Monthly Archives: January 2011

Some thoughts on the Red Sox roster: Bullpen and shortstop

Somewhere around the time when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in a couple weeks, I’ll be starting my annual team previews.  I will admit that this year, I come armed with more knowledge of advanced statistics than ever before.

I’ve literally been studying the stuff for the past year.  It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them before, but now I understand them as well.  As far as I’m concerned if you’re in the camp that refuses to look at modern statistics, then you’re going to be left behind, quickly.

This may sound incredibly geeky, but in order to properly perform these previews/predictions, I have to compile some data into chart form, like I did here for the Boston Red Sox earlier today.  In compiling this chart a few things struck me that I’ll elaborate on here since there is literally nothing else to talk about; unless Justin Duchscherer signing in Baltimore is considered overly noteworthy.

First off, after literally becoming one of the best closers in baseball over night a few years ago, Jonathan Papelbon has been seemingly left for dead by many analysts close to the Red Sox.

Rumours continue to surface that the Red Sox are may be shopping him and many speculate that he’ll be traded at some point this year; especially if Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks prove capable of handling the closer’s job.

I would like to make three observations about the Red Sox bullpen: 1) Remove ERA and Bard was not much better than Papelbon last season which suggests that Papelbon wasn’t as bad as people said he was and that Bard wasn’t as good.  2) Bobby Jenks may have had the best season of any current Red Sox reliever in 2010; bear with me, I’m not crazy. 3) Outside of those three guys and maybe Dan Wheeler (who I think is a tad overrated) there is a shocking lack of depth in the Red Sox ‘pen and their left-handed situation is downright scary

Another observation I have about the Red Sox involves their shortstop situation.  Conventional wisdom would tell you that Marco Scutaro will be the close-to-everyday shortstop, given that he’s being paid the money to play there, but taking a quick look at the numbers it’s quite obvious that Jed Lowrie should be given every opportunity to start there in 2011.

Okay, so I’ve uttered four things here that I should now go about backing up.

1)      Bard and Papelbon were more comparable in 2010 than people think

Looking strictly at ERA, one could easily draw the conclusion that Bard was far superior to Papelbon in 2010, which likely feeds the notion that Papelbon should be traded in favour of Bard becoming the new closer.  Papelbon posted his worst ERA since taking over the role at 3.90, while Bard posted a surreal 1.93.

I have no doubt that Bard would be a fine closer and in fact, he is a great pitcher, but before every Red Sox fan jumps unknowingly off the Jonny Paps bandwagon, take a look at the peripherals for each pitcher last season.  Let’s play a little Pitcher A vs. Pitcher B.

Pitcher A: 67.0 IP, 10.21 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, 2.72 K/BB, 0.94 HR/9, 3.51 FIP
Pitcher B:  74.2 IP, 9.16 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, 2.53 K/BB, 0.72 HR/9, 3.37 FIP

Pitcher A is Papelbon and Pitcher B is Bard.  Bard’s numbers are very marginally better, but certainly not by much, if at all.  It’s clear that Papelbon’s 3.90 ERA and Bard’s 1.93 ERA were on either end of the misleading scale.

Papelbon’s numbers did decline slightly in 2010, but after the ridiculous stretch he had between 2006 and 2009, you had to expect that eventually he’d come back down to earth a little.  All signs point to Papelbon’s ERA rebounding in 2011.

2)      Bobby Jenks may have had the best 2010 of any current Boston reliever

Now, stick with me here.  I know how bad Jenks’ 4.44 ERA in 2010 looks, but seriously, look outside of that.

Jenks had a higher K/9 rate than both Bard and Papelbon at 10.42, a better BB/9 rate at 3.08, a better HR/9 rate at 0.51 and a much better FIP at 2.59.  He also posted a GB% at 58.3 which when combined with his stupidly good K/9 rate illustrates that he rarely, if ever, gives up a fly ball; that will play well in Fenway

I criticized the Red Sox signing of Jenks to a two-year deal earlier this winter, but looking at those numbers it becomes harder to do so.

3)      The Red Sox bullpen is scarily thin

Yes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better back end than the one in Boston, but outside of those three pitchers, there isn’t much.  Scott Atchison, Tim Wakefield, Dan Wheeler, Hideki Okajima, Matt Albers and Michael Bowden all had FIPs above 4.10 and none were particularly good.

Wheeler’s tendency to give up the long ball will be further exposed with the move to Fenway and any bullpen that plans on using Atchison as much as they will scares me.  This is not to mention that Tim Wakefield looks to be on his way out of baseball after a fine career.

Then there’s the lefty situation.  As of now, the only lefty that seems to have a real shot at cracking the roster is Okajima.  At 35 and coming off a 4.64 FIP year that saw his numbers fall dramatically across the board, that shouldn’t scare any lefty-heavy lineup *cough* Yankees! *cough.*

Essentially having three closers does help that situation as all three are solid against left-handed hitters, but having one shut-down lefty is essential and right now they don’t have it.

The best options outside of Okajima are prospect Felix Doubront, who will likely return to AAA and continue to start, and non-roster invites Andrew Miller, Rich Hill and Randy Williams.  Scary.

4)      Jed Lowrie should start at shortstop over Marco Scutaro

This one’s probably the most obvious of my claims; Scutaro came back down to earth in 2010 after his career 2009 season.  No one should be surprised by this as Scutaro’s lofty numbers in 2009 were much higher than he’d ever approached before.

His slash line fell from .282/.379/.409 in 2009 with a .354 wOBA to a .275/.333/.388 line in 2010 with a .319 wOBA; more in line with his career averages.

With Jed Lowrie continually showing that he is becoming a solid offensive player, it’s time to give him a shot at playing every day.  Last season, Lowrie had a slash line of .287/.336/.429 with a ridiculous wOBA of .393.

He may not be great defensively, but neither is Scutaro who posted a -4.8 fielding rating at short last season.

It’s time to put Scutaro back into a role he can excel at: utility infielder.  Putting him there increases his value a lot, especially if another injury-plagued season rears its ugly head in Boston.

Another concerning element to the 2011 season in Boston has to be their catching situation.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek might be the worst catching duo in the league.

I still think the Red Sox are the favourite in the AL East, but it’s not as convincing as I thought it was.

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As Figgins rumours swirl, Jays surface in talks: Why Kouzmanoff would be a nice fit.

I’m pretty sure that if Honus Wagner were to resurrect himself from the grave and announce a comeback, Alex Anthopoulos would “kick the tires” on his services.  “…maybe on an incentive-laden” deal would be the twitter cry from fans.

A couple days after speculation arose that the Jays may be interested in the Rangers’ Michael Young (albeit totally aimless speculation), the Jays are said to be involved in trade talks for another third baseman or two.

Rumours began to swirl earlier today that the A’s were in talks with the Mariners about the services of infielder Chone Figgins.

Figgins was signed to a 4-year/$36-million deal in December of 2009 by Seattle and started off the contract by putting forth the worst season of his career.

Obviously, it’s in the best interest of a rebuilding team like the Mariners to try and unload that contract and surprisingly, it appears as though they have a taker in Oakland.

Then rumours began to surface that a third team was involved in the trade talks and of course, that team was the Blue Jays.

Speculation immediately arose among fans that the Jays could be the team acquiring Figgins, but this probably isn’t the case.  Figgins is guaranteed $26-million over the next three seasons and could receive a fourth season worth $9-million if he reaches 600 plate appearances in 2013.  Just like with Young, it’s unlikely that Anthopoulos wants a contract of that nature on a player who has shown he’s in sharp decline.

However, if the A’s were to make room for Figgins, the speculation is that they would trade third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, which is more than likely where the Jays come in.

Kouzmanoff avoided arbitration with the A’s on the 18th when he re-signed for $4.75-million; a more than manageable salary.

People will point to Kouzmanoff’s .283 on-base percentage in 2010 and his career mark of .302 as a reason to stay away from him, but he might be a nice fit in Toronto.

He’s only guaranteed for this season and has one more year of arbitration eligibility left, he is miles better defensively than both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista who are the current in-house candidates to man the position, and he’s spent his whole career in heavily-slanted pitcher’s parks (three seasons in San Diego’s Petco Park and last season in Oakland’s Coliseum).

In fact, a quick look at his home and road splits in his career tell you he may be a much better offensive player in Toronto.

At home, Kouzmanoff has a .242/.288/.386 line, while on the road his line is .272/.315/.461, making for a 113 OPS+ away from two of the most notorious pitcher’s parks in the game.

A move to a noted hitter’s park such as Rogers Center could really help Kouzmanoff and he’d be a great fit for the Jays.

No word yet on who would be sent back to Oakland and Seattle in a potential deal, so far things appear to be fairly undeveloped.

Do the Jays want to get Young-er? I’m so Punny.

There’s been an idea floating around the interwebbing tubes since the Vernon Wells trade and it seems to have intensified since Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos flipped Mike Napoli to the Rangers for Frank Francisco.

This idea had only really been proposed by a few bloggers and blog commenters and by some in-passing tweets, so I was willing to let it slide without comment, but now someone close to the Jays with knowledge of them has brought this idea to the forefront.

I picked up a copy of the Toronto Star yesterday and Jays’ columnist Richard Griffin wrote an article asking if Rangers infielder Michael Young could be the next piece of the puzzle in T.O.

Could it happen? Michael Young playing third base for the Blue Jays on opening day 2011 and Jose Bautista moving back to his preferred position of right field?

So, what Mr. Griffin is essentially saying here is that he thinks the Jays are logically looking at acquiring Young, but a couple things don’t quite jive here.

First off, the Jays and Rangers just completed the deal for Napoli and Francisco.  Although it’s possible that they may hook up on a deal in the future, I firmly believe that if they were going to, they would have worked something out at that time.

Secondly, why would the Jays’ take on Young’s salary after finally unloading another contract that was considered an albatross for the franchise?  After shedding Wells’ remaining 4 years and $86-million, why would Anthopoulos then trade for another player who is two years older than Wells and is under contract for 3 more years and $48-million?

Thirdly, Young is not at all a fit for this team.  Yes, he’s a third-baseman and the Jays could, in theory, use another player who can man that position, but Young is 34 years old and horrid defensively.  In fact, Young was one of the worst defensive third-basemen in all of baseball in 2010.  Why do you think the Rangers went after Adrian Beltre?

Also, being that Young is in his mid-30s, he’s bound to start declining at the plate at any moment.  In fact, you could argue that he already is.  Take out his lofty 2009 numbers and it appears as though Young is losing his bat, slowly but surely.

In 2005, Young posted a career-best .899 OPS.  Since then, he’s posted OPS numbers of .814 in 2006, .783 in 2007, .741 in 2008 and .774 last season.

His home run and RBI numbers stay up, but everything else is slowly heading southward.  Young may not be declining as fast as some players but make no mistake, he will continue to get worse over the duration of his contract.  Couple that with his atrocious defence and that $16-million per season looks like almost as much of an albatross as Wells’ deal.

Griffin continues…

On the one hand, the Jays need a starting third baseman if they want to move Bautista back to the outfield — where he believes his future lies — and tempt him to stay. On the other hand, the Rangers need to dump significant payroll if they want to remain close to the comfortable $64 million to $70 million (all figures U.S.) in total salary they’ve had since 2006. Yes, they have new, financially sound ownership but already, with 17 players under contract, their 2011 payroll without Young is $75.1 million.

First off, the Jays have made no indication that they even want to sign Bautista long-term until they have a better idea of what they’re getting from him going forward.  The idea that acquiring Young would convince him to stay long-term is sort of missing the point and doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It assumes that Bautista would leave if the Jays don’t acquire somebody to play third and that’s a completely baseless assumption.

Secondly, Griffin states that “the Rangers need to dump significant payroll,” which is actually quite untrue.  The Rangers were ready and willing to fork over a lot of cash to keep Cliff Lee from walking and have stated publicly that they intend to increase the team’s salary going forward.

Griffin again…

Young is still their most expensive player. With the signing of Adrian Beltre and the trade with the Jays that brought Mike Napoli over in exchange for reliever Frank Francisco, all of a sudden the 34-year-old Young is a backup at both third and first base. He’s still listed as the No. 1 DH, but Napoli is a power option there. So why would the Rangers want to pay Young $48 million for the next three years as a part-time glove?

I’m not saying that the Rangers wouldn’t trade Young if they could, but they probably aren’t too worried about playing Young in a DH/1B role with Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland.  Considering Napoli will likely catch most often, Young will still have plenty of at-bats between the two positions; he’d hardly be a part time player.

Then Griffin goes off on a tangent that makes even less sense…

Need a clue that something with the Jays and Young could be in the works? Vernon Wells was asked during a Tuesday conference call where he’d been when Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos called to ask him to waive his no-trade clause, to consent to go to Anaheim in trade.

“I was at the Mavericks-Lakers game with my wife and, ironically, with Michael Young and his wife,” Wells said. “I got the call at halftime and missed most of the rest of the game.”

Ironically? Why would Wells use that word for something that was merely coincidental?

The reality of the financial crisis in Texas is that ever since the Rangers signed Beltre to play third, trading Young and his salary has been a distinct possibility. The Jays, after clearing the decks of the remaining $86 million on Wells’ contract — even including a reported $5 million cash payment to the Angels, even with taking two veteran salaries totalling $11 million off Anaheim’s hands — would have room for Young and his $16 million per over the next three years. If we’ve learned anything from Anthopoulos’s year-plus as GM, it’s that if there is a player of talent and controllability on the market, the Jays will ask about him and kick the tires.

Okay, so Wells and Young were together at a basketball game when Anthopoulos called Wells about the trade possibility.  Then Wells wrongly used the word “ironically” and Griffin took that as inside information that Young could be headed to the Jays.

I think Alanis Morrisette taught us that ‘ironic’ is the most misused word in the English language; we probably shouldn’t take that too seriously.

Do I doubt that Anthopoulos has kicked the tires with Young?  No.  In fact, I think his job as a general manager is to do just that, even if there is virtually no interest.  Not to mention that the Jays seem to be in on every rumour, no matter how small.

I’m sorry, but the Jays’ acquiring Young after finally unloading Wells would be counter-productive to the philosophy that Anthopoulos claims to be following.

If Young was a free agent, I think he’d be a spectacular pickup on a one-year deal for $5-million or less, but for three more years and $48-million?  Come on, Mr. Griffin, does that make any sense given the direction of the team?

Finally, Griffin subtly criticizes the Jays’ front office for essentially throwing in the towel on 2011 before the season even begins…

On Wednesday, SI.com named Anthopoulos baseball’s top winner of the 2010-11 off-season. That’s very nice, but as far as Jays fans are concerned, Anthopoulos needs to do far more heading into next season in terms of trying to win now. Should fans simply cancel their 2011 season tickets and come back in 2012 when they are ready to compete?

Last time I checked, a team with a lineup that includes the reigning home run king and plenty of talented hitters such as Yunel Escobar, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider as well as a rotation with some of the best young talent in the league and a stacked bullpen with plenty of serviceable arms was an exciting team to watch.

The Jays’ may not be a full-fledged contender today, but the potential is there very soon, and hell, they could surprise people even in 2011 with a talented club and a terrific minor-league system.

Given what Jays’ fans have endured since their last playoff appearance in 1993, 2011 should be viewed as nothing but a positive; and Anthopoulos should be lauded for the job he’s done since taking over for J.P. Riccardi in 2009.

Adding another overpaid player well into their declining years is not the answer; it’s in fact a blind step backward.  I would argue that Young would make the Jays only marginally better in 2011 and could weight them down significantly over the next few years.  Completely. Not. Worth. It.  It flat out flies in the face of logic.

Jays flip Napoli for Francisco, confuse the b’jesus out of everyone


Yesterday was a crazy day.  You see, I’m a graduate student.  A graduate student who needs to finish his incredibly complicated thesis on biased media coverage of unions within the next two months.  Throw onto that that my Graduate Assistant union is planning a massive rally to fight against budget cuts on Thursday (I’m the communication director for my union) and the fact that I have a pretty much full-time job as a writer and days like yesterday are bound to happen.

The Jays decided another fairly major trade was going to drop on the one day I had no time to comment.

Luckily, I have a small window of time this morning to go through it and I have to say, it’s a confusing one.

Just a little over three days after trading face-of-the-franchise Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, a deal I still love to death, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos flipped Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco.

There are two sides to this deal and I cannot decide which one I’m on.

On the one hand, I am a firm believer that Mike Napoli is extremely underrated both at the plate and in the field.  He also provided the Jays with something they needed; a proven catcher who could help ease J.P. Arencibia into his starting role and a guy who can hit left-handers well enough to start at first base and DH a few times a week.

Frank Francisco, however, comes to a team already stacked with right-handed relievers what with returnees Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Josh Roenicke, Casey Janssen, and Scott Richmond along with recent acquisitions Carlos Villanueva, Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch.

On the other hand, Francisco is a terrific pitcher; his xFIPs over the last three seasons are 3.34, 3.53, 3.31 and he has a career K/9 rate at 10.01, including 10.25 last season.

Francisco is also very solid against lefthanders posting a 2.93 FIP against them and holding them to a .203 opponent’s batting average.  He did, however, walk left-handers at a much higher rate than righties, still he’s good enough against them that taking only one lefty north with the team is a possibility.  That might not be the worst thing given the Jays are a little thin in that regard; really only David Purcey and Jesse Carlson are possibilities and neither should scare anybody.

I like Francisco as a pitcher a lot, but this is still a bit confusing.  My guess is that Anthopoulos isn’t quite done yet.  I said it before, perhaps Jason Frasor has pitched his last game in a Jays’ uniform; this seems to only add to that feeling.

It’s also possible that Napoli was resistant to signing in Toronto.  He is arbitration eligible and already submitted his number to MLB at $6.0-million.  Anthopoulos, on the other hand, has said he will only negotiate multi-year deals after the submission deadline for arbitration so it is conceivable that Napoli had no interest in signing for more than one year.

This, of course, is aimless speculation and the Jays could be in the same position with Francisco who filed for arbitration with the Rangers and was unable to reach a settlement with them before the deadline.

Either way, it would seem Anthopoulos has something else in the works.  I can’t see him breaking camp with 9 viable right-handed relievers.

Since Dotel and Rauch were just signed to deals, one would assume they aren’t going anywhere so that leaves the holdovers and Villanueva as possible trade bait.

I also think that a Vladdy Guerrero signing could be up-and-coming too.

As for the others:  Parkes is confused, as is Dakers, and Keri thinks it’s a win-win trade.

Which reliever would you consider moving if you had to move one (or two) of them?

Do you think this was a good trade?

No Time to Comment

Okay, so, today was not a good day for the Jays to break another trade.  I’m faaaar too busy to comment on the trading of Mike Napoli to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco.

I refer you to Mr. Parkes over at Getting Blanked for his analysis until tomorrow when I should have some time to post something.

Diamondbacks plan to use Micah Owings as both a pitcher and a first baseman.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit of information; according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, after re-acquiring him from the Reds, has announced that pitcher Micah Owings will play some first base as well as pitch this upcoming season.

Surely Towers is not the first person to have thought of this as Owings is probably the best hitting pitcher in baseball.  A lot of people have watched him hit and wondered if he could be both a hitter and a pitcher.

Well, the D’Backs are going to try it.

Owings has a career .293/.323/.538 slash line with a very good .365 wOBA and 9 home runs in 198 career plate appearances .

On the mound, Owings has a career 5.11 ERA and 5.03 FIP in 99 career appearances including 64 starts.  One could reasonably conclude that perhaps his ticket to staying in the majors is as a hitter.

There is one question that needs to be asked:  Does having a player as both a position player and a pitcher take his focus off of pitching?  Could it actually make him worse on both sides?

I guess we’ll find out.

When and if there’s a published story about this, I’ll post it and perhaps we’ll have more information.

Galarraga dealt to the Diamondbacks for prospects

I am from Windsor and recently I’ve been taking some flack for never having Tigers’ stories.  This is mostly because I’m not a Tigers’ fan, but I will comment on the Galarraga trade.

Before I do, I want to point out that I was going to write a piece on what I consider to be a terrible off-season for the Tigers, but Jonah Keri wrote this piece for FanGraphs today.  He’s not as hard on them as I would be, but it’s still a well-thought-out piece.

Plus, Jonah Keri rules so…buy his book in March.  It’ll be the new ‘Moneyball’.

Today, the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Armando Galarraga to the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-leaguers Kevin Eichhorn, a right-handed pitcher and Ryan Robowski, a left-hander.

Galarraga is well-known for his near-perfect game last season which was lost due to a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce.

Galarraga avoided arbitration with the Tigers by signing a one-year $2.3-million last week; he was then promptly placed on revocable waivers and designated for assignment.

For those who don’t know, revocable waivers is sort of a complicated process.  When someone is placed on them, he can be claimed by any team in the league.  If he is claimed by more than one team, the move is blocked; however, if he is claimed by only one team, there is a decision to be made.  The Tigers could have pulled Galarraga back, let him go to the Diamondbacks for nothing, or work out a trade with the claiming team.

This is probably the first move this offseason by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski that I like.  Galarraga had no place in the Tigers rotation for the upcoming year with the addition of Brad Penny and rather than non-tender Galarraga and effectively release him, the Tigers’ GM was able to turn him into two serviceable (albeit fringy) prospect pitchers.

Eichhorn is the son of former major-league pitcher Mark Eichhorn and was a two-way player in high school as both a pitcher and a short stop.  He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft by the D’Backs.

He is ostensibly a two-pitch pitcher possessing a fastball in the 88-91mph range with solid arm-side break and an average curve.  His command is advanced for a pitcher of his age (about to turn 21); he posted a very solid 1.9 BB/9 rate mostly with the Pioneer Rookie League’s Missoula Osprey.

Eichhorn is still a ways from the major leagues but might see action as high as AA this season if he continues to show improvement.  With only two effective pitches, he’s likely no more than a middle-reliever in the future.

There isn’t much info on Robowski out there, but he was a 16th round draft pick by Arizona in 2009 and posted a 5.17 ERA in 35 relief appearances in 2010 with high-class-A Visalia.

He’s slightly older than Eichhorn at nearly 23, but also exhibited solid command with a 2.7 BB/9 rate and a 3.19 K/BB ratio.

As for Galarraga, the Diamondbacks are getting a pitcher who can, when he’s on, dominate a game, but has trouble staying consistent.  He’s past the point where he can be considered a high-ceiling player, but the D’Backs are getting a pitcher with some experience who is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter on a decent team.