fernandez and Yelich, much of the team's turnaround was due to the acquisition of prospects via the fire sale trade. Most of the team's top ten prospects were newly acquired players, with only four of them being homegrown talents. While the top two prospects took big leaps forward, a number of other players declined, including former important prospects Chad James and Noah Perio. Most other prospects remained more or less level in potential versus current production.
In other words, the Marlins gained very little when you do not consider the players they acquired. This is important because this continues a trend from which the team suffered for many years. The Marlins famously failed multiple drafts in the mid- to late-2000's, culminating in a number of weak promotions to the majors. From 2010 on, it seems the Fish have done better, but now that the team is back to its penny-pinching ways, the minor league system will once again be depended upon to supplement this team in the big leagues.
This is the fifth in my series on possible extensions for the Braves' young core players. Here are the links to part one (on Martin Prado, alas), part two (Jason Heyward), part three (Freddie Freeman), and part four (Kris Medlen). In the last post, by the way, 73% of TC readers favored extending Medlen at the cost I proposed ($27M over 4 years).
In 2012, Craig Kimbrel posted one of the most mind-bogglingly great relief seasons in history. Few would doubt that he is now the most dominant closer in baseball. Add in the fact that he's only 24 (he turns 25 in May) and has yet to enter arbitration, and Kimbrel is one of the Braves' most valuable players.
Normally, when you have a young player who dominates his position, you'd be eager to lock him up to a long-term extension. However, Kimbrel's position--relief pitcher--adds a huge amount of uncertainty to future projections, which makes such extensions very dicey.
I talked in the last post about how all pitchers are risky long-term, but that goes double (or triple) for relievers, who are infamous for their volatility even in absence of injury. As we'll see below, performance declines among top young relievers are more the rule than the exception.
Still, Kimbrel is a unique talent, and as we've seen the past two years, his peak performance is far greater than most relievers can ever dream of. He could be that rare reliever who's worth the risk of a long-term deal even if he declines from his present levels.
The contract I'm proposing will be a 4-year deal that will buy out Kimbrel's last pre-arbitration year (2013) as well as his 3 arbitration seasons. I'm also tacking on two team option years that would cover his first two seasons of free agency, a fairly common practice that gives the Braves some added upside to help offset the risk of injury or decline.
I'll use the same three criteria from the previous posts to determine a fair value for the contract:
Let's start with the simplest of these questions:
To a large degree, this depends on how much value one places on having a dominant force in high-leverage, late-inning situations. By the common standards of free agent closers, Kimbrel's value would be stratospheric. If Jonathan Papelbon is worth $13 million per season and Rafael Soriano is worth $14 million, then what's Kimbrel worth right now? $20 million per year?
As many more sabermetric-friendly teams and analysts have noted, however, free agent closers and set-up men are overpaid (up to twice as much as any other position in free agency). As great as Papelbon is (by reliever standards), you'd be hard-pressed to find folks outside of the Phillies' front office who think he's going to live up to that contract. It's quite difficult to be worth $10M+ per year if you're only pitching 60 to 70 innings.
Of course, Craig Kimbrel really has been worth $10M+ each of the last two seasons. By Baseball-Reference's version of Wins Above Replacement, he totaled 5.5 WAR in 2011-12; by FanGraphs' WAR, he's been even more incredible, with a total of 6.8 WAR. Even using a conservative estimate of $4.5M per win, Kimbrel has been worth $12-15M per year. Given the even more expensive rates typically paid to free agent relievers, Kimbrel's performance could be "worth" well in excess of $20M per season.
Kimbrel's other numbers are off the charts, too:
* FIP+, like ERA+, adjusts for park and league and sets 100 as average, with each point above 100 equal to 1% better than average. I converted FanGraphs' FIP- stat to FIP+ for better comparison with ERA+.
I think Kimbrel broke those "+" stats. He hasn't just been 50 or 90 percent better than the league average, he's been 169 percent (by ERA) to 213 percent (by FIP) better than average. It's hard to even picture what that means, so let's just say that Kimbrel's pitched about as well as it's possible to pitch.
As you may have noticed, Kimbrel's FIP is even more microscopic than his ERA. While FIP is an imperfect way of measuring relievers (I don't think it's really equipped to handle extreme K rates like Kimbrel's, for instance), it's still much better in small samples than ERA. Certainly FIP gives no indication that Kimbrel's awesome ERA is fluky, or bound to regress toward a less-outstanding mean.
It's a tiny sample--only 160 innings--but what it tells us is that Kimbrel's value isn't so much determined by his performance as it is by the market's upper-limit on reliever salary. Given that the highest reliever salary of all time is the $15M once paid to Mariano Rivera, let's use that number as our baseline. Adding in a 20% extension discount, and Kimbrel's salary in the extension would top out at $12M per year.
Using the 40/60/80 arbitration rule of thumb, a $12M per year value translates to $4.8M in the first arbitration year, $7.2M in the second, and $9.6M in the third. Add in a token raise to $1M for the 2013 season and some option buyouts and we have a total contract value of about $24M over 4 years.
Of course, it's far from certain that Kimbrel will continue to dominate like this for the next 4 years.
Kimbrel's career has been so singular to date that it is difficult to come up with a good comparison. In the end, I settled on a group of players that had met all of these criteria through their age-24 seasons:
The first component winnows the field down to only very successful relievers. The last component ensures that we're not comparing Kimbrel to swing men or '70s/'80s closers who pitched multiple innings regularly.
In the end, I got a group of 21 comparable pitchers* ranging from Francisco Rodriguez to Joe Smith. Here's the full list. Kimbrel's performance is definitely on the high end, but overall it's still a solid comparison group. All of these guys were good at a young age.
Here are the average stats for the pitchers in the comparison group. WAR/70 and WPA/70 pro-rate those stats to 70 IP, which is about a full season for a closer. (I used B-Ref's WAR and WPA calculations.)
Kimbrel is elite even when compared to this excellent group of players. Only one player in the group (Joakim Soria) had a higher WAR/70 or WPA/70 than Kimbrel (K-Rod had the same WPA/70). No one even came close to Kimbrel's K%, ERA+, or FIP+. All that was bound to happen, though; literally no one can match some of those numbers.
While Kimbrel may well be an incomparable pitcher, it is still useful to see how this group of "comparables" did in the years after this sample. Specifically, we want to know how they fared in their age-25 through age-28 seasons--the years that this proposed extension would cover.
Those are supposed to be the peak years of a typical player's career, yet the comparison group did not improve at all (see the full results for each player here):
The group declined in every facet of a pitcher's game. They walked more, gave up more homers (and hits), and struck out fewer. The end results were still pretty good, but the ERA+ went down by 34 points. Part of that was no doubt a regression to the mean, but the average FIP+ declined by 15 points, so the group actually pitched worse as well.
I should note that the innings pitched average is inflated somewhat by a couple guys--Byung-Hyun Kim and Ryan Madson--who made a significant number of starts. Remove them and the average IP is only 193, or about 48 IP per year on average. In other words, these pitchers put in around 3 full seasons in the 4-year period thanks to injury and ineffectiveness.
That mirrors the results I got for Kris Medlen's comparison group. Apparently if you're giving a pitcher a long-term deal, you should count on him missing about 1 year in every 4. That's just part of the bargain.
Of the 21 pitchers, only Armando Benitez and Joe Smith improved their FIP+ marks (or their ERA+ marks, for that matter). Seven had relatively small declines (<10 points) in their FIP+, and four had modest declines (10-20 points). Finally, more than 1/3 of the group--8 players--had a FIP+ decline of more than 20 points.
The group's performance was similarly dire when measured by WAR/70 (3 improvements) and WPA/70 (4). On average, the group lost 0.8 WAR/70 and 1.2 WPA/70 off their previous levels.
If we price in a moderate decline of 0.8 WAR/70 for Kimbrel relative to his performance to date, he'd still be worth around 1.9 WAR/70 going forward. If we assume he'll be healthy, that's a total of around 7.6 WAR; if we assume he'll miss a year, that's more like 5.7 WAR (or ~1.4 WAR/year on average).
Those numbers imply a free agent salary of just $6-9M per year using the $4.5M/win figure, but taking into account the high price of relievers, perhaps $9-12M per year is more realistic. With a small extension discount, that would imply a total contract in the $16-20M range.
Either way, the Braves shouldn't expect Kimbrel to be as dominant four years from now as he is today, even if he does manage to avoid a major injury.
Extensions for young, team-controlled relievers are fairly rare. I could only find a few instances in the last 5 years in which a team has extended a reliever with multiple years of team control remaining. The lucky players? Sergio Santos, Carlos Marmol, Joakim Soria, and Manuel Corpas. Here's how their contracts stack up (TO stands for "team option years"):
^ This is the player's age during the last season before the deal.
* Plus multiple team options years. Corpas' deal had 2 option years, while both Soria's and Santos' had 3.
On the one hand, you could say that the teams who gave out these contracts were fairly smart. They included lots of team options with cheap buyouts (none more than $750k), and they kept the salaries from getting too crazy (by free agent standards, anyway).
On the other hand, three of these pitchers have already a major injury during their contracts. Santos got hurt practically as soon as he signed his deal. Even the lone healthy pitcher, Marmol, has been highly erratic since signing his deal two years ago. The Soria deal worked out well for the Royals despite the injury and it's too soon to tell on the Santos deal, but overall, this group of contracts doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Kimbrel does compare favorably with this group of pitchers (as he does with any group of relievers), though. If we use this group as a starting point, a Kimbrel contract would look something like this:
That works out to a total of $18M guaranteed over 4 years, with a chance of pushing the total value to $36.5M over 6 years (or more, with some performance bonuses). It also gives Kimbrel a higher top-end yearly salary ($10M) than the guys above while simultaneously allowing the Braves to avoid guaranteeing that salary.
Obviously, if Kimbrel is still pitching at 2011-12 levels in 2017-18, this deal will be a colossal bargain for the Braves. That is an Antonio Alfonseca-sized if, however, based on the history of relievers.
I have no doubts about Kimbrel specifically; just to reiterate, he is the best reliever in baseball. It's simply the reality of relief pitchers. They get hurt a lot, and even the healthy ones have a spotty track record. Kimbrel could pile up Mariano Rivera-like numbers in his career... but he'd be beating the odds if he did so. There's a reason that Rivera is so revered; it's incredibly rare for a reliever to maintain dominance for a decade-plus.
The deal described above is strange in that it seems like a bargain (compared to free agent closer contracts), but it also has a high chance of blowing up. Can a mid-market team like the Braves afford to take that kind of a risk on a closer? While it would be wrong to call Kimbrel "replaceable," the 2017 Braves may be better off allocating Kimbrel's salary to other positions of need and going with a cheaper (but worse) closer.
Even if the Braves do want to keep Kimbrel around and are willing to pay him many millions to do so, they may want to wait before offering him an extension. After all, he's not even arbitration-eligible this year, and he still has 4 seasons of team control remaining. Why not wait a year and see if Kimbrel is still healthy and dominant? That's not a big risk, since it's unlikely that Kimbrel will pitch better in 2013 than he did in 2012. He may well be at his peak value now, and you'd always prefer not to lock guys up at their peak value.
Personally, if I were the GM, I wouldn't feel that motivated to extend Kimbrel. That might change if we made the deal even more team-friendly, such as by switching to a 3 guaranteed years / 3 team options years structure (a la the Soria and Santos contracts). Otherwise, though, I'd rather take my big-money risks on position players and guys closer to free agency. (If I were Kimbrel, I might prefer to play it year-to-year, too, and see how high my arbitration salaries could get.)
What do you guys think?
Since the Braves rose to prominence in 1991, they haven’t made a lot of big offseason splashes. Their teams were mostly built from within, bringing in talent from a strong farm system. The 2012-2013 offseason stands out as one of…[...]
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