March 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis, Front Office, Injuries
A lot has been made about the Braves reluctance to deal with super agent Scott Boras when it comes to extensions. The first and foremost issue is that Boras loves to gamble on his players and almost always guides them to free agency. Famously, Andruw Jones went behind Boras’ back to negotiate an extension with the Braves, when Boras presumably wanted him to go to free agency.
Boras has a lot of clients, and thus, his main concern is maximizing his expected payout when the player hits free agency. He doesn’t care a whole lot about risk, because he has more than enough players to spread the risk around if one or two of them happen to take a pillow contract that substantially hurts them. Players, on the other hand, should be more concerned with risk, because they only have one client to earn their money with, themselves. If they take a risk and it blows up in their face, they don’t have 30 other clients to pull money from. In the business world, we call this a divergence of risk preference. It’s not quite a divergence in financial interests, because presumably both Boras and his clients want as much money as possible, however, his clients shouldn’t be willing to take as much risk as Boras does, something I think his clients all too often fail to appreciate.
However, that’s not the issue here. The issue here is might the Braves perhaps be glad that Boras is Jurrjens’ and Hanson’s agent? Why should they be? Well, primarily because it gives the front office a ready made excuse to not sign the two pitchers to long term, lucrative extensions. Fans and media harbor a certain disdain for Scott Boras, that while not totally unmerited (due to the risk issue outlined above) is certainly misguided (ie they’re more angry about guiding players to fair compensation for their talents). If a team isn’t making much headway in signing a beloved current player to an extension, two simple words often shift the ‘blame’ from the front office to the player, “Boras Client”.
So why wouldn’t the Braves want to sign Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens to long term contracts? They’ve both been successful young pitchers. Studies have shown that extensions are generally a better value for the team than free agent bidding wars.
The issues are injury concerns for Tommy Hanson and injury and uncertainty issues with Jair Jurrjens. Also, the Braves may be shifting to a ‘use, test, discard’ strategy with their pitchers. This is very similar to what the Rays have done with their young pitchers. They use them heavily, being maybe under-cautious with pitching mechanics, if the pitcher is successful and shows no injury concerns then you maybe re-sign him, if not, well, you let the pitcher walk as a free agent and become someone else’s injury concern.
Much has been belaboured with regards to Tommy Hanson’s pitching motions and whether or not it makes him injury prone. While he doesn’t have the dreaded ‘inverted W’, he does tend to have timing issues. For a particularly pessimistic view of Tommy’s mechanics see Chris O’Leary’s diagnosis. While I think O’Leary is maybe a little overzealous in his analysis, Tommy does certainly have biomechanical issues that are at least worrisome. His ‘new delivery’ may have addressed some of the pace issues, but most of the things that O’Leary worries most about with Hanson’s delivery are still present. He still has the timing/coordination issue and he still brings his elbow behind his shoulder. Well, why not just work with Tommy to change his mechanics? Two issues here: 1) Tommy is probably successful because of his mechanics. We have no idea if changing them would allow him to be the same pitcher he is. 2) Often times, for established Major Leaguers, changing mechanics only exacerbates injury issues. Pitching is a very specialized, and very unnatural motion. Changing a pitcher’s motion causes the pitcher to be less reliable in repeating it (since he hasn’t built the new motion into muscle memory) which can not only lead to inconsistency, but can lead to injury. One of the biggest issues that cause injuries in pitchers is not repeating your delivery consistently. When you don’t do so, you often end up having more developed muscles fight against less developed muscles, which puts strain on tendons and joints. SBNation mentioned this concern here.
Jair Jurrjens is a more controversial pitcher. His mechanics seem to be mostly fine from an arm standpoint. Though I do worry about his knees continuing to be a problem because he lands very hard on his heel, a problem that was shown in the recent spring training game against the Tigers, when he tore a huge divot in the mound. Ideally a pitcher would like to hit the mound with his whole foot relatively equally to better distribute the shock of the landing, and also to allow for more stability in the lower body. Jair seems to get less leg drive than he once did with his lower body, which is perhaps why his velocity has dropped. Knee injuries concern me, because they rarely go away, they tend to nag and routinely flare up (one needs only reference Chipper Jones and his recurring knee issues). I don’t know that Jair’s knees will ever be 100%, which could lead to further injuries or ineffectiveness.
What I worry about even more than injuries with Jurrjens is his inconsistency. While the popular narrative has been that Jair’s bad seasons were almost totally attributable to freakish injuries (because his supporters don’t want him to be considered injury prone either), in reality his bad and good seasons have mostly been a product of swings in luck. As most “pitch to contact” guys do, Jair lives and dies by luck. A pitcher can primarily control three things to varying degrees: 1) His strikeout rate 2) his walk rate and 3) his groundball rate. For all three of these, Jair has been remarkably consistent. He has routinely sat at 6 K/9, 3 BB/9 and a groundball rate of 40-45%. First, these aren’t really good. One commonly held belief is that Jair is a groundball pitcher, when in fact this number is actually below the league average. It’s in the neither groundball or flyball range, but Jair is certainly closer to being a fly ball pitcher. His K rates and walk rates are also neither very good. What has made Jair good when he’s been good and bad when he’s been bad are things that pitchers seem to have relatively little control over: 1) their strand rate 2) BABIP and 3) home run rate.
I’m not going to say that pitchers have no control over any of these, however, these rates tend to randomly fluctuate much more than the other rates. Looking at Jair’s bad seasons and good seasons, we can see that his strikeout, walk and groundball rates don’t deviate significantly, but he sees large swings in strand, babip and homerun rates. In Jair’s good seasons he’s had a strand rate near 80%, babips around .270 and HR/FB rates around 6-7%. In ‘bad Jair’ seasons, we’ve seen strand rates at 70% or under, babips around .300 and HR/FB rates around 9%.
The issue with Jair is that these swings make it hard to know for certain which Jair is real. Pitchers can, over large samples outpitch their FIP in some cases. Tim Hudson has shown an ability to do so, as did Tom Glavine. (Contrary to popular belief, Greg Maddux didn’t significantly do so, his FIP for his career was 3.26 and his ERA 3.16, lower but not significantly so, Maddux was just a good pitcher and almost all of his FIP/ERA deviation can be explained away by pitching in front of good defenses). With Jair, his data have varied so wildly that we just can’t know how good (or mediocre) he might be. He might be the average of those two pitchers, or he might be the good one with some bad luck or the bad one with some good luck. We just don’t have enough data to know for certain, which makes a long term contract worrisome.
So why does Boras matter? Why wouldn’t the front office merely let these two pitchers walk at free agency (or preferably be traded prior to hitting it) regardless of their agent? Well, they likely would, but it’s just more convenient to do so with a Boras client. Front office types are not only worried about putting together the best team for the money that they can, but they are also concerned with perception of how well they are doing their job. In letting Hanson and/or Jurrjens walk at free agency they are taking a risk. They’re taking a risk that these injury and inconsistency risks fade away and they turn out to be excellent pitchers. And while I certainly think the smart play would be letting them walk, regardless, it’s much easier to say “Boras Client” if Jurrjens and/or Hanson turn out to be solid workhorses for years to come. Having the two be Boras clients is a “win/draw” situation for front office perception. If one or both turns out to be ineffective, then the front office is portrayed as smart, and if they don’t it’s simply a matter of a shoulder shrug and saying “Boras Client” to the understanding nod of those following the team.
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March 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis
It was reported late last night that Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates agreed to a six-year, $51.5 million contract with a $14.75 million club option. I have been tossing around the idea of Heyward signing a contract buying out his arbitration years, and as outfielders with a similar amount of service time, McCutchen’s deal could be a good place for negotiations to start.
McCutchen’s deal looks like a discount. According to Rib Biertempfel, McCutchen will receive $500k this season, followed by $4.5mm, $7.25mm, $10mm, $13mm, $14mm, followed by the option worth $14.75mm with a $1mm buyout.
While it is likely a discount for McCutchen, who has accumulated 12.9 fWAR over his two plus years in the Major Leagues, including a 5.7 win season in 2011. As MLB Trade Rumors explains, Jay Bruce and Justin Upton signed almost identical deals at nearly identical service times as McCutchen. Below is the breakdown for each of their contracts.
The remainder in each deal was used for their signing bonus. At the time of the signed contracts, McCutchen’s fWAR sits at an aforementioned 12.9, Upton had accumulated 10 wins, and Bruce 8. Currently, Jason Heyward is at a comparable amount of service time, though the others were brought up close to mid-way through their rookie seasons rather than right out of spring training as Heyward did. Because of this, they each had a bit more service time which resulted in higher win totals. Heyward has totaled 7.3 fWAR since his debut.
This type of contract would be beneficial to both the team and Heyward, as the Braves have the opportunity to potentially save money over the course of the next six years and Heyward would have the security behind him regardless of how he performs going forward. After this past year and with the injuries he has accumulated in the minors and in Atlanta, this type of security could be worth it for him.
I do not expect the Braves to do it, mainly because I am not sure that Heyward would sign it and I also think the Braves want to make sure everything with Heyward is righted before they sign him for a number of years. Regardless, I think this is a good template for Heyward and the Braves would be wise to at least make this type of offer to him. With payroll being tight and Heyward having massive potential, signing him for the next six years at a potential discount could help in other future transactions.
February 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis
If you missed the news yesterday, Yadier Molina agreed to a five year deal for up to $75mm. The contract will begin at Molina’s age 30 season, since he was already under contract this year and the new contract is slated to begin after this season. Coincidentally, Brian McCann will become a free agent just before his age 30 season. Molina’s contract is a good base for what we should expect McCann to receive.
In December, Franklin wrote about why a deal will get done with McCann. He predicted a contract of five years and $80mm, which sounds just about right. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote this morning about how the Molina extension is probably better than most would immediately assume.
Cameron’s reasoning is that the lack of quality defensive metrics for catchers may cause Molina to be relatively undervalued. If you assume Molina is about a four win player, the $70mm contract nearly equals what his expected production will be over the course of the contract, says Cameron.
Using the same concept that Cameron did, the below chart details what McCann’s estimated dollar value should be, if you consider him to be the 4.45 win player that he has been over the past four seasons. Since the aging curve for catchers is limited from ages 28-29, I did not include a .5 win loss from this season to next season. Instead, I included a .125 loss (half of half), making him a 4.3 win player in 2013 and then discounted .5 wins in each following year. This is not exactly an exact science, but it does draw a sketch for what he would be worth over the length of a five year contract. I also included 5% inflation, just as Cameron did in his article.
Since 2012 and 2013 are already under contract, they are not included in the total. Interestingly enough, McCann’s total value during the length of a five year contract would be $80.5mm. Franklin’s estimation looks pretty accurate, to say the least.
If the Braves were going to extend McCann during free agency, they would like to sign him for a bit less than market value ($80.5mm). Molina signing this extension will make that a bit more difficult, as I am sure both McCann and his agent believe he is the better player. After all, the statistics that can be quantified all point heavily in McCann’s favor.
It is much easier to determine McCann’s value, since he is an offensive-minded catcher, than it is to determine Molina’s. Even so, it is still difficult to pinpoint exactly how good or bad catchers are defensively, which makes judging their overall value more difficult than other positions – even offensive catchers like McCann.
Molina’s contract provides a floor for McCann’s next deal, more than anything else. He will most likely sign for nothing less than $75m, which will only be a slight discount based on the above projections. It is possible that McCann signs a home town discount and his contract equals that of Molina’s, but it is far from a guarantee that he voluntarily takes such a discount. If McCann is extended before he hits free agency, a contract between $75-80mm over five years is what we should expect him to sign for. If they wait to sign him once he becomes a free agent and teams start bidding, a contract above $80mm is likely. Signing him this time next year, just as the Cardinals did with Molina, seems like the wisest choice for the Braves as they will likely save a small amount of money and will not have to worry about competing with other team’s bids.
December 1, 2011 at 10:58 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis, Farm System, Player Analysis, Transactions
So David O’Brien stoked up the fires of Braves fans everywhere with his most recent blog discussing the prospects for a Brian McCann extension. It was actually a very good article, though it more reported the facts than went into analysis of what will happen (DO’B is actually excellent at these kinds of articles). However, many Braves fans were highly perturbed that O’Brien would even suggest the possibility that the Braves may go with young Christian Bethancourt instead of extending McCann into the golden sunset. One Twitter follower even missed the point so badly that he tweeted O’Brien asking “you’re seriously comparing a future HOFer to a guy who has 0 MLB at bats (Bethancourt)?!”
Braves fans are just now coming to terms with the fact that Jair Jurrjens at the very least won’t be extended, and will probably be traded before he hits free agency. Then there’s the idea of also trading the gritty, scrappy, ‘just loves playing the game of baseball’ Martin Prado that’s also had some among the Braves faithful reigniting their disdain for GM Frank Wren. Not keeping McCann long term would just break their backs. Stay calm Braves fans. Brain McCann, barring a significant injury within the next year, will sign long term and here’s why.
Brian McCann likes being a Brave. This much is obvious, it’d be a great inconvenience for him to leave, personally. He’s built his whole life around this area and seems to genuinely love the area. If there was ever a candidate for a guy taking a hometown discount, it’s Brian McCann. No, he wouldn’t accept 7 years at 6 million a year or anything absurd like that. But I truly believe he’d take at least 2-3 million under what he’d get on the open market. As O’Brien also points out, he also has an agent that has taken team friendly deals in the past with Chipper Jones. Now, this isn’t so much about the agent, as it is a signal of McCann’s intentions. If McCann was fully intending to try to get the maximum he could squeeze out of the Braves, then he’d likely have changed agents by now. B.B. Abbott is the agent you choose when you want more of a ‘lifestyle deal’. While Scott Boras is excellent at what he does, he actually tends to avoid clients that aren’t seeking the maximum they can get, or at least he tries to convince them of the errors in their ways. The fact that McCann has chosen, and stuck with B.B. Abbott is a very good sign for Braves fans.
Now, the other issue is that Brian McCann may be worth more to the Braves than any other team. I know most of the SABR crowd is loathe to valuate a player on anything other than strictly on the field metrics. But the Atlanta Braves have spent a lot of money in marketing Brian McCann. While the ‘face of the franchise’ idea can often times be overplayed, some also might underplay it. The Braves marketing department has tied up a lot of the value of the Braves brand into the Brian McCann brand. In my view, they’ve in many ways put in a large long term investment in him already as a selling point both team value wise and ticket wise.
There are some counterbalancing factors here as well though. On a strictly ‘on the field’ measure McCann would likely be more valuable to an American League team, where he could transition to DH if his body wore down too much to be an effective catcher, and even if it didn’t, he’d provide additional value as a DH during his scheduled off days, much like Mauer has for the Twins.
However, it’s my firm belief that with the Braves substantial investment in marketing McCann as the selling point to fans for the franchise, and McCann’s comfort with the area, it is so far in both parties’ interest that it seems highly improbable that he won’t sign at least one more contract as a Brave. I believe the chances are high that after his next contract he would go to an AL team as his body continues to wear down from catching, but I think both sides, McCann and the Braves, will be willing to risk another 5-7 years (from this point forward, not 5-7 years from 2014) of McCann as a full time catcher.
Now, all that might not matter if the Braves just flat out cannot afford to sign him to an at least reasonable long term contract without crippling the franchise. So we have to explore what flexibility the team will have over the next 7 years and whether or not this would allow them to sign McCann.
Using Cot’s Atlanta Braves contract obligations page, we see that the Braves do indeed have substantial payroll flexibility. Not only are they only on the hook for Uggla after next year, but it appears they will be able to field an excellent pitching staff entirely based around ML minimum and arbitration players. This will likely allow them to field an entire starting staff for around the cost of C.C. Sabathia. During that time it seems likely that SS, RF and 1B will also be comprised of arbitration and ML minimum players (Pastornicky, Heyward and Freeman). It is difficult to know exactly where all these arbitration numbers will fall, and which players may or may not be non-tendered, but my estimate is that for 2014 (the first year the Braves wouldn’t control McCann), the Braves are looking at being able to fill 5 starters, Closer, Primary Set Up Man, 1B, 2B, SS and RF for around 35-40 million. There’s no reason to think the Braves budget will significantly deviate from the ~88 Million it’s been at in previous years. Leaving the team with roughly 50 million dollars to fill Catcher, 3B, CF and LF (along with bench spots and filler bullpen roles). I’ll just guess that the mix of 3B, CF, LF and bench/bullpen will cost somewhere around $30 Million, with a mix of prospects, trades and free agents filling those roles. That leaves the Braves with something like a max of $20 Million for McCann in 2014.
However, the issue isn’t McCann’s first year, it’s the subsequent years as players like Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel continue to see their salaries escalate through the arbitration ranks (or possibly having their arbitration and first few years of free agency bought out in an extension).
This would be the one drawback to having such a productive farm. The Braves would either be forced to trade at least some of these players, or have serious payroll restrictions. If many of these players perform like we expect them to, they could see arbitration awards in the neighborhood of 6-10 million, especially in their final years of arbitration. Beginning in 2016, the Braves will begin to feel a substantial pinch, as many of their top flight players are scheduled to hit the free agent market. If they aren’t resigned at substantial cost, and there isn’t a rookie waiting in the wings, they’ll have to be replaced at a substantial cost.
This is the part where things become tricky. If the Braves do sign McCann to a long term deal, they’re not only taking a gamble that McCann’s body will hold up to the rigors of catching full time for several more years, they’re also gambling that their farm system will continue to be just as productive as it has been in recent years. Especially 2015-2016. If the Braves begin to see the farm system well dry up during that time span, things could get ugly, as they’d be forced to either depend on substandard rookies or cheap free agents to fill in the gaps in 2015-2016.
With Bethancourt, the Braves would be taking substantially less of a gamble. Sure, he might not, in fact almost certainly will not, be the player that McCann is. But with Bethancourt at the ML minimum for a few years and then as a lower cost arbitration player, the Braves would have substantially greater payroll flexibility to cover over potential shortcomings in other areas.
That being said, I think that’s a gamble the Braves take. Wren seems justifiably confident in his ability to build and maintain a productive farm system, and the fact that the new CBA will no longer punish the Braves draft penny pinching ways quite as much bodes well for the future of the farm system. We can also take into account that if Bethancourt continues to mature into a highly valuable prospect, he could be traded to either bring in a missing piece, or more likely substantially bolster the farm system in areas of greater immediate need.
So, finally, let’s look at the exact dollar amounts that it would likely take to get it done. First we have to set the top and bottom of the market. Those two numbers are easy enough to set: McCann won’t take a paycut from his 2013 pay and no team is going to pay him more than the Twins shelled out for Mauer. That establishes his bottom number as $13 million and his top number as $23 million. Obviously however there is a lot of room between those two numbers.
First, I think we can attack the top number somewhat. Joe Mauer was also a hometown product (Born in St. Paul Minnesota), so many of the similarities between the two are stunning. However, I think that Mauer’s injury has scared some of the more skittish GMs, who might otherwise lavish money upon McCann, at least a little. Additionally, while McCann’s career numbers compare very favorably to Mauer’s, McCann hasn’t had a year like Mauer did in 2009, which was likely also overvalued by the Twins, because they seem to organizationally care a lot about batting average. I wouldn’t think McCann would be able to find much in excess of $19 million per on the free agency market. Especially since the Yankees seem content with a young catcher, the Red Sox seem to be going forward with Salty (interesting McCann gets blocked by Salty) and the Angels seem to be really high on Ianetta’s OBP. While all of thsoe are fluid situations, it likely precludes any of those teams from being able to fully just blow away the Braves offer. So, for now, let’s estimate the top of the market at $19 million.
At the bottom, I don’t see McCann taking anything under a $3 million raise from his option year on his current contract. So, we can then say the absolute bottom will likely be $15 million.
With a range of $15 million to $19 million, I’d expect that the Braves will first exercise their club option on McCann for 2013, then extend him midseason through 2018, for a total of 5 years, $80 million at $16 million per, with performance bonuses that could put him up to $18 million per.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides here. McCann will likely be leaving some money on the table, for stability and security. The Braves are taking a substantial risk that McCann will stay healthy and that their farm system will continue to provide the big club with several cheap younger players in future years. However, given the investments both parties have made in this relationship to this point, I don’t see any scenario (except substantial injury in the next year and a half) where both sides fail to agree to continue the relationship. I don’t even expect the dealings to be especially contentious.
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October 16, 2009 at 12:03 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Economic Analysis, Front Office, Links, Minor Leagues, Prospects, Tim Hudson
Updated: 10/16/2009 6:52 PM EST - See first and last bullet points.
Some links and analysis for your viewing pleasure.
- The Braves have parted ways with Reid Gorecki Vladimir Nunez (Baseball America got it wrong and has since corrected it), Jorge Campillo, and Buddy Carlyle (Hat Tip: Chop-n-Change). They were outrighted to AAA to make room on the 40-man roster for various off-season acquisitions and elected free agency over an outright AAA assignment. Vladimir Nunez is rather old and probably doesn’t have any future in the organization. I’m not so sure Campillo and Carlyle wouldn’t have been useful in 2010, though. Campillo, as most of you know, had season-ending shoulder surgery early in the season. He’s a soft-tossing junk pitcher, but he throws strikes and doesn’t walk many hitters (2.2 BB/9 in 2008). However, the Braves seem to have another similar guy at AAA in Todd Redmond, so maybe the free roster space is worth more than having Campillo on it. Carlyle is perhaps the most intriguing one. In 2008, he added a cutter to his repertoire and the results were very good. He was diagnosed with Diabetes in 2009 and spent most of the year rehabbing. Braves scouts know more than I do, but I figured he might be a useful piece in 2010. Oh well, I’ll be pulling for him wherever he goes. Vladimir Nunez Reid Gorecki was also outrighted and accepted his assignment to AAA . While he remains with the organization, he no longer occupies a spot on the 40-man roster.
- As many of you know, now former Braves’ scouting director Roy Clark has accepted a position with the Washington Nationals to become their director of scouting and player development. The Braves wasted no time finding a replacement, naming Tony DeMacio their new scouting director shortly after Clark’s departure. As Jim Callis of Baseball America notes (subscription required), DeMacio doesn’t have an impressive track record from his days in Baltimore, but his drafts were sabotaged by a great deal of ownership interference. Clark was very good at his job and will certainly be missed, but unlike Craig Calcaterra of NBCSports, I don’t consider this to be a significant blow to the organization. My belief is that people generally overstate the impact of scouting directors. Don’t get me wrong, they are important. But I believe the that the organization’s philosophy, the scouts themselves, and the general manager are more important. People considered losing Paul Snyder to be a huge blow but the organization soldiered on, largely un-phased. I suspect people will consider losing DeMacio a huge blow after he comes and goes, but life goes on.
- Tim Hudson has gotten a lot of attention in the past few weeks. There was some initial speculation, but a report by Ken Rosenthal that suggested Tim Hudson would likely void the $12 million club option if the Braves were to exercise it and, instead, elect free agency prompted much of the mental energy spent on the issue. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs gives his take, Matthew Pouliot of NBCSports speculates Hudson could get $50 million over 4 years on the open market, and JC Bradbury of Sabernomics makes his case. The report prompted the two Braves beat writers, Mark Bowman of MLB.com and David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to publish articles with quotes from Tim Hudson himself, refuting Rosenthal’s report and suggesting Hudson’s primary desire is to remain in Atlanta. My take: Hudson has never filed for free agency and this season probably represents his last opportunity to land a big contract on the open market. Still, he makes his permanent home in Auburn, Alabama and I believe he is sincere when he states his desire to stay in Atlanta. I believe he probably signs an extension with Atlanta. Perhaps after testing free agency, but I believe he will, in the end, find Atlanta to be the most attractive option.
- Baseball America has released their list of top-20 prospects for each of the 6 leagues in which the minor league affiliates of the Braves participate. I’ll link to them. Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, South Atlantic League, Carolina League, Southern League, and International League. Several Braves are mentioned. Speaking of prospects, I’ve finished my list and write-ups of the Braves’ top-40 prospects. It was a rather large undertaking, consuming the majority of my baseball endeavors over the past month. Though I’m glad to have finished, it was very fun to do. The new list now appears on the Top Prospects page. You’ll find links to all the goods there.
- Mac Thomason of Braves Journal provides some excellent insight and analysis in his latest post: Where Do We Go From Here? 2009: I. Do the Braves need offense? I generally agree with everything Mac writes. Not only is this article no exception, but it’s particularly insightful. There will undoubtedly be more installments to this series and I’ll most likely continue to link to them.
- Brian McCann underwent a second Lasik Surgery. Fingers crossed is my only comment.
I’ve decided to do an AFL report every Friday in conjunction with my Friday Links segment. I’ll recap the past week’s action. I may add a Monday AFL report segment as the off-season grows and I begin running out of things to talk about.
The Peo Saguaros season kicked off on Tuesday night with Braves 2009 first rounder Mike Minor delivering the first pitch. Minor exited after two innings (he was on a pitch count, standard procedure) having allowed 1 hit, 2 walks, and 1 unearned run. Jason Heyward got the start in right for the season opener and went 2-4 with 2 doubles and a stolen base. Wednesday night, every Braves representitive except Minor got in the game. Heyward again got the start in right and went 1-4 with a double, Freddie Freeman got the start at 1B and went 0-3 with a walk, Brandon Hicks got the start at 3rd and went 0-3. Jeff Lyman was the starting pitcher and allowed 3 hits, a walk, and 1 run in 2 innings. Lee Hyde and Craig Kimbrel each pitched in a scoreless inning in relief, Hyde allowing a hit and a walk, and Kimbrel allowing 2 walks. Hyde recorded a strikeout in the game and Lyman recorded two. Thursday night Heyward got his third consecutive start in right and went 1-4 with a walk. Brandon Hicks got the start at SS this time and went 2-5.
October 11, 2009 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Economic Analysis, Front Office, Transaction Analysis, Transactions
Looking back at the free agent market in 2009, there were plenty of busts and plenty of goldmines. The purpose of this research was to find out which signings were the best and worse. For brevity’s sake, I limited this study to free agents who signed a major league deal worth at least $1,000,000. The math I used was simple. I took the 89 players, added their collective average salaries (over the course of the deal), and divided it by their collective WAR (Wins Above Replacement). This gave me the average amount clubs paid per WAR in 2009. That figure $4,518,279–nearly identical to the $4.5 million clubs paid in 2008. I then multiplied each player’s WAR by $4,518,279 and subtracted their salaries to see which player netted his team the most on-field production beyond his salary. The results may surprise you:
|Ken Griffey Jr.||$2,000,000||0.2||SEA||-$1,078,784|
|Jerry Hariston Jr.||$2,000,000||1.0||CIN||$2,606,081|
|Chan Ho Park||$2,500,000||1.6||PHI||$4,869,730|
The five best signs of 2009 are as follows:
Number Five – Juan Rivera. 3 years, $12,750,000. 3.5 WAR.
Rivera hit .287/.332/.478 (.348 wOBA) and posted a UZR of 12.8. It was, by far, Rivera’s most valuable season.
Number Four – Craig Counsell. 1 year, $1,000,000. 2.8 WAR.
Counsell hit .285/.357/.408 (.336 wOBA) and posted a UZR of 6.4. It was Counsell’s most valuable season since he posted a WAR of 3.4 in 2005.
Number Three – Casey Blake. 3 years, $17,000,000. 4.3 WAR.
Blake hit .280/.363/.468 (.354 wOBA) and posted a UZR of 8.4. His next most valuable season came in 2004 (3.3 WAR), making it by far Blake’s most productive season.
Number Two – Carl Pavano. 1 year, $1,500,000. 3.7 WAR.
Pavano pitched 199 and 1/3 innings with the Twins and Indians, posting a 3.77 K/BB ratio and 5.10 ERA. The only season in which Pavano posted a higher WAR was 2004, the year he posted a 4.4 WAR which prompted the Yankees to sign him to a nearly $40 million contract that they’ll forever regret.
Number One – Felipe Lopez. 1 year, $3,500,000. 4.6 WAR.
Lopez hit .310/.383/.427 (.356 wOBA) and posted a UZR of 7.6. He was also worth 4.6 WAR in 2005.
And the five worst signs of 2009:
Number Five – Braden Looper. 1 year, $5,500,000. -0.9 WAR.
Looper pitched 194 and 2/3 innings, despite leading the league in ER allowed (113) and HR allowed (39).
Number Four – Pat Burrell. 2 years, $16,000,000. -0.6 WAR.
Burrell hit just .221/.315/.367 (.304 wOBA) in 476 PA’s, serving almost exclusively as the DH.
Number Three – Manny Ramirez. 2 years, $45,000,000. 2.6 WAR.
The suspension undoubtedly hurt Manny’s productivity, as he notched only 431 PA’s. Despite hitting .290/.418/.531 (.396 wOBA), he have a lot back in the field (-9.2 UZR) and was overall worth just 2.6 WAR.
Number Two – Francisco Rodriguez. 3 years, $37,000,000. 0.3 WAR.
Francisco Rodriguez pitched 68 innings with a 3.71 ERA, a 1.309 WHIP, and a 73-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not exactly “closer” stats.
Number One – Oliver Perez. 3 years, $36,000,000. -0.8 WAR.
Oliver Perez only pitched 66 painful innings, posting a 6.82 ERA, a 1.924 WHIP, and a 62-to-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It’s totally amazing to me that Omar Minaya still has his job.
September 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Economic Analysis, Quotes, Statistical Analysis
Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece called MVP Award Deserves Robust Debate on September 17th. The point of the piece was not to participate in said debate, but to encourage it. His thesis was that Sabermetricians across the internet are jamming the thought of Mauer for AL MVP down everyone’s throat relentlessly and discouraging debate on the issue. Both Rob Neyer and JC Bradbury (and Bradbury followed up Neyer’s response with another of his own) wrote responses to the article, but Joe Posnanski predictably wrote the best response. However, there is one point that I’d like to bring up. I encourage everyone to catch up with the entire debate, but for brevity’s sake, just read the Posnanski piece and Rosenthal piece (if you have time, the Posnanski one quotes extensively from the Rosenthal making the Rosenthal piece slightly unnecessary). Quoting from Posnanski now:
Here is how Ken leads off the piece:
Joe Mauer is American League Most Valuable Player.
How do I know?
The sabermetric community, through web sites, message boards and blogs, tells me so.
I’m inclined to agree with the choice of Mauer, but that’s not why I’m writing. No, I’m writing because of the cyber-shoutdowns of anyone who offers dissent, anyone who dares suggest Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis or whoever is a legitimate alternative to Mauer.
Ken goes on like this for a little while. He gets into some reasonable arguments later about why Mauer is not just a slam dunk MVP (missed about a month with injury, has spent 24 games as a DH, etc). But the point of his piece is not Mauer specifically (he tends to agree that Mauer should be MVP) but to fight back against Sabermetric bullying, I guess. Another quote:
Last I checked, it’s a free country. Last I checked, the MVP is a subjective choice. Yes, voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America occasionally screw up. But the beauty of the award, as outlined by the instructions given to voters, is “there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means.” Which, of course, drives sabermetricians nuts.
The award is not for highest VORP. It is not for most win shares, most runs created, most wins above replacement player. It is for something that no one can quite define, and — goodness gracious! — voters sometimes apply different interpretations from year to year.
Well, I have a couple of issues with what Ken is saying here. For one thing, I don’t think the beauty of the MVP award is that there is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. I don’t tend to find much beauty in ambiguity. I don’t think the statement: “I say the color blue is the best of all colors,” is a particularly beautiful statement just because there’s no clear-cut definition involved. But for years and years, that’s what the Baseball Writers (and I’m part of this) have done. Baseball Writers have determined that there’s no clear-cut definition for value, and as such one year it’s about a team’s performance, one year it’s about RBIs, one year it’s about leadership, one year it’s about pitching well in the ninth inning, one year it’s about the sweet music of clutch performance. I don’t buy it. I’m not saying there’s just one way to judge a player’s value — there are countless ways — but I’m saying that the things it takes to win baseball games do not just change at a sportswriter’s whim. And not all definitions of baseball value are valid or intelligent. Having “that look in the eyes” does not make a guy MVP.
And because of this, yes, I think the award IS for the highest VORP, the most win shares, the most runs created, the most wins above replacement level … and also the best OPS+, the best ERA+, the best Eqa, the best WPA, the best Total Average, the best UZR and however else you want to measure value (even most RBIs, most runs, more home runs, best batting average — if you want those limited stats). Because these are honest attempts to quantify value. Use one of them, use several, use your own stats and observations. But don’t tell me that baseball value — like porn and art — is something you know when you see. That has been the problem for years, this idea that we can just invent our own standards and yardsticks and touchstones because … well, who is going to stop us? No. Value is value. Saying an eight is more valuable than an ace in poker doesn’t make it so.*
*Bill James once made this MVP argument using poker as an example. He wrote how just because a player wins with three eights, that doesn’t make any of those eights as good as an Ace. And I remember sending him a devil’s advocate email saying “But in that particular poker hand, where the player wins with the 8s, doesn’t that mean that the 8 IS actually more valuable?” And he wrote back asking the perfect question: “OK, which of the three 8s is most valuable then?”
My issue here is that Joe and Bill, for that matter, try to use a metaphor that doesn’t quite work. Plus they’re slightly on the simplistic side.
I look at baseball and see a business. Everything is economically motivated. Therefore, to me, the most valuable player should be given to the most valuable player. Again, this metaphor is too simplistic to be applicable here, but if you have two eights and your opponent has an ace, you win the hand. Therefore, the ace is of zero value. Of course, in baseball this Ace would be worth money, because people would buy his jerseys, come to the games to see him, etc. But in poker–and this is why the metaphor doesn’t work–the ace is completely worthless against two eights. Because, when it’s all said and done, the guy with the 2 eights wins the hand. Alone, each one of these eights has less value than the Ace. But that’s just it. If you don’t consider the context of the card, you can’t get a true sense of it’s value. An eight with an eight is more valuable than an ace. The presence of that other eight makes it more valuable to the card player. The same is true in baseball.
What is Albert Pujols worth to the Washington Nationals? Well, let’s see. He’s an 8.1 WAR player, clubs pay $4.5 million per WAR, so he must be worth $36.45 million dollars, right? Wrong. Do you know why? Because even with the presence of Albert Pujols, the Nationals are still a sub-65 win team. Adding 8 wins to 50 doesn’t help. What’s the difference in 50 and 58 wins to the Washington Nationals? Nothing. And again, this is an over-simplistic metaphor because of the fact that the presence of Albert Pujols would be worth something to the Nationals, be it ticket sales or jerseys or whatever.
I have a hard time justifying the use of things a player alone can’t control, like ticket sales and team’s results, in something as important as baseball’s MVP award, but that’s what we’re dealing with here, aren’t we? I mean, you defined the award as the most valuable player. And though there are plenty of honest and fairly good attempts to quantify this value–VORP, Win Shares, WAR, etc.–you really don’t have any idea how valuable a player is until you consider the context. No man is on an island. The whole is more valuable than the sum of the parts.
Things like playing for a contender, being a fan favorite, and various other things that the player largely has zero control over, do matter. Perhaps if the award were given to the best player the use of various metrics alone would be enough criteria to come to a conclusion with. Such is simply not the case.
My bigger issue with Ken, though, is his bashing of the Sabermetric community for pushing Joe Mauer. He seems to be making the point that now the Sabermetrics are so engrained in baseball and in the media that people don’t have to shout down the mainstream media, they don’t have to push Mauer with such bullying force, they don’t have to act like the brute squad from The Princess Bride. Thus the: “Last I checked, it’s a free country,” bit. It strikes a fun image of stat-heads holding mainstream media members hostage with slide rulers and mechanical pencils.
Trouble is: It’s nonsense. I don’t buy that Sabermetrics are much more respected inside the game now than ever before. And I don’t buy that statistically inclined bloggers are the new power structure in baseball. The mainstream media is still, you know, mainstream. I don’t know how many television and radio announcers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many columnists and beat writers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many scouts and baseball executives talk about stats. But when I go from game to game on radio or TV or read my favorite newspapers, I don’t find myself bogged down with a lot of numbers, to say the least. I’ve got to believe that Ken’s whole notion that baseball bloggers are so powerful and overbearing that they are stifling free speech and people’s willingness to push for Derek Jeter as MVP over Joe Mauer is pretty comical.
I think the power that comes from the best bloggers who use statistics is that what they write MAKES SENSE. It isn’t loaded down with a lot of the myth-making and moral-judgments that some of my least favorite sportswriting has. To me, Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he can rise to the occasion, because he has this sixth sense out there, and because he plays brilliant defense that is so subtle it does not show up in the statistics. No, he’s a great player because he gets on base, and he hits for some power, and he steals bases at a high percentage of success, and because he is extremely durable at a tough defensive position, and, if you want to get away from stats, because his teammates seem to like and admire him enough that they credit him for much of their own success. The power of the best baseball bloggers is that they try to pierce through vagueness and wave away myth and get at the heart of things. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes, they don’t. But, to a new generation of sports fans, it makes a lot more sense than saying: “This guy’s just a winner.”
Ken wants honest debate in the MVP award … a worthy cause, but this seems an odd year to be demanding honest debate. You have a catcher — and a darned good catcher — hitting .374. He also leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He is the best hitter in the league, and he’s a Gold Glove caliber catcher. What honest debate is there to be had? How can anyone be more valuable? You can poke holes in his case — he missed some playing time at the beginning of the year, he doesn’t play for a great team — but I don’t think that’s honest debate. Nobody is close. Derek Jeter’s numbers are dwarfed — even with the difference in playing time. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis and Kendry Morales are all good hitters and they are all first basemen — quite a different role than a catcher — and Miguel Cabrera might be better than the three of them.
Baseball’s MVP award is probably the most cherished award in American sports (maybe the Heisman Trophy). People care about it, which is a good thing. It seems plain to many of us that Mauer is not only the MVP, but he’s OBVIOUSLY the MVP. And so we say it as loudly as possible. We don’t want anyone to miss it.
Finally, there’s this:
OK, that’s it, end of analysis. I don’t pretend it’s complete. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I just want to have a nice, civil discussion about a fascinating MVP race, a discussion that includes number geeks sitting in their basements, overworked hacks in press boxes across America and fans of all ages, colors and philosophies.
Ken, I love ya. I do. You’re the best. Please don’t use the geeks in the basement thing. Please. I sense you’re using it ironically here — but the thing is it’s just hackneyed and stupid and just plain horrific. We baseball writers and broadcasters for years have had a monopoly on presenting the game. Pitching was 90 percent of baseball because we said so. Managers needed to bunt more because we said so. Pitchers needed to go nine innings and pitch through pain because we said so. You judged a hitter on his batting average, a pitcher on his victories, a fielder on the number of errors he made, a player on his ability to perform when the chips are down — all because we said so. You know what? We were pretty stupid.
And some baseball fans — for the love of the game — pulled out their calculators, worked on spreadsheets, and tried to figure out what was really happening in baseball. And they still do. Sometimes they’re on. Sometimes they’re off. But they keep trying to see through the smoke. Some get paid, but most don’t. They don’t do it for money or because it’s their job. They do it because they are endlessly fascinated by baseball. That merits respect. And they’re right an awful lot. I learn new stuff about baseball from them every day.
Joe is absolutely right about the rest of the article. This is my favorite quote of the article:
We baseball writers and broadcasters for years have had a monopoly on presenting the game. Pitching was 90 percent of baseball because we said so. Managers needed to bunt more because we said so. Pitchers needed to go nine innings and pitch through pain because we said so. You judged a hitter on his batting average, a pitcher on his victories, a fielder on the number of errors he made, a player on his ability to perform when the chips are down — all because we said so. You know what? We were pretty stupid.
Yep. Pretty much. And finally, Joe Posnanski adds:
They’re right about Mauer too. He’s the MVP by a million miles. If there’s an honest argument to be made for Derek Jeter over Joe Mauer, I haven’t heard it yet.
Which is 100% right.
The piece was brilliantly written and Posnanski is right about the part he attempts to address. My point deviates from his purpose, but it’s valid nonetheless. Unless you consider context, you can’t know value. And that is one of the most overlooked, yet most important, concepts in sabermetric baseball debates.