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How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

Jul 02, 13 How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

At the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked his advice to college students and graduates who want to break into the sports industry. His answer was short, simple, and quite striking: “Don’t.”

Cuban cited factors such as ridiculously low pay and saturation of the market among other reasons why graduates should not seek entry level positions in sports. While his response seemed like a candid remark that came off as a joke, there definitely was truth to his words.

I laughed when I first read the story of Cuban’s response. I thought, well of course, it is easy for a billionaire and owner of a sports franchise to say that. What about the students who are passionate about sports? And the die-hard fans that just want to get into the game? I was one of those students. I was doing everything possible trying to crack into a baseball front office.

A month after the 2012 Sports Analytics Conference, I received an offer to join the LA Angels. I would spend one full season, offseason, and spring training with the Angels before deciding that it was best to leave the position.

Although I am out of the sports industry and I do not wish to get back into it, I continue to receive LinkedIn messages and emails from students and recent graduates who are trying to break into the baseball industry – specifically into the baseball operations or player development part of a front office. I have the same advice for almost everyone who contacts me, so I decided to take the time to write an extensive and concentrated post on what I learned from breaking into the industry and being a part of the game.

Before I begin, here are a couple important items to understand before beginning your search for a job in a front office.

1) Being a “die-hard” fan is not a good enough reason to want to work in sports. It takes just a couple months on the job before you realize that it’s just a job and you can no longer be a real fan of the game anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to wake up and roll into a ballpark every morning for work. It’s surreal to have conversations on the regular with current and former players and coaches, especially when they are all-time greats or guys you grew up watching. But what happens after some time is that you become desensitized to the awesomeness, the same way your brand new car becomes simply a means for transportation after owning it for a few months. Be prepared to lose the ability to sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself while watching a game.

2) Why should you be hired by a MLB front office? Does your answer have anything to do with the fact that you are extremely passionate and hard working… you are willing to work for free… you are willing to work an unlimited number of hours per week… et cetera et cetera? Well good for you, because none of that makes you special. All those points are minimum requirements that are expected for anyone who works in the front office. So it is in your best interest to never mention any of those points in an interview because it just makes it sound like you don’t have any unique skill sets or knowledge that will add value to an organization.

Becoming A Unique Candidate

First of all, never settle. Understand what your worth is. This isn’t just for sports, but it is important for life in general. People will tell you to do whatever it takes to “get your foot in the door”. I really don’t like that phrase for a number of reasons, most importantly because majority of the time that phrase is simply another way of someone telling you that you should settle for the easiest and quickest option.

When people tell you it’s tough to get a job in baseball – they aren’t lying. It’s really difficult to get a front office internship. And I say internship because the majority of people will have to start off as an intern unless you can show that you are extremely unique. To be categorized as extremely unique, you either need to have extensive work experience in an analytic or baseball-related field or you need to have a really good connection in the game.

Either way, you need to distinguish yourself in some way in order to truly be considered as a candidate for a front office internship. There are many ways to do this but the general idea is that you NEED to show a team exactly how you can add value to the organization the first day you step into the office.

How To Add Value

If you want to work in the front office, make sure you understand the rules and regulations on how the front office operates. That means, read, re-read and analyze the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is extremely important for both baseball operations and player development.

Focus on the transaction-related elements of the CBA. You should understand exactly how every single transaction (trade, free agent sign, amateur sign, international sign, waiver claim, etc.) works. What are the basic rules of the transaction? Is there a grey area in the rule that teams can take advantage of? Become an expert on this.

Next, you need to prepare yourself to create an analysis report which shows you identifying an issue a team is dealing with and gives a detailed solution on how you can solve that issue. This is tough, but it will nearly guarantee you a job if executed correctly.

There are many ways to do this, especially if you already know a topic that you are interested in researching, but here is a rundown of what this process might look like if you are starting from absolute scratch.

Try to categorize each team into general groups based on the way their front office operates. Do this by studying each teams’ payroll initially to get an idea whether they are a big spending team (NYY), small market team (PIT), or somewhere in the middle (ATL). Next, study the GMs of each to get an idea of their strategy and biases. Example – the Angels are a big spending team but their front office is composed of folks coming from smaller market clubs (GM Jerry Dipoto from Arizona and AGM Matt Klentak from Baltimore). Therefore you can understand that comparing the Yankees front office to the Angels simply based on payroll is not necessarily accurate. You getting the point?

After getting a general understanding of each team in baseball, you can start identifying the common issues that teams face each year. Maybe you find that big market teams are busting on blockbuster free-agent signings at an abnormally high rate. Why is that happening? Is there difference in performance between players who sign long term contracts with new teams in free agency versus those who sign long term extensions with their existing teams? If your preliminary research shows that there may be something interesting here then run some numbers to do a full statistical analysis comparing the historical results between free agent contracts and contract extensions.

Another example is performing an analysis on spending in the MLB draft vs spending on amateur free agents in Latin America. You can start by filtering historic comparisons based on position, age, signing bonus, and stats. Does any of the data show statistically significant correlations?

There is a lot of leeway here of course. You need to be creative to come up with a relevant problem to solve and a statistically significant answer the that problem. Even if your solution isn’t perfect, what’s important is the process you went through to find that solution and what you learned through your experience.

You will succeed with this step if you find a topic that you are really passionate about, whether it is the amateur draft, rule 5 draft, international signings, waiver wire, DFA, minor league free agents, injury history and prevention, defensive metrics, catcher defensive metrics, etc. There are hundreds of areas in baseball that are in need of far more research and analysis.

Statistical Analysis

I’ve thrown this term around a lot and I understand that it sounds scary for people who don’t have confidence in their math skills. Good thing is, you can have average math skills and still conduct valuable statistical analysis. What’s even better is that there are plenty of ways to master programming skills and analysis tools for free online.

Start by understanding what stats are important and why they are important – You should be familiar with everything on the Fangraphs Library and start reading as many Baseball Prospectus articles as possible.

Beef up your Excel skills. Knowing how to make pivot tables and how to use vlookup is cool but if you are serious, get your hands on a VBA book and learn how to program macros.

Get an understanding of what SQL is. If you are going to start anywhere, this is probably the best way to go because nearly every team in baseball employs people with SQL skills in the front office.

Test out your skills by downloading free raw statistical data from Sean Lahman. You can also purchase various data including minor league stats and college stats from The Baseball Cube.

Learn How To Program

Need to learn SQL or VBA from scratch? Start with YouTube. You will be amazed at what you can learn on YouTube.

Other places to learn programming for free: Udacity, CodeAcademy, and Udemy.

In short, the more programming you know, the better off you will be. But please, MAKE USE OF YOUR PROGRAMMING SKILLS. What I mean by that is exactly what I have stated throughout this post – find a problem on your own and solve it using your skills.

Example – Victor Wang of the Cleveland Indians

Victor Wang is a prime example of exactly what I am talking about in this blog post. Long story short, he never played baseball past Little League and now just a year after graduating from college, he is the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting for the Cleveland Indians. Listed below are some of his writings which showcase his analysis on prospects which was good enough to catch the eye of the Indians front office while Wang was just a freshman.

Prospect Evaluation

Hidden Value of Prospects

Valuing the Draft

Prospects and Imperfect Information

Get People To Know You

Send your resume and sample work to everyone. You never know who is interested and who can get you a job. This may seem daunting because you will have to send (literally) hundreds of emails out, but it is actually not that difficult. Just a little time consuming.

Each team has a specific format for the emails of their front office employees. You just need to find out the format each team uses and then you have the email address for everyone in the front office. Here are some examples for the name Matt Smith: matt.smith@team.com msmith@team.com mattsmith@team.com

Using the front-office information pages on each team’s website along with a little research on google, you should be able to find out the email-address format for every team in the league.

Some teams change the format just for the GMs, Presidents, and Owners but that is fine because you really have no business sending them emails anyways. So who should you email?

I found the most success emailing people with the title Director of Baseball Operations and anyone below them. Very rarely (almost never) is the Assistant GM the right person to email. Don’t be shy to email multiple people in the same front office. I would suggest going for the Director of Baseball Operations, Director of Player Personnel, Coordinator of Baseball Operations, and any Assistants of Baseball Operations. These are usually the people who are reviewing resumes.

Don’t just email. Using snail mail can definitely be a winner. Some front offices have old school folks who will actually open up your mail and read what you have to say. It’s too easy to delete one of hundreds of emails that these folks are receiving on a daily basis. I recommend emailing at least 2-3 people in each front office and sending mail to at least two people in every front office.

Don’t Fall For The “Sport Management” Nonsense

What I mean by this is: There is never a right reason to get an undergraduate degree in sports management or even worse (dare I say) graduate degree in sports management. No degree can teach you what it is like to work for a front office, you simply just have to do it to learn how to do it. If that makes sense. The sport management degree is a waste of time and isn’t even respected by front offices these days. The only team I know that specifically targets sports management majors is the San Francisco Giants. They hire interns specifically from sport management programs in the Bay Area. Trust me though, those internships are not quality ones that you want to get.

Also, please don’t go to law school just because Theo Epstein did. If you want to add a degree or add skills to your arsenal, the best thing to do is study computer science and engineering with a minor or double major in Spanish. Every team needs statistical analysts who have love for the game, a thorough understanding of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, mastery of sabermetric statistics, and programming knowledge to manage and manipulate data. Law school or sport management degrees won’t directly help you with that.

Assumptions

You do not come from a professional playing background: Typically players fresh off the field are able to jump right into a player development / scouting role with a front office.

The hiring team is in the 21st century and embraces advanced statistical analysis. This is the case with almost all teams with some exceptions being Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami (I believe). Possibly Atlanta as well.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Please send me a message if you currently work in baseball and feel that I left something significant out of this post.

    read more

    How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

    Jul 02, 13 How To Get A Job In A MLB Front Office

    At the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked his advice to college students and graduates who want to break into the sports industry. His answer was short, simple, and quite striking: “Don’t.”

    Cuban cited factors such as ridiculously low pay and saturation of the market among other reasons why graduates should not seek entry level positions in sports. While his response seemed like a candid remark that came off as a joke, there definitely was truth to his words.

    I laughed when I first read the story of Cuban’s response. I thought, well of course, it is easy for a billionaire and owner of a sports franchise to say that. What about the students who are passionate about sports? And the die-hard fans that just want to get into the game? I was one of those students. I was doing everything possible trying to crack into a baseball front office.

    A month after the 2012 Sports Analytics Conference, I received an offer to join the LA Angels. I would spend one full season, offseason, and spring training with the Angels before deciding that it was best to leave the position.

    Although I am out of the sports industry and I do not wish to get back into it, I continue to receive LinkedIn messages and emails from students and recent graduates who are trying to break into the baseball industry – specifically into the baseball operations or player development part of a front office. I have the same advice for almost everyone who contacts me, so I decided to take the time to write an extensive and concentrated post on what I learned from breaking into the industry and being a part of the game.

    Before I begin, here are a couple important items to understand before beginning your search for a job in a front office.

    1) Being a “die-hard” fan is not a good enough reason to want to work in sports. It takes just a couple months on the job before you realize that it’s just a job and you can no longer be a real fan of the game anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to wake up and roll into a ballpark every morning for work. It’s surreal to have conversations on the regular with current and former players and coaches, especially when they are all-time greats or guys you grew up watching. But what happens after some time is that you become desensitized to the awesomeness, the same way your brand new car becomes simply a means for transportation after owning it for a few months. Be prepared to lose the ability to sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself while watching a game.

    2) Why should you be hired by a MLB front office? Does your answer have anything to do with the fact that you are extremely passionate and hard working… you are willing to work for free… you are willing to work an unlimited number of hours per week… et cetera et cetera? Well good for you, because none of that makes you special. All those points are minimum requirements that are expected for anyone who works in the front office. So it is in your best interest to never mention any of those points in an interview because it just makes it sound like you don’t have any unique skill sets or knowledge that will add value to an organization.

    Becoming A Unique Candidate

    First of all, never settle. Understand what your worth is. This isn’t just for sports, but it is important for life in general. People will tell you to do whatever it takes to “get your foot in the door”. I really don’t like that phrase for a number of reasons, most importantly because majority of the time that phrase is simply another way of someone telling you that you should settle for the easiest and quickest option.

    When people tell you it’s tough to get a job in baseball – they aren’t lying. It’s really difficult to get a front office internship. And I say internship because the majority of people will have to start off as an intern unless you can show that you are extremely unique. To be categorized as extremely unique, you either need to have extensive work experience in an analytic or baseball-related field or you need to have a really good connection in the game.

    Either way, you need to distinguish yourself in some way in order to truly be considered as a candidate for a front office internship. There are many ways to do this but the general idea is that you NEED to show a team exactly how you can add value to the organization the first day you step into the office.

    How To Add Value

    If you want to work in the front office, make sure you understand the rules and regulations on how the front office operates. That means, read, re-read and analyze the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is extremely important for both baseball operations and player development.

    Focus on the transaction-related elements of the CBA. You should understand exactly how every single transaction (trade, free agent sign, amateur sign, international sign, waiver claim, etc.) works. What are the basic rules of the transaction? Is there a grey area in the rule that teams can take advantage of? Become an expert on this.

    Next, you need to prepare yourself to create an analysis report which shows you identifying an issue a team is dealing with and gives a detailed solution on how you can solve that issue. This is tough, but it will nearly guarantee you a job if executed correctly.

    There are many ways to do this, especially if you already know a topic that you are interested in researching, but here is a rundown of what this process might look like if you are starting from absolute scratch.

    Try to categorize each team into general groups based on the way their front office operates. Do this by studying each teams’ payroll initially to get an idea whether they are a big spending team (NYY), small market team (PIT), or somewhere in the middle (ATL). Next, study the GMs of each to get an idea of their strategy and biases. Example – the Angels are a big spending team but their front office is composed of folks coming from smaller market clubs (GM Jerry Dipoto from Arizona and AGM Matt Klentak from Baltimore). Therefore you can understand that comparing the Yankees front office to the Angels simply based on payroll is not necessarily accurate. You getting the point?

    After getting a general understanding of each team in baseball, you can start identifying the common issues that teams face each year. Maybe you find that big market teams are busting on blockbuster free-agent signings at an abnormally high rate. Why is that happening? Is there difference in performance between players who sign long term contracts with new teams in free agency versus those who sign long term extensions with their existing teams? If your preliminary research shows that there may be something interesting here then run some numbers to do a full statistical analysis comparing the historical results between free agent contracts and contract extensions.

    Another example is performing an analysis on spending in the MLB draft vs spending on amateur free agents in Latin America. You can start by filtering historic comparisons based on position, age, signing bonus, and stats. Does any of the data show statistically significant correlations?

    There is a lot of leeway here of course. You need to be creative to come up with a relevant problem to solve and a statistically significant answer the that problem. Even if your solution isn’t perfect, what’s important is the process you went through to find that solution and what you learned through your experience.

    You will succeed with this step if you find a topic that you are really passionate about, whether it is the amateur draft, rule 5 draft, international signings, waiver wire, DFA, minor league free agents, injury history and prevention, defensive metrics, catcher defensive metrics, etc. There are hundreds of areas in baseball that are in need of far more research and analysis.

    Statistical Analysis

    I’ve thrown this term around a lot and I understand that it sounds scary for people who don’t have confidence in their math skills. Good thing is, you can have average math skills and still conduct valuable statistical analysis. What’s even better is that there are plenty of ways to master programming skills and analysis tools for free online.

    Start by understanding what stats are important and why they are important – You should be familiar with everything on the Fangraphs Library and start reading as many Baseball Prospectus articles as possible.

    Beef up your Excel skills. Knowing how to make pivot tables and how to use vlookup is cool but if you are serious, get your hands on a VBA book and learn how to program macros.

    Get an understanding of what SQL is. If you are going to start anywhere, this is probably the best way to go because nearly every team in baseball employs people with SQL skills in the front office.

    Test out your skills by downloading free raw statistical data from Sean Lahman. You can also purchase various data including minor league stats and college stats from The Baseball Cube.

    Learn How To Program

    Need to learn SQL or VBA from scratch? Start with YouTube. You will be amazed at what you can learn on YouTube.

    Other places to learn programming for free: Udacity, CodeAcademy, and Udemy.

    In short, the more programming you know, the better off you will be. But please, MAKE USE OF YOUR PROGRAMMING SKILLS. What I mean by that is exactly what I have stated throughout this post – find a problem on your own and solve it using your skills.

    Example – Victor Wang of the Cleveland Indians

    Victor Wang is a prime example of exactly what I am talking about in this blog post. Long story short, he never played baseball past Little League and now just a year after graduating from college, he is the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting for the Cleveland Indians. Listed below are some of his writings which showcase his analysis on prospects which was good enough to catch the eye of the Indians front office while Wang was just a freshman.

    Prospect Evaluation

    Hidden Value of Prospects

    Valuing the Draft

    Prospects and Imperfect Information

    Get People To Know You

    Send your resume and sample work to everyone. You never know who is interested and who can get you a job. This may seem daunting because you will have to send (literally) hundreds of emails out, but it is actually not that difficult. Just a little time consuming.

    Each team has a specific format for the emails of their front office employees. You just need to find out the format each team uses and then you have the email address for everyone in the front office. Here are some examples for the name Matt Smith: matt.smith@team.com msmith@team.com mattsmith@team.com

    Using the front-office information pages on each team’s website along with a little research on google, you should be able to find out the email-address format for every team in the league.

    Some teams change the format just for the GMs, Presidents, and Owners but that is fine because you really have no business sending them emails anyways. So who should you email?

    I found the most success emailing people with the title Director of Baseball Operations and anyone below them. Very rarely (almost never) is the Assistant GM the right person to email. Don’t be shy to email multiple people in the same front office. I would suggest going for the Director of Baseball Operations, Director of Player Personnel, Coordinator of Baseball Operations, and any Assistants of Baseball Operations. These are usually the people who are reviewing resumes.

    Don’t just email. Using snail mail can definitely be a winner. Some front offices have old school folks who will actually open up your mail and read what you have to say. It’s too easy to delete one of hundreds of emails that these folks are receiving on a daily basis. I recommend emailing at least 2-3 people in each front office and sending mail to at least two people in every front office.

    Don’t Fall For The “Sport Management” Nonsense

    What I mean by this is: There is never a right reason to get an undergraduate degree in sports management or even worse (dare I say) graduate degree in sports management. No degree can teach you what it is like to work for a front office, you simply just have to do it to learn how to do it. If that makes sense. The sport management degree is a waste of time and isn’t even respected by front offices these days. The only team I know that specifically targets sports management majors is the San Francisco Giants. They hire interns specifically from sport management programs in the Bay Area. Trust me though, those internships are not quality ones that you want to get.

    Also, please don’t go to law school just because Theo Epstein did. If you want to add a degree or add skills to your arsenal, the best thing to do is study computer science and engineering with a minor or double major in Spanish. Every team needs statistical analysts who have love for the game, a thorough understanding of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, mastery of sabermetric statistics, and programming knowledge to manage and manipulate data. Law school or sport management degrees won’t directly help you with that.

    Assumptions

    You do not come from a professional playing background: Typically players fresh off the field are able to jump right into a player development / scouting role with a front office.

    The hiring team is in the 21st century and embraces advanced statistical analysis. This is the case with almost all teams with some exceptions being Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami (I believe). Possibly Atlanta as well.

    Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Please send me a message if you currently work in baseball and feel that I left something significant out of this post.

      read more

      Dontrelle Willis is Still Valuable

      Mar 21, 12 Dontrelle Willis is Still Valuable

      Just days after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies this spring, Dontrelle Willis signed a minor league deal with Baltimore Orioles. You may be wondering why teams keep signing Willis, who has been with six teams (Tigers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds, Phillies, and Orioles) since 2010. I wonder the same because all of these teams (with minor exception to the Giants) did not try Dontrelle out as a lefty specialist in the bullpen – he continues to be placed in the rotation, where he has been atrocious since 2007.

      Here is why Dontrelle Willis is valuable if he is used exclusively as a lefty specialist.

      Take a look at Dontrelle Willis‘ splits for key statistics in 75.2 innings last year and in his career as a whole underneath. The main numbers that pop out are his BAA (Batting Average Against) and K/9. Lefty batters have hit just .196 against Willis throughout his career, while RHBs have hit a respectable .276. Even more astounding – Willis’ strike out rate for LHBs is nearly doubled that of RHBs in his career (10.5 K/9 vs 5.72 K/9).

      BAA vs L BAA vs R K/9 vs L K/9 vs R Strike% vs L Strike% vs R GB% vs L GB% vs R
      2011 .123 .298 10.59 5.68 71.10% 60.60% 58.30% 53.80%
      Career .196 .276 10.5 5.72 65.70% 61.10% 51.0% 45.0%

       

      Two reasons for his success vs LHBs: 1) He throws strikes significantly more often to LHBs than he does to RHBs and 2) He induces ground-balls more often vs LHBs than he does vs RHBs.

      Even though Willis has lost his overpowering velocity, he is able to succeed vs LHBs because of his off-speed pitches (slider and curve) which he has become more reliant on in recent years.

      Another interesting note is Willis’ swinging strike percentage, which jumped up to 15% last year – the first time it reached such high margin since leaving the Marlins.

      If Baltimore puts Dontrelle in the bullpen as a lefty specialist, the team will have a valuable asset.

        read more

        On the Road

        Mar 19, 12 On the Road

        Apologies for not posting over the last three days. I have been on the road from Sacramento to the Bay Area to Los Angeles to Arizona, where I will be for at least one week. I will be back with the analyses tomorrow but for now, here are some quick thoughts from the Diamondbacks – Athletics game today.

        • Gerardo Parra is making a strong case to start in LF, even with the Jason Kubel signing. Parra made two spectacular diving catches today while finishing 1-3 at the plate. His named has swirled in trade talks with the Nationals (as they search for a CF) but Kevin Towers is reportedly asking for a lot in return.
        • Both starters, Jarrod Parker and Josh Collmenter had rough outings. Collmenter left too many pitches up in the zone and subsequently, gave up two home runs in three innings of work. Parker allowed just one hit but struggled with his control, walking seven in three and two-thirds innings pitched.
        • Manny Ramirez launched a ball to deep center for his second home run on the spring. I am confident he will be a stud once he comes back from his 50-game suspension. Manny showed great patience at the plate (as usual) – his swing will come along.
        • Yoenis Cespedes is definitely a physical beast. Word is that he will be starting in CF opening day as he has a much better arm than Coco Crisp who will be pushed over to LF. I worry about Cespedes’ patience at the plate – he loves to swing and takes big hacks. I would like to see him learn some patience from ManRam.

        That’s it for now – look forward to being back on the analytic grind tomorrow. Keep an eye out for posts on defensive metrics and Jose Reyes’ contract – coming soon.

          read more

          Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

          Mar 15, 12 Offseason Overview – Pittsburgh Pirates

          Previously: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves

          Pittsburgh Pirates

          2011 RECORD: 72-90

          PRESIDENT: Frank Coonelly GM: Neal Huntington

          KEY ACQUISITIONS: Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett, Nate McClouth, Casey McGehee, Doug Slaten

          KEY DEPARTURES: Derrek Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Paul Maholm, Joe Beimel, Ryan Doumit, Nelson Figueroa, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, Jose Veras

          1992 was the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record – the club posted a 96-66 record. It is possible that the Pirates snap that streak in 2012.

          The highlight of the offseason was undoubtedly Andrew McCutchen‘s 6-year $51.5MM extension with a 7th year club option. I won’t analyze the brilliance of this deal too much and instead will hand it off to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs who explains why this deal is a major win for the Bucs.

          The fact is that the Pirates locked up McCutchen to essentially the same contract that Juston Upton signed two years prior and Jay Bruce signed 15 months prior – and McCutchen is a far more statistically achieved player than either Upton or Bruce from the time they signed extensions. It’s not even close.

          Length Value Date Signed Age MLB Service Career WAR
          Andrew McCutchen 6 + 1/club $51.5MM 3/6/2012 25 2.123 12.9
          Jay Bruce 6 + 1/club $51.25MM 12/10/2010 23 2.125 8
          Justin Upton 6 $51.25MM 3/4/2010 22 2.060 5.2

           

          This table graphically depicts the brilliance in the Pirates extension of McCutchen. When comparing McCutchen to his counterparts (at the time each signed their respective extension): McCutchen is slightly older and more experienced  than both Bruce and Upton. He also has provided nearly five more wins above replacement than Jay Bruce and more than doubles Upton’s WAR. WOW!

          McCutchen is THE stereotypical 5-tool player. He hits for average and power, gets on base, steals bases, and he even drastically improved his defense in 2011. His career line is .276/.365/.458 with a stellar .363 wOBA – he has also stolen 78 bases.

          The 7th year club option at $15.75MM is the real winner in this deal. Assuming McCutchen keeps at his pace (or close), he will be worth for more than $15.75MM in 2018, thus; with the option, the Pirates get McCutchen from ages 25-31 for $64MM.  Let’s be real, this is one of the best moves the franchise could possibly do.

          Clint Barmes will be the new man at shortstop and Rod Barajas will hold down the backstop. These are two guys that will struggle significantly at the plate, however; Barmes is a plus defender. Barajas is a bland move; he brings a veteran presence and some pop but he rarely gets on base and sports a career .299 wOBA. The 7,8,9 spots in the lineup should be a breeze for opposing pitchers.

          Two moves I liked by the Pirates: 1) Bringing aboard Erik Bedard and 2) Trading for A.J. Burnett

          Both moves are great strategies for a small-cap team as Bedard is cheap because of his injury issues and Burnett is actually undervalued at the 2-year $13MM rate he comes at. Eric Seidman of FanGraphs explains the Burnett move.

          Short story on Burnett: His xFIP was 3.86 last year and one of the main reasons for his struggles is he gets torched by lefties in Yankee stadium, where almost any fly ball seems to get over the right-field wall. It’s unfortunate that Burnett is out a 2-3 months after injuring himself while trying to bunt in practice. Otherwise, his presence brings stability to a shaky Pirates rotation.

          Bedard is coming off a solid year in which he posted a 3.64 FIP in 129.1 innings, right in line with his career numbers. The catch on Bedard is that he has only thrown 293.1 innings in the last four years combined. But that is exactly why he comes at a low-cost-low-risk one-year deal. I wouldn’t expect more than 120 innings out of him this year. Here is the intuition: If Bedard has another good first-half of the season and 1) the Pirates are in contention – keep him and ride his arm out till it falls;or 2) if the club is not in contention, you move him to a desperate club and receive a low-mid level prospect in return. As I mentioned before, with the changes to the CBA, there will be more buyers at the trade deadline.

          2012 PAYROLL

          The Pirates are expected to have a league-low $46MM payroll. This is a talented roster and to be at just $46MM is impressive. If the Bucs are hot as mid-season approaches, expect Huntington to make the moves necessary to push hard for a postseason birth — even if it means expanding the payroll constraints.

          2012 OUTLOOK

          I was definitely buying in for the Pirates to end their losing seasons streak until Burnett was set back with his injury. It will be tough but here is how the Pirates can crack an 82 win season.

          1) McCutchen needs to take another giant stride forward and put up a 7 WAR season. He is definitely capable of it.

          2) Pedro Alvarez must bounce back and live up to the slugging persona he is expected to have. Alvarez hit below the Mendoza line last year and consequently lost his job (and MLB roster spot) at the hot corner, however; this kid has pop and he has showed it along with patience at the plate in the minor leagues. If Alvarez can post a full season of .365 wOBA, the Pirates will be able to overlook the offensive inabilities of Barmes and Barajas.

          Given those two scenarios, I have enough faith in the Pirates working with a patch-up rotation while making moves at the trade deadline to make a serious push for the post season.

          Worst case, none of the above happens, and the Pirates get to add another stud prospect to their minor league system next draft.

          LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

          Pittsburgh has one of the top minor league systems in terms of talent. They are top heavy, led by big-name guys: Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. Couple that with McCutchen locked in for 6-7 years, Tabata locked in long term, and Alex Presley budding as a speedy lead-off hitter – the Pirates can have a low-payroll contending team relatively soon.

          Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs in the playoffs within the next four or five years (I know sounds like a long time, but remember that 1992 was the last winning season).

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            Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

            Mar 13, 12 Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

            In Baseball Prospectus’ Baseball Between the Numbers, Jonah Keri considers whether former Florida Marlins owner, Wayne Huizenga is a genius. Huizenga bought the Marlins as an expansion club in1993 and later oversaw the club’s first world series championship in 1997, just five years after its expansion. The story of what unfolded after the 1997 season is a fascinating one – one that is hard to swallow for Marlins fans in South Beach.

            Throughout the first four years of the Marlins existence, Huizenga ran the club with a low payroll. The 1996 season was a promising one for Florida. While the club finished just under .500, it consisted of promising young stars Edgar Renteria, Garry Sheffield, Charles Johnson, and Greg Colbrunn. The Marlins also boasted a stellar pitching staff headed by Kevin Brown and Al Leiter to compliment star close Robb Nen.

            Huizenga realized the slim window of opportunity for his club and decided to splurge in the offseason following the 1996 year, spending $90MM and raising payroll by 68%. The key factor in these signings is Huizenga’s unwillingness to include no-trade clauses in contracts.

            The Marlins went on to win the 1997 World Series with this epic hit by Renteria in the bottom of the 9th.

            Following the World Series, Wayne Huizenga completely dismantled the club, trading all valuable assets. He understood that the team already capitalized from the World Series victory through season ticket sales, merchandise sales, media contracts, etc., and that it he would be able to capitalize even more by shrinking payroll to a minimal level.

            Why do I bring this up?
            Current Miami Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria is known for implementing the same policy of not including no-trade clauses in contracts greater than one-year in length. Ok, so the Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein don’t like no-trade clauses either. Also significant in the Marlins recent offseason spending-spree: The contracts signed by Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell are heavily back-loaded and include bonuses that are deferred with no interest ($3MM for Bell and $4MM for Buehrle).

            2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
            Jose Reyes $10MM $10MM $16MM $22MM $22MM $22MM $22MM club/$4MM buyout
            Mark Buehrle $6MM $11MM $18MM $19MM
            Heath Bell $6MM $9MM $9MM

             

            To put this in perspective, in 2014, the Marlins have $59MM guaranteed to just four players (Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, and Hanley Ramirez). This is just $1.4MM shy of the clubs largest opening day payroll in franchise history. Something doesn’t seem right… and I’m not buying the fact that Loria (the man who kept a $14.9MM team payroll in 2006 and claimed team operating losses in order to get the city of Miami to pay the majority of the Marlins new ballpark) is all of a sudden ready to turn his club into the Yankees.

            It can be argued that the heavy back-loaded contracts make trading the players more difficult as they age but that may not be the case if Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell each stay close to their 2011 numbers in 2012.

            What to expect? If the Marlins win the World Series next year, I would not be surprised if Reyes and/or Buehrle are moved. Sounds crazy right? But so was the epic dismantling of the 1997 Marlins.

            This is actually a savvy business and baseball move by Loria (as it was for Huizenga) if he is able to pull it off. To understand why, you must understand the theory of The Success Cycle. The theory, which has been much debated, essentially states that each team resides on a certain place within the success cycle (broadly: rebuilding, building, and competing) and must act accordingly to its position in the cycle in order to reach ultimate success – a World Series Championship. This sounds fair considering that not many teams can really compete for a championship every year for a decade or more (the Braves and Yankees are two notable exceptions).

            If you buy into this theory, then, as Jonah Keri claims in Baseball Between the Numbers, Wayne Huizenga is a genius and Jeffrey Loria may be following those footsteps.

            After all, you may criticize the Marlins ownership, but they have brought two World Series Championships to South Beach in just 19 years of existence.

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              Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

              Mar 12, 12 Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

              Atlanta Braves

              2011 RECORD: 89-73

              PRESIDENT:  John Schuerholz GM: Frank Wren

              KEY ACQUISITIONS: Chris Jones, Robert Fish (via Rule 5),  MiLB contracts: Adam Russell, Drew Sutton, Luis Durango

              KEY DEPARTURES: Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill

              Atlanta decided not to overreact after coming off a heartbreaking collapse at the end of 2011. That’s actually an understatement: the club traded Derek Lowe for salary relief, let five significant players walk in free agency, and spent a total of  $2.5 million in guaranteed money on major league signings (Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson). This is a classic Atlanta Braves maneuver as the club has a knack for winning by consistently building from within.

              Trading Derek Lowe to Cleveland was the highlight of Atlanta’s offseason. Given the rotation depth and emergence of young arms, Lowe likely would have been demoted to a middle relief role. Instead, Atlanta was able to move him and save $5MM on payroll.

              Trade rumors were the next hot topic for Atlanta’s winter. The club entertained offers for both Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens but ultimately decided to retain both players (mostly due to diminished trade values coupled with a high asking price). Prado is coming off a down year in which he posted a .296 wOBA after back-to-back seasons of .350+ wOBA. Jurrjens bounced back to post a solid 3.99 FIP while bringing his walk rate down to a career best 2.61 BB/9, however; durability is a big question as Jurrjens has only pitched a combined 268.1 innings in the past two seasons.

              Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill are sizable losses to what was the best bullpen in 2011. Atlanta can afford losing the two and not replacing them through free agency because of the great depth they boast in the ‘pen. Anthony Varvarro and Kris Medlen are expected to replace the two veteran losses in a bullpen that consists of three of the best in the game: Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, and Eric O’Flaherty.

              The Braves failed to lockup star catcher Brian McCann before St. Louis inked a $75MM deal to keep catcher Yadier Molina a redbird. This is going to come back to hurt Atlanta since McCann has statistically proved to be a significantly more valuable catcher than Molina (and McCann is nearly two years younger). Check out the career comparisons below – I added Joe Mauer‘s numbers at the time of his 8-year $184MM deal for comparisons sake. Note: WAR/year begins with the players’ first full season in the big leagues.

              Comparison Age Games Career wOBA Career CS% WAR/year
              Brian McCann 28 882 .361 24% 4.37
              Yadier Molina 29.5 944 .310 44% 2.63
              Joe Mauer 26 699 .384 38% 5.4

              McCann has a good 51 points on Molina’s career wOBA but Molina is far better at throwing out base-runners, that said; McCann is a year and a half younger and boasts nearly two additional wins per year over Yadier Molina. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no way to statistically value the importance of a catcher’s ability to “control” or manage a pitching staff.

              2012 PAYROLL

              Payroll is expected to be at $90MM which is a norm for Atlanta. The club has been in the $90MM ballpark for the past decade. Don’t expect any blockbuster mid-season acquisitions as the club looks to keep payroll at a manageable level.

              2012 OUTLOOK

              Two big items to look out for:

              1) Only one starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation threw more than 152 innings last season and it was Tim Hudson, who will be out for at least the first month of the season. While the rotation is very talented, it is just as inexperienced and raises the question if trading Lowe will come back to haunt the Braves. Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Jurrjens will need to step up during Hudson’s absence.

              2) Can Jason Heyward bounce back from his ridiculous sophomore slump? Heyward is a stud with freakish athletic ability at the plate. While his overall numbers tanked last year, one stat that held relatively steady was his ISO which dipped just 17 points while his wOBA crashed 62 points. What’s good is that Heyward maintained his power and patience (with a solid 11.2% BB rate) while some of his decline in output can be attributed to his BABIP which dropped to .260.

              The Braves may not be the division favorite, but expect them to compete and stay in the race until the end.

              LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

              Long-term this club is in a solid position as it almost always is. This is because Atlanta is one of the best scouting clubs in the business – the scouting and player development departments are phenomenal at bringing players through the system.

              The future from a payroll perspective is looking good as well. Lowe’s remaining salary comes off the books after this year, Chipper Jones‘ $14MM is off the books after the year (but if he plays 124 games a $9MM option kicks in), and much of the club’s top talent will be controlled through arbitration.

              What happens with McCann? I don’t expect McCann to stay in Atlanta because he wants to test out free agency and he will eventually be courted by an AL club that will give him the option to DH later in his career.

              Dan Uggla has $52.8MM remaining on his deal – will that come back to haunt them?

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                Should the Giants Trade Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum?

                Mar 09, 12 Should the Giants Trade Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum?

                Matt Cain‘s contract situation has been a hot topic in Scottsdale, AZ this past week. MLB Trade Rumors highlighted the latest news on a potential Matt Cain extension earlier today. The question I beg is if the Giants brass would be better off shopping either Tim Lincecum or Cain, rather than signing both to $100+ million contracts (which is what the starting point of negotiations would be.

                Lincecum just signed a two-year $40.5 million deal buying out his remaining arbitration years and is reportedly seeking a 7-8 year $175MM extension while Cain is in the last year of his three-year $27.35 million deal.

                Let’s look at Cain first: Cain came out and said he will not be giving the Giants a hometown discount and many MLB executives say Cain would garner close to $150 million in the open market. Consensus is that there is no way the Giants lock-up Cain for less than $100 million (probably over 5 or 6 years).

                Does Cain deserve that much? No question he has earned it. He has been a workhorse year-in-year-out posting five straight 200+ inning seasons on a career 3.69 FIP. And while he isn’t overpowering with strike outs and he definitely isn’t a groundball pitcher, Matt Cain consistently gets hitters off-balance, resulting in fly-outs. This does put him at risk to giving up home runs but Cain gave up just .37 HR/9 in 2011. Overall, Cain’s 24 career WAR makes him a 4 WAR/year player which is nothing to overlook.

                The issue with giving a Giants pitcher a monster contract is that half of their starts are in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the league. This is especially important for a guy like Cain who is a fly-ball pitcher in what is by far THE toughest park to hit a home run at. Furthermore, it’s not as simple to say – well if Cain re-signs, he will continue to pitch half his games at AT&T park, so what’s the big deal? Problem is, you can’t expect his metrics to hold up throughout his career (e.g. Cain won’t always have a commanding 92+ mph fastball that overpowers hitters up in the zone). Therefore, as his career progresses, pitching in SF may not be as big as an advantage as it is currently. Cain has a career 3.12 ERA at home and 3.62 on the road – not a huge difference but still a notable one.

                Lincecum is a different beast and will command a contract similar to the one of CC Sabathia. Fortunately the Giants still have two full years of control before Lincy hits the market, which makes him a much greater commodity than Cain. Lincy’s numbers are phenomenal – career 27.9 WAR, sub-3 FIP, and 9.87 K/9. The biggest question on him is whether his freakishness will eventually come back to haunt him and his shoulder. He has regressed over the last two years and may be showing his true future as a 5-WAR starter (still all-star quality).

                I see reasonable arguments for signing either Lincecum or Cain but locking up both pitchers to $100+ million 6+ year contracts is not only a great risk but a constraint on the payroll. Also, players are far more valuable before they hit free-agency when they are often overpaid and locked into contract far past their prime.

                I have compiled a list of the largest contracts given to pitchers and have compared their WAR from the three seasons prior to their contract being signed to their WAR after the contract was signed. Note: the ages listed are not necessarily from the date of the contract being signed, but the age of the player during the first season of the contract.

                 

                Player Age  Years Amount Date WAR Before WAR After Diff
                CC Sabathia 28-34 7 161MM Dec-08 6.73 6.23 -0.50
                Johan Santana 29-34 6 137.5MM Feb-08 6.50 2.73 -3.78
                Barry Zito 29-35 7 126MM Dec-06 2.77 1.32 -1.45
                Mike Hampton 28-35 8 121MM Dec-00 3.97 1.34 -2.63
                Kevin Brown 33-39 7 105MM Dec-98 7.50 3.74 -3.76
                Cliff Lee 32-36 5 120MM Dec-10 7.00 6.70 -0.30
                Carlos Zambrano 26-30 5 91.5MM Aug-07 3.73 2.43 -1.31
                Jered Weaver 29-33 5 85MM Aug-11 5.07 N/A N/A
                John Lackey 31-35 5 82.5MM Dec-09 3.80 2.80 -1.00
                A.J. Burnett 32-36 5 82.5MM Dec-08 3.77 2.13 -1.63
                Justin Verlander 27-31 5 80MM Feb-10 5.27 6.70 1.43
                Felix Hernandez 24-29 5 78MM Jan-10 4.87 3.90 -0.97
                C.J. Wilson 31-35 5 77.5MM Dec-11 4.17 N/A N/A
                Roy Oswalt 29-33 5 73MM Aug-06 6.07 3.66 -2.41
                Josh Beckett 30-33 4 68MM Apr-10 5.70 2.90 -2.80
                John Danks 27-31 5 65MM Dec-11 3.47 N/A N/A
                Chris Carpenter 32-36 5 63.5MM Dec-06 5.07 2.98 -2.09
                Derek Lowe 35-39 4 60MM Jan-09 4.27 2.6 -1.67
                Roy Halladay 33-36 3 60MM Dec-09 6.83 7.4 0.57
                Tim Lincecum 27- 5.77
                Matt Cain 27- 4.07

                This data shows some very interesting stories. 1) Only 4 of the 19 pitchers listed have actually lived up to their contract so far. The best contract on here is probably CC surprisingly, along with Verlander and Halladay 2) The average WAR differential after a contract is signed = -1.52/year 3) 4/6 $100MM contracts have been atrocious and only one can be confirmed as a success (CC) 4) 4/5 contracts of 6 years in length or more have been atrocious (again the one exception is CC)

                This speaks loudly. It shows that pitchers are far more valuable prior to hitting free agency. More importantly we can see that players are often over-rated and overpaid for their historical success rather than being paid for their future potential.

                I looked at the players WAR from the previous three seasons before signing a large deal. This is because I feel the most recent three years are most valuable to projecting future success. If you look at Barry Zito, his WAR was just 2.77/year in the three seasons prior to becoming the highest paid pitcher in the MLB (at the time). Obviously the Giants overvalued Zito’s Cy Young year in 2002.

                Now let’s bring this back to Lincy and Cain. Lincy will get a monstrous contract but that is mostly because of his back-to-back Cy Young years in which he posted WAR of 7.5 and 8.0. But is he a 7 WAR/year pitcher? It doesn’t look like it after posting back-to-back sub-5 WAR seasons – also having his velocity dip among other factors. Still, he is a consistent all-star type of pitcher.

                The Giants are in a great situation with Lincecum because he decided to go the year-by-year / short-term route in arbitration and therefore is locked up at a reasonable $20.25MM per year during his “prime” ages of 27 and 28. IF he stays productive at his current pace, Lincy should get a contract somewhere in the range of CC’s 7-year $161MM – keeping him under contract until he is 35 years old.

                Cain on the other hand is coming off his career best 5.2 WAR season and is actually younger than Lincy by four months, however; he hits free agency a year sooner at the age of 28. Cain will receive a far more reasonable offer – in the $100MM-125MM range.

                What should the Giants do? Given the historical data on large contracts for pitchers post 28/29 years old, it is far too risky for the Giants to lock up BOTH Cain and Lincecum. I would sign Cain to a 5-6 year deal (ideally 5 years with a 6th year option) and then trade Lincecum after this season. Sounds crazy right? Well actually it sounds more like an intelligent baseball and business move to me. The reason is: More likely than not, the Giants have milked all the Cy Youngs out of Tim Lincecum and it is not worth making him one of the highest paid pitchers of all time based off of two outstanding seasons, (in what would be) 4-5 years prior to his new contract. Furthermore Lincy has started to show that he may actually be a 4-5 WAR/year pitcher rather than a 6-7 WAR/year. Far too risky. Instead the Giants can sell high and guarantee themselves either a top ML-ready prospect and then spend the Lincy money on building the club’s offense and reinvesting in the draft.

                The Giants can also afford to trade Lincy because of the rapid growth of Madison Bumgarner (who will be relatively cost-controlled throughout arbitration).

                Finally, considering that the Giants play in a pitcher-friendly park, it is easier to bring aboard pitchers who can succeed in SF without having to pay such a premium via free agency.

                Signing Cain and trading Lincecum may be the best move for the Giants but I am almost sure that Sabean would never do such a thing because signing Cain and Lincecum both to long-term deals will bring job security for at least a couple more years.


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                  Offseason Overview – New York Yankees

                  Mar 08, 12 Offseason Overview – New York Yankees
                  New York Yankees

                  2011 RECORD: 97-65

                  PRESIDENT: Randy Levine GM: Brian Cashman

                  KEY ACQUISITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Raul Ibanez, Bill Hall (MiLB), Russell Branyan (MiLB), David Aardsma, Manny Delcarmen (MiLB)

                  KEY DEPARTURES: Jorge Posada, Jesus Montero, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Aaron Laffey, Hector Noesi

                  Dealing Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for the right-handed stud Michael Pineda was the Yankees highlight this past winter. Furthermore, the club inked veteran Hiroki Kuroda to a friendly one-year deal and shipped out A.J. Burnett’s contract to Pittsburgh in order to tack-on Raul Ibanez as a DH platoon-man.

                  The most important aspect of the Yankees offseason was the club’s decision not to spend big on free-agents and instead to improve through trades and strategic short-term contracts. This is derived from ownership’s persistence to cut payroll from its current $210 million figure to below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014. Whether that is feasible, we will get to later in the post, but for now let’s analyze the effects of Cashman’s recent moves.

                  The Montero for Pineda swap made headlines and sparked great debates. On one side, fans were upset that they just lost a potential perennial all-star bat (who may or may not be able to play the field) but on the other hand, the club received an absolute beast on the hill who is… wait for it… actually proven himself.

                  Pineda is 6-5/260 and averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball in 171 innings last season. He finished the year with a 24.9% strikeout rate and a league-high 11.8% SwStr% (Swinging Strike %). Overall Pineda posted a 3.42 FIP and 3.4 WAR.

                  In exchange for this beast, the Yankees were forced to part with a beast of their own in Montero. In 69 plate appearances last year, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with a .421 wOBA. Granted it is a small sample size, Montero combined to showed great patience at the plate with a 10.1% walk rate while boasting a .262 ISO.

                  The biggest knock on Montero is his apparent inability to play the field. If he settles in as a DH, his value definitely tanks; keep an eye out for him at first base.

                  To me, this trade is a no-brainer for the Yankees and a head-scratcher for the Mariners. It reminds me of 2007-2008 when the Giants were rumored to have entertained a Tim Lincecum – Alex Rios swap (I know it still scares me to hear that now). A starting pitcher with Pineda’s tools and stature is far more valuable and rare than a premier hitter who struggles at defense.

                  Joining Pineda in the Yankee rotation is veteran Hiroki Kuroda who inked a one-year $10 million deal. This could be one of the top steals of the offseason: Kuroda comes to NY with a career 3.55 FIP, 12.2 WAR, and 699 IP over four years of work with the Dodgers. Kuroda’s strikeout rate has been increasing over the years but in 2011 he saw his groundball rate dip to 43.2% after being above 50% in his career previously. This is a concern since Kuroda will be more susceptible to giving up homeruns in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium if he is unable to keep balls on the ground.

                   What did Kuroda do differently in 2011?

                  1)       Threw his fastball 39.9% more in 2011 than in 2010 and his sinker 16.18% less in 2011 than in 2010.

                  2)      Kept his fastball high in the zone, resulting in less groundballs and more fly-balls.

                  Hiroki Kuroda Fastball% Sinker% Slider% Splitter% Curve%
                  2010 16.3% 44.5% 21.4% 13.2% 3.4%
                  2011 22.8% 37.3% 18.9% 14.2% 5.3%

                   


                  Kuroda Heat Chart (Fastballs) 2011 - from FanGraphs.com

                  More fastballs high in the zone explain the dip in Kuroda’s groundball rate and therefore his career-high 11.3% HR/FB.

                  2012 PAYROLL

                  A cool $210 million. Ownership is definitely altering its philosophy on shelling out multi-year multi-million-dollar contracts each offseason. Moving A.J. Burnett gives NY some breathing room for minor midseason adjustments (possibly at DH).

                  2012 OUTLOOK

                  If all goes well, the Yankees will be in the World Series come the end of the year. The rotation is solid with the additions of Pineda and Kuroda under ace CC Sabathia. If Ivan Nova can provide a solid 180 innings and a Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes 5-spot holds up, the Yankees will be dangerous.

                  We know what this club is able to do offensively – there isn’t much to question on that realm. Keeping Alex Rodriguez healthy in 2012 will be easier with him spending time at DH (and the same goes for Derek Jeter).

                  LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

                  Big question: Can the Yankees drop payroll to $189 million and stay competitive through 2014?

                  Getting to $189MM will be a task in itself since A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia will eat $75.125 million combined in 2014. That leaves $113 million for the remaining 40-man roster which faces two key free-agencies in 2013: Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Cano will surely receive $20+ million per year and Granderson may command close to that if he stays anywhere near his current pace of 7 WAR seasons.

                  Essentially, $189 million means no more A-Rod types of big-name free-agent splashes. I am ecstatic about this because now we shall truly be able to see and appreciate Brian Cashman’s talent as a General Manager.




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                    Who Should Start at 2B in Detroit?

                    With Prince Fielder in town and Miguel Cabrera heading over to third base, second base has become a hot commodity in Detroit. Since losing his spot at the hot corner, Brandon Inge has been seeing time at second base for the first time in his career this spring and is now competing with Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago for the starting spot. Let’s take a look at what metrics tell us about who should start at 2B on opening day.

                    Right off the bat we can eliminate Inge from the conversation because he was atrocious at the plate last year and has no experience at 2B. Inge’s biggest asset is his glove – as seen by his career 5.6 UZR/150. But even with solid defense last season, Inge was a less valuable than an average AAA replacement player.

                    2011 Stats wOBA UZR/150 WAR
                    Brandon Inge 0.247 3.3 -0.4
                    Ryan Raburn 0.314 -21 1.2
                    Ramon Santiago 0.305 3.8 1.4
                    Career Stats wOBA UZR/150 WAR
                    Brandon Inge 0.301 5.6 15.8
                    Ryan Raburn 0.337 -23.8 4.6
                    Ramon Santiago 0.296 -3.5 4.9
                    Bill James Projected wOBA
                    Brandon Inge 0.297
                    Ryan Raburn 0.336
                    Ramon Santiago 0.291

                    Ramon Santiago is definitely the defensive option to start at 2B – metrics place him as an above-average defender overall (career -3.5 UZR at 2B, 3.6 UZR/150 including SS/3B). Last year Santiago posted the highest WAR of the three, highlighted by his 3.8 UZR/150.

                    That said, Raburn is still the favorite to start at 2B because of his offensive value. He boasts a career .337 wOBA – far superior to Inge’s career .301 and Santiago’s abysmal .296 career wOBA. This will probably be enough of an offensive spread for Leyland to overlook Raburn’s atrocious play in the field (-23.8 career UZR/150).

                    A strategic platoon is going to be the right way to play this one out. Two things are important here: 1) Ryan Raburn is a significantly better hitter vs LHPs (career OPS .847) than RHPs (career OPS .731) and 2) When Rick Porcello is on the mound, defense should be the priority. Porcelo sports a 51.4% GB rate and life is going to be tough on him with the Tigers awful defense.

                    With that, Raburn should be a shoe-in to start vs. southpaws. He will probably get most of the starts vs RHPs as well given Santiago’s offensive struggles, however; it would be strategic to give Santiago the nod at 2B when Porcello is on the mound. This essentially knocks Inge out of the picture aside for coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement, spotting at the hot-corner as an injury replacement, or filling in on potential DH days for Cabrera.


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                      Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

                      Mar 07, 12 Offseason Overview – Arizona Diamondbacks

                      Arizona Diamondbacks
                      2011 RECORD: 94-68
                      PRESIDENT: Derrick Hall GM: Kevin Towers
                      KEY ACQUISITIONS: Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow, Jason Kubel, Takashi Saito
                      KEY DEPARTURES: Jason Marquis, Xavier Nady, Kam Mickolio, Jarrod Parker

                      Coming off a 94-win season and the NL-West division title, Towers made some key additions to bolster the rotation and bullpen at a minimal cost to the teams low payroll. Shipping out the minor league system for Trevor Cahill was definitely the highlight of the D-backs offseason. Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito will add depth to the bullpen while Jason Kubel will take over LF in what is a questionable move by the organization.

                      Cahill joins Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter to form a deadly rotation which rivals their NL-West counterparts in San Francisco. Kennedy comes off a stellar season in which he posted a 3.22 FIP. While Hudson’s numbers don’t look as great as Kennedy’s, he was just as efficient with a 3.28 FIP on 222 IP.

                      I see Cahill settling in as a solid #3 rather than the 1-2 type that some project. The biggest worry is control: his career BB% is 8.8% (quite high), however; his strikeout rate has increased in each of his first three seasons and was 16.3% last season – which is impressive for a groundball pitcher. But don’t expect Cahill to bounce back to his 2010 numbers (18-8, 2.97 ERA) even with the pitcher-friendly transition to the NL. Cahill’s adjusted numbers were actually better last year as he posted a 4.10 FIP, down .09 from 2010. What changed was his BABIP which normalized to .302 in 2011 after being .236 the year prior. Also, Cahill is moving from a spacious Oakland Colosseum to the hitter-friendly Chase Field where he will be liable to giving up more home runs.

                      Take a look at the heat-charts below which compare the location of sinkers thrown by Cahill and sinkerball-extraordinaire Derek Lowe in 2011. Lowe is notorious for posting league-high ground-ball rates because of his ability to consistently keep his sinker low in the zone. The heat graphs highlight Lowe’s ability to keep his sinker low and away in the zone. Cahill will have to do just that otherwise he risks giving up more homeruns in Chase Field.

                      Trevor Cahill (top) and Derek Lowe Heat Maps – Sinkers (From FanGraphs.com) AB vs L on left – vs R on right

                      The bullpen should again be strong in 2012 with J.J. Putz, Brad Ziegler, Joe Paterson, and David Hernandez coming back after great years. Added to the mix will be veteran Takashi Saito who is 42 years old but holds a career 2.65 FIP. Health is the concern; the club opted not to give Saito a physical after signing him since they knew he would fail it. Instead, they will be cautious with him and will have him on a specialized work-out and training program throughout spring.

                      Bringing in Jason Kubel was the move that turned heads around the league. Kubel inked a 2-year $15M deal to make him the starting LF, sending Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra to a minimized bench-role. Let’s first look at Parra and then dive into what Kubel brings to the table.

                      The 24-year-old Parra broke-out with a stellar defensive season while putting up solid numbers at the plate. Parra finished with a slash of .292/.357/.427 and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts. While he managed a .357 OBP on a 8.7% walk rate, Parra’s lack of power comes to light with his career.316 wOBA. It is reasonable to be skeptical of Parra’s ability to match or outperform his 2011 production since he is coming of a .342 BABIP. Parra does have a career .338 BABIP but in 2010, when his BABIP dipped to .322, his BA tanked to .261 with a wOBA of just .291. Furthermore, his OBP is generously high because of free passes granted to Parra in the 8-hole with the pitcher on-deck.

                      The case to keep Parra as the starter is more about his defensive presence than anything else: he is able to man all three spots in the OF and covers a lot of ground. Teamed with Chris Young in center and Justin Upton in right, the D-backs have a strong case for the best defensive outfield in the league – which is deadly coupled with the club’s stellar rotation.

                      Kubel joins the club with a track record of hitting home runs. The intuition is that he will add a veteran presence and be a middle-of-the-order bat from the left side. Kubel is coming off a mediocre season in which his wOBA was just .332 while also spending time on the DL. 2010 was actually a worse year for Kubel – .326 wOBA. The back-to-back down years made him affordable and available on just a two-year contract – the hope is he will bounce back to his 2009 stellar season in which Kubel posted a .239 ISO and .383 wOBA.

                      Kubel’s fly ball rate is quite high and has been increasing over the years – the hope is that he will be able to convert more fly balls into home runs in Chase Field, something he failed to do during the last two years in Minnesota. For Arizona, this will come at the expense of having a top defensive outfielder replaced by a poor defender who spent 1/3 of his starts as a DH last season.

                      According to Bill James’ and ZiPS projections, at best Kubel is projected to provide between 5-8 additional offensive runs over Parra, however; over the past three years, Parra has saved on average, 10 more runs per year than Kubel [based off FanGraphs Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)].

                      The reliability of defensive metrics has been questioned but Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one defensive measure that correlates as well as wOBA (which is one of the most reliable and highly regarded sabermetric statistics). So lets compare Kubel and Parra in terms of UZR/150 (per 150 innings). Parra has a career 9.5 UZR/150 (in three seasons) while Kubel has a career -17 UZR/150 which is atrocious.

                      Based on metrics, Kubel actually detracts from the team as a full time replacement for Parra, however; Parra should be able to get in at least 300 plate appearances by playing on off days for each of the three starters, starting in interleague road games, and coming in as a late inning defense replacement for Kubel. Also, bringing on Kubel gives the club injury insurance in the outfield.

                      OTHER NOTES

                      Towers was questioned after giving two veteran utility players, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist (who have played sparingly in the past few years) two-year deals when many agreed that the two wouldn’t have garnered anything more than one year plus an option in the open market.

                      The club signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league deal. Jacobs was last relevant in 2008 when he hit 32 home runs in Florida. He will face a 50-game suspension for substance-abuse before he is able to play.

                      2012 PAYROLL

                      2011′s payroll was just over the $56M mark. The 2012 payroll  is expected to be around $75M which is a significant increase, showing the club’s seriousness to compete in 2012. At the same time, the D-backs will be in a tough situation if Kubel doesn’t pan out and they are forced to eat his $15M and trade for a bat mid-season.

                      2012 OUTLOOK

                      The NL West is going to be competitive in 2012. The D-Backs success in 2012 will again be largely determined by the repeat success of their rotation. We know the team can hit (3rd best slugging team in NL last year) and will continue to put up solid offensive numbers with Justin Upton yet to reach his prime and Miguel Montero developing into a premier hitter behind the plate. The question-mark is Stephen Drew, who is expected to be back by opening day. If he stays healthy and hits around his career average, the D-backs will be in great shape.

                      Arizona made the right move to further bolster their rotation and bullpen with the likes of Cahill, Breslow, and Saito. Kennedy and Hudson should be able to anchor the rotation as they did last year. If Cahill can provide a solid 200 innings of sub 4 FIP, this club will roll through the NL West.

                      LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

                      Arizona is one of few clubs that does not have any bad contracts bogging them down. Upton’s contract is the largest the team has on the books and keeps him in Arizona until the end of 2015 at a reasonable price. Kennedy, Hudson, and Roberts are all under control for the next four years while Parra is under team control for the next five seasons. Given the club’s desire to keep the payroll low, if the team doesn’t win in the next two years, expect to see some of the young talent moved prior to their contracts blowing up in arbitration.

                      For the foreseeable future, expect Arizona to milk their young talent while adding talent through trades and short-term deals for veteran free agents.

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