Category Archives: Aimless speculation

In a weak and expensive free agent market for starting pitchers, Danks and Floyd may be better options.

By Travis Reitsma

When C.C. Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees almost immediately after opting out of the remainder of his deal, making him the richest pitcher in baseball history, the free agent market for starting pitchers went from not great to bad.  Only two others achieved ‘Type-A’ status in Rangers’ lefty C.J. Wilson and the Phillies’ Roy Oswalt, who’s well past his prime and is a significant injury risk.

Another intriguing option is Japanese righthander Yu Darvish who is expected to be posted by his NPBL team sometime this offseason, but with a posting fee, Darvish could end up costing his North American team over $100-million; a risky proposition for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the Majors.  There are also ‘Type-B’ options Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Aaron Harang, Bruce Chen, and Freddy Garcia and other notables such as Erik Bedard, Aaron Cook, Bartolo Colon, Zach Duke, Livan Hernandez, and Jon Garland.

In other words, there are some decent options, but no game changers outside of Wilson and Darvish who probably aren’t true number one pitchers themselves.  The problem with trying to acquire starting pitching on the free agent market is just how expensive it is.  Take a look at these contracts given out to starting pitchers last year:

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Maple-Boner Alert: Joey Votto’s low homerun total is due to bad luck.

I don’t want to let my maple-boner show too much (said the guy whose website is called ‘Baseball Canadiana’), but Joey Votto is one of the best baseball players in the world.  That’s just a fact.

He won the MVP last season with some stupid numbers such as a 1.024 OPS, a .439 wOBA, 37 homeruns, and he didn’t hit a single infield fly ball all season.  Because of his ability to make solid contact nearly every time up to the plate, he’s a major exception to the rule that roughly 30% of all batted balls in play will land for a hit.  His career BABIP is .356.

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Is Snider’s demotion really about mechanics?

After a slow start to the season resulting in a .184/.276/.264 slash line, the Toronto Blue Jays have done the near unthinkable and sent their prized young outfielder Travis Snider back down to AAA Las Vegas.  The 23-year-old leftfielder had exhibited terrible mechanics at the plate this season and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos says that the best course of action is to let Snider work out those issues at AAA.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the Jays had any hope of contending this season, but the fact is, they do not.  This is a team with a very bright future, but presently, they aren’t any more than a .500 ballclub; if that.  It makes very little sense to send Snider back to a level where he has nothing to prove.

The last time Snider was at AAA was in 2009 when he tore the cover off the ball going .337/.431./663 with 14 homeruns in 204 plate appearances.  He simply has nothing left to prove at the minor-league level.

There is no doubt that Snider has struggled so far in 2011, but for the team to send him down after less than 100 plate appearances is downright con-fucking-fusing.  When looking at Snider’s batted ball and plate discipline statistics, most everything is similar to his career numbers.  The only thing that stands out as different is his infield flyball rate which has jumped from 10.5% in 2010 to 20.0% this season.  Like Anthopoulos said this morning in his press conference announcing the demotion, this suggests that his swing mechanics are on a serious fritz, but it still makes no sense to me to send him down.

Even though Anthopoulos has stated many times before that he will not hold a player in the minors to manipulate service time, this (and for that matter the Cecil demotion) stinks of a team trying to prevent players from reaching Super-Two arbitration status.*

As Dustin Parkes explains on Getting Blanked

“Snider entered this season with one year and 126 days of service time. A full year in a Blue Jays uniform would’ve meant two years and 126 days of service. Last season, the Super Two cut off was two years and 122 days, but experts say that 2011 will have a much later cut off, somewhere around two years and 144 days.”

For what it’s worth the difference between Snider’s and Cecil’s service time is two days.  I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but this seems fishy for a team with no thoughts of contending.  This is exactly the year that players like Cecil and Snider should be allowed to fail and work out their problems at the Major-League level.  In fact, in Snider’s case, Anthopoulos has stated many times that this is the year Snider will finally get 600 plate appearances at the major-league level; not anymore!

It’s probably exactly as it appears to be; that Snider’s mechanics at the plate are so messed up that the organization feels it’s best to send him down to fix his problems.  I still wouldn’t be totally surprised if this is a creative way for the team to save money by pushing Snider’s arbitration clock back a year.  Him struggling (and again, Cecil as well) just gave the organization the excuse to do it.

*- If you are unaware of baseball rather complicated arbitration process, check out this page for all you need to know.  You shall see the light unfold before you.

Did A’s ownership play their hand in the pursuit of Beltre?

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’ Moneyball for the second time.  I did this to remind myself why I should have been in Toronto this past week for Dustin Parkes’ Getting Booked: The Getting Blanked Book Club.

As it was, I was unable to make it to Toronto and was stuck wasting away here in Windsor waiting impatiently for spring to come.

For those who don’t know, Dustin’s book club was a resounding success and he even got a feature in Toronto’s Eye Weekly.

My point in bringing this up is that I wanted to see if Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane still practices what he preached all those years ago.

The A’s still run on a tight budget although not quite as tight as during the “Moneyball Era.”  The latest ownership group headed by real estate developer Lewis Wolff appears to be significantly more willing to spend money on the team than the last ownership group headed by Steve Schott.

But has this changed Beane’s philosophies on team building?  Does he still look for the cheap player that no one else in baseball sees value in?

Certainly the rest of baseball has caught on to what the A’s were doing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and many teams have tried (some more successfully than others) to ape it; on the other hand, many teams seem completely oblivious to modern statistics and ways of running baseball teams and remain entrenched in the past.  Many of those teams lose on the regular *COUGH* Cubs *COUGH* despite having a significant amount of money to spend.

But then again, the A’s haven’t exactly been tearing it up in recent years either; not that I fault Beane for that entirely, after all every team has a cycle, why should Beane’s system be immune from that?

But something in this past offseason involving the A’s caught my interest.  They seemed very keen on attracting free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to come play for them.

Is it just me, or does Beltre strike you as exactly the type of player Beane and his disciples have striven to stay far, far away from?

I’ve made the case in the past that Beltre has had two extraordinary years and a bunch of good years.  Taking away those two extraordinary years (2004 with the Dodgers and last season with the Red Sox), where Beltre had a slash line of .328/.377/.591, Beltre’s line is a much more pedestrian .264/.318/.435.

Beane’s main premise is to value guys who walk (and therefore get on base) a lot.  He has also sought young controllable players or players who come cheaply later in their careers when their peripheral skills are all but ignored by other teams.  Beltre is none of these.

A .318 on-base percentage outside of his two good years is not a desirable stat for those who like players who get on base a lot.  Beltre’s walk-rate is routinely well below average and will likely not reach higher than 6.5% (the league average is around 9%, something Beltre has not done since 2000).

Beltre was also commanding top-dollar and many years for his services, something the A’s seemed very willing to give him.  For a soon-to-be 32-year-old this struck me as odd.

Was Beane really behind the decision to go after Beltre?  Was ownership looking for a big name to try and draw people to that poor excuse for a baseball stadium in Oakland?  Or is it that Beane is losing his edge and patience after a few sub-standard years?

One or both of the first two seems most likely.

The reason I say Beane has not changed philosophies is that he’s still getting players otherwise undervalued by non-adapting franchises.  Just within the past year Beane has acquired players like Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham, two slow-footed defensively inept players who can take a walk and get on base with the best of them.

Both players walk at a rate well above the league average and are fully capable of hitting for power; the essence of the Beanian player.  Meanwhile they will be paid just $9.2-million combined, or roughly half of what Alfonso Soriano will make for each of the next four seasons with the Cubs.

Willingham has a career walk-rate of 11.6% and Jackson comes in at 10.5%.

Then there’s David DeJesus who was acquired earlier this winter from, who else, but the Kansas City Royals.

DeJesus is a familiar acquisition by Beane who has twice in the past taken outfielders away from the Royals.  All three times he’s given up practically nothing in return.  The first two times are, of course, the acquisitions of Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon.

Given the calibre of player that DeJesus is both offensively and defensively, it will probably surprise you that he’ll be making only $6-million this season.  With the new, apparently looser, purse strings now in Oakland, this is a totally reasonable amount of money to spend on an outfielder that perfectly fits the mould of a Billy Beane type of player.

The acquisitions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour give the A’s the best bullpen in baseball on paper along with Andrew Bailey, Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow, and Jerry Blevins; another staple of a Billy Beane team.

The pursuit of Beltre is a confusing one for this team and I think ownership heavily player their hand in it.  Methinks Billy Beane breathed a massive sigh of relief when Beltre inked a 5yr/$80-million deal with the Rangers even though they are, in my opinion, the A’s chief rival in the 2011 season.

Is anyone else super-psyched for Brad Pitt to play Beane in the upcoming Moneyball movie?  I know I am.

A look at the Rays’ bullpen

As promised, I will go over the Rays bullpen situation for 2011.  The reason I’m doing this, by the way, is because these are issues I won’t have time for come preview time.  I want to keep each preview in the 750-1000 word range so in-depth discussions of bullpens would be out of the question.

The Rays lost pretty much their entire 2010 bullpen, which ranked among the best in baseball.  Closer Rafael Soriano left to sign a $35-million deal with the Yankees to be Mariano Rivera’s setup man.  Surprise bargain find Joaquin Benoit cashed in with the Tigers for $16.5-million and went from best to worst bargain in the space of a year.  Dan Wheeler, meanwhile, signed with the Red Sox, Grant Balfour with the A’s, Chad Qualls with the Padres and both Lance Cormier and Randy Choate remain on the free agent market.

The only holdovers are J.P. Howell, who missed all of last season with shoulder surgery, and Andy Sonnanstine, who’s had trouble sticking with the major-league club since they got good.

But don’t fret Rays’ fans, you have the smartest GM in baseball and the bullpen might not be bad at all, in fact, it just might be better than it was last year; it’ll certainly be cheaper.

The free agent deals signed to former Rays’ relievers this offseason totalled over $65-million in guaranteed cash.  That is money the Rays can put toward signing the crazy amount of picks they’ll have in next June’s draft.

To replace those players, the Rays signed two free agent relievers: Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth.

Both, in my humble opinion, are fantastic signings.  Peralta was stupidly good in Washington last season posting a 2.02 ERA, a 3.02 FIP and a 5.44 K/BB ratio.  He also allowed only five home runs in 49 innings of work.

If he was a few years younger (he’ll be 35 on opening day) or had played in closer to 60 games rather than 39, he’d be cashing in similar to the way Benoit did.  As it is, the Rays got him for the bargain basement price of $900,000.  He’s better than Benoit and $15.6-million cheaper.

Then there’s Farnsworth: Yes, he’s easy to pick on.  He was once a sure-fire elite closing prospect and his career has seemingly been nothing but shattered expectations, but the Rays have grabbed him at the right time.

Even though he’ll be 35 just after Opening Day, Farnsworth has been getting progressively better over the past two seasons with Kansas City and Atlanta.  After posting a disastrous 5.49 FIP in 2008 with the Yankees and Tigers, Farnsworth has followed up with two spectacular seasons.  In 2009 he raised his K/BB ratio to 3.00, the third highest total of his career to that point and then bettered it in 2010 with a 3.21 mark.  Farnsworth has also posted fantastic FIPs in that span at 3.10 and 3.06.

The success he’s had over the last two years can be traced to better pitch selection.  He’s used his slider much less often (from 34.7% of the time in 2008 to 20.6% in 2009 and 12.4% in 2010) and has incorporated the use of a cutter in its place.  He’s also started using his changeup occasionally to keep hitters off balance and to be more successful against lefties.

Farnsworth will be paid $3.25-million in guaranteed money which is less than both Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch and also less than Chad Qualls.  A lot of experts didn’t like the deal, but this non-expert loved it.

Then there’s the rest.  Manager Joe Maddon has said he will use a “closer-by-committee” until someone steps up.  I never see this as a bad thing as I think situational closing is actually the best way to handle the position.

Peralta and Farnsworth will be joined by Howell who is a very effective lefty when healthy.  Andy Sonnanstine should also hold down a spot, possibly as a swingman.

Then there are a couple players that I think are primed to become elite relievers.  The first is Jake McGee.

McGee is a 24-year-old left-hander who has an electric fastball and a decent slider.  His inability to develop secondary pitches has all but ended his run as a starter, but his absolute dominance at times leads me to think that he’ll be an elite-level reliever in the majors very soon.

After a call-up to AAA around the middle of last season, McGee transitioned from a starter to a reliever and that’s when he started to show real promise.  In 11 games, McGee posted a 0.52 ERA with 27 Ks in 17.1 innings of work.  He also walked only three batters and allowed just nine hits.

He earned a September call-up to the big club where he allowed just one earned run over five innings of work, striking out six.  Even as a starter at lower levels, McGee posted surreal strike out numbers and showed decent command.  I fully expect him to step in and dominate at the major league level and perhaps even close out games regularly.

Mike Ekstrom posted a 2.79 ERA and 3.72 FIP at AAA in 39 games last season and also looked solid at the major-league level in 15 games, while Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos (both acquired from the Padres in the Jason Bartlett trade) could also be very good at the major-league level.

The team then has Rob Delaney, who was claimed off waivers from the Twins, and non-roster invites R.J. Swindle, Jonah Bayliss, Cory Wade and everybody’s favourite former Jay and part-time author Dirk Hayhurst.

The sheer depth of major-league-capable arms tells me that the Rays will have little trouble adapting to their free agent losses.  Guys like Peralta, Ekstrom and McGee should be more than capable of replacing what left.

Who’ll play first base for the Rays in 2011?

As I did with the Red Sox yesterday, I charted out the Rays current roster today in preparation for my upcoming previews (which tentatively will start February 7th).

This, of course, coincided with the press conference introducing both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez as official members of the Rays, but I’m not here to talk about that; well, not mostly anyway.  We know that the Rays plan to use Manny as the DH and Damon in mostly a corner-outfield role, which will certainly yield hilarious results.  I do, for the record, love both signings as I think the two of them still have a lot left offensively and came so cheaply that I’m considering asking Rays GM Andrew Friedman to marry me on a count of his ability to run a baseball team.

But like I said, I’m not here to talk about that.

No, I want to talk about one area of concern for the Rays: First base.

The storyline this offseason for the Rays has been the departure of many key free agents.  Franchise staple Carl Crawford signed with division-rival Boston.  The franchise’s all-time home run leader Carlos Pena signed with the Cubs, and the bullpen was also gutted with the loss of closer Rafael Soriano and other relievers Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Chad Qualls, Randy Choate, and Lance Cormier.

But as we will soon know in more detail thanks to Jonah Keri’s upcoming release The Extra 2%, the Rays are a franchise that is built to absorb these types of losses.  You see my friends, the Rays are built like an onion; when one layer is peeled away, there is a fresh new layer of young talent ready to step up and take their place.

Trading from strengths for prospects and building through the draft are the cornerstones of this system.  Friedman and his staff were at it once again this offseason, trading from their two positions of strength, shortstop and starting pitching, to maintain a system that is expected to graduate the team’s top two prospects in Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson.

First, the Rays shipped shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Padres for a host of relief arms to help rebuild their bullpen and then they dealt starting pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs for a thief’s bounty of prospects, which allows the team the space to bring Jeremy Hellickson into the fold full time.

And all those free agents leaving means a boat-load of compensatory draft picks for the Rays.  They’ll actually have twelve of the first 93 picks in the 2011 draft, and eleven before the Tigers even make their first selection.

But let’s get back to the first base situation.

Carlos Pena had his worst season as a Ray last year, but was still able to sign for some healthy coin in Chicago leaving a gaping hole at first base in Tampa.

At first glance, it appears as though Dan Johnson is the most likely to take over there this season, which is frightening if you’re a Rays’ fan since he’s 31 and has all of 1429 plate appearances.

The good thing is that Johnson was a monster at AAA-Durham last year posting a surreal 1.054 OPS with 30 homeruns and 95 RBI in only 98 games.  The bad thing is that he has always been a good hitter at AAA, but it has yet to translate to the majors.  At his age, there’s a good chance it never does.

So what if Johnson fails miserably?  Well, the Rays just inked Casey Kotchman to a minor-league contract.

Kotchman had a disastrous season in 2010 with Seattle finishing with an atrocious slash line of .217/.280/.336.  On top of that, he wasn’t strong defensively, which was unusual considering just how good he had been as a first baseman in his career.

Kotchman has been around a while, but is still only 28 and in his prime.  With regular time, he should see a rebound to his career numbers of .259/.326/.392.  Not terrific, especially for a first baseman, but he may be a better option than Johnson for this year; he’s certainly a huge upgrade defensively.

Then there’s the intriguing option no one seems to be talking about: Chris Carter, formerly of the Mets and Red Sox.

Carter was once a highly touted outfielder in both Boston’s and New York’s system, but has fallen off the map in recent years.  He’ll come to camp, like Kotchman, on a low-risk minor-league deal.  He’s played more than enough first base in the minors to be considered an option there and last season posted a .263/.317/.389 line mostly in cavernous Citi Field while finding his way into 100 games with the Mets.

If Carter proves he can hit enough this spring, then he could break camp as an everyday player.  Kotchman and Johnson do have the inside track though.

Another good thing about the Rays lineup this season is its versatility.  Ben Zobrist can play anywhere but catcher effectively, Sean Rodriguez can play the middle infield and corner outfield spots, while Matt Joyce can play both corner outfield spots with ease which will give the Rays a lot of flexibility.

Not to mention that Dan Johnson can sort of play third base and Chris Carter, if he makes the team, can play the outfield.

The main area of concern, however, for the Rays has to be their bullpen.  I’ll go over why I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as people think later tonight or tomorrow.

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.