Mar 21, 12
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
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.
Mar 19, 12
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.
Mar 15, 12
Previously: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves
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.
||6 + 1/club
||6 + 1/club
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.
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.
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.
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).
Mar 13, 12
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).
||$22MM club/$4MM buyout
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.
Mar 12, 12
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.
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.
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.
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 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?