Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Wheels Keep Turning

While many Americans will enjoy their mandatory occupational relief on on December 25th, the hot stove of the Major League Baseball offseason continues to burn, not unlike the ever burning yule log. With a number of the big name free agents no longer claiming unemployment, many of the contracts being currently negotiated, are the glue guys, not the big bricks. Every team needs players who fill the cracks, solidifying a team's roster, at least on paper. While these players don't command the same amount of media frenzy as say Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, oftentimes this lesser signings prove fruitful for teams once summer comes a callin'.

Rays Sign Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) to a 1-year $3.25 million contract:
This is largest free agent contract ever tendered to a pitcher by the Rays. You might be saying to yourself, "Three and a quarter million dollars is the largest free agent contract given out to a pitcher by Tampa Bay, that figure has to be close to what Josh Hamilton will pay in taxes next year." Such a sentiment wouldn't be out of line, except that the Rays have found that the formula for success in a small market is to grow talent in expensive areas like pitching, and spend the little capital they have on positions players. The Rays' robust success since 2007 shows that their formula works. Moreover, the fact that the Pirates, Mariners, Twins, and Athletics have all employed a similar strategy seals the deal on the Rays' strategy. So, why would the Rays spend the most money they ever have on a pitcher on Roberto Hernandez, a righty sinker-baller who most recently took a year sabbatical due to immigration issues. Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is a tall righty who throws a hard sinker that has led to a career 58.5 ground ball percentage. The Rays recently traded a pitcher with similar numbers to Hernandez, Burke Badenhop. Badenhop sports a career 55.3 GB%, doing so mostly out of a bullpen roll, as opposed to Hernandez who has pitched almost exclusively from the starting rotation. Even after trading James Shields the Rays remain well stocked in the starting pitching department, thus, I expect Hernandez to replace Badenhop in the bullpen. His splits show an ability to force ground balls against both righties and lefties, and with his drop in free passes given out, Carmona has brought his WHIP to a reasonable level for a pitcher who plays to contact (1.36 avg WHIP 2010+2011). He should be an upgrade for the Rays, but it surprises me they would hand out so much money for a bullpen pitcher, which leads me to believe that he may be a quasi-relief pitcher throwing multiple innings per outing.
My Grade: B (Knowing the Rays, they will use Hernandez in such a way to maximize his value, we just don't know how they will play out.)

Cubs sign Carlos Villanueva to a 2-year $10 million contract:
The Cubs are stocking their roster full of starting pitchers that are prime to perform better in 2013 than they did in 2012: Scott Feldman, Scott Baker and now Carlos Villanueva. For a club that doesn't project to be a winning club for another few seasons, these moves make the Cubs out to be akin to a rehab facility. Pitchers with past problems come to the Cubs and leave reinvigorated, rejuvenated, and prime candidates to be moved at the mid-season trade deadline. The Cubs sign these pitchers to contracts that are just high enough to entice them to sign in the Windy City but low enough that teams with a need for starting pitching will be willing to negotiate a trade. Glenn DuPaul of Beyond the Box Score recently published his thoughts on predictive pitching statistics, pointing towards kwERA as a solid predictor despite it's simplicity. Using DePaul's formula for kwERA, I calculated Villanueva's 2012 kwERA to be 3.65, but his ERA was higher, coming in at 4.16. Given that split, it isn't unreasonable to assume that Villanueva should see some improvement in 2013. Since any team trading for the righty would get him for 1.5 seasons, and would take on only a minimal amount of salary, Villanueva projects as a very tradeable pitcher come July 2013.
My Grade: A- (The Cubs didn't make a large monetary commitment to the Dominican native, and should be able to parlay him for a return of prospects at the trade deadline. In the meantime, Villanueva has job security, a sizeable increase in salary from the $2,770,500 million he made last season, and the possibility to moving to a winning team by the latter part of the summer.)
Brewers sign LHP Tom Gorzelanny to a 2-year $5.7 million contract:
Finally, the Brewers sign a free agent. Up to this point, the biggest move the Brewers front office had pushed through was trading Raul Mondesi Jr. to the Rays in exchange for righty reliever Burke Badenhop. This move also improves the Brewer bullpen, but instead of giving up a very young toolsy prospect, Brewers GM Doug Melvin has committed just under $6 million over two seasons to land Gorzelanny. Gorzelanny hasn't been anything special as far as pitchers go, but since moving to the bullpen, his production has improved. As a reliever, Gorzelanny has posted a 3.76 FIP despite a lower BABIP, which comes from an increase in strikeouts and a decrease in home runs. While Gorzelanny sports better numbers against lefties than righties, the only difference is that he gives up fewer walks to lefties. Is he more confident against lefties? Does he get more calls from umpires? Maybe it's the types of pitches he throws. Either way, in order to justify his salary, Gorzelanny needs to post ~ 0.5 fWins per season. Since moving permanently to the bullpen, Gorzelanny has posted 0.9 fWins in 2 years. Using PECOTA's as a forecasting model, Gorzelanny should play up to his contract. The Brewers haven't addressed their lack of depth in their projected 2013 starting rotation, but have improved their abysmal bullpen, which should buttress their already explosive offense well.
My Grade: B- (Gorzelanny isn't a great bullpen pitcher, but he comes cheap, and even as a league average pitcher, represents an upgrade to the Brewers bullpen. If Gorzelanny can lower his walk rate and induce some more ground balls, he could provide extra value.)

Marlins sign 3B Placido Polanco to a 1-year $2.75 million contract:
This signing defines uninteresting. The Phillies made the easy decision to decline the $5.5 million option on Polanco, allowing him to become a free agent. Polanco spent much of 2012 on the disabled list. When in the lineup, he produced little offensively, but did provide continued above average defense at third base (2 DRS, 4.1 UZR, 5.2 FRAA). Polanco is a contact hitter that rarely strikes out. The key to his success at the plate is to reach base safely, sporting a career .344 on base percentage, but in 2012, Polanco's OBP dropped to a below-average .302. While much of this may have been due to a lower back injury that sidelined him for all but 90 games in 2012, if it is purely a decline in production, Polanco's career may be nearing an abrupt end. If he can put up the .279/.332/.368 slash line that Bill James projects him to produce, than Polanco might be rewarded by a mid-season trade to a contendor, or even another 1-year deal, for more money, in 2014. For the Marlins, this allows the team to either platoon the righty Polanco with lefty prospect Zack Cox, leave Cox in triple A for the year, or some combination of the two. Polanco hails from Miami, so signing there makes a lot of sense for him, in spite of the fact that Miami may compete with the Astros for worst record in MLB in 2013.
My Grade: A (This deal is good for everyone involved.)

Cubs sign RHP Edwin Jackson to a 4-year $52 million contract:
Edwin Jackson
2013 will mark Edwin Jackson's 7th full season in Major League Baseball. In 7 seasons, Jackson has played for 6 different teams, having been traded 5 times. Last year he signed a 1-year deal with the Washington Nationals. Jackson has become a "just better than average" starting pitcher. He sports a K%, BB%, and FIP that lie just above the league average. In 2012, Jackson experienced a drop in opponents BABIP (.278), signifying a regression toward the mean (.293) in 2013, but simultaneously saw a spike in his HR/9 (1.09 in 2012 0.72 in 2011). This spike in home runs could be due to pitching half of his games in Washington D.C., which ranks 13th out of 30th in most home runs surrendered by stadium, or it could point to some bad luck. Either way, using Jackson's kwERA and xFIP from 2012 (3.73, 3.79), it would seem that Jackson should put up better numbers in 2013. PECOTA doesn't like Jackson, forecasting him to put up under 1 WARP/season over the course of his new contract. Jackson, like most pitchers, does better after going up 0-1 in an at bat rather than starting the at bat with a ball. Jackson is at the point in his career at which intelligence and adaptability become more important than talent. If E-Jax can learn how to get ahead of hitters more often, combined with the switch to Wrigley Field, he could justify his $13 million AAV (2.6 fWins/season). This contract differs from most that the Cubs have tendered to players of recent in that it is a multi-year deal for a considerable AAV. It signifies that the Cubs are looking a little further down the road, locking up a better-than-average starting pitcher for 4 years. If the price for an "Edwin Jackson" type starter increases in the next 3 years as it most likely will, than by 2015 this deal could look like a steal. In addition, it isn't unreasonable to think that that Cubs will be in contention by 2015-2016, which could make Jackson a valuable and cheapish asset to have under control.
My Grade: B+ (Jackson gets an A for finally getting some job security and the highest AAV he's ever had, while the Cubs get a B. The Cubs are taking a chance, albeit not a huge one, so I can't say this is a slam-dunk.)

Rangers sign C A.J. Pierzynski to a 1-year $7.5 million contract:
After not signing Greinke or Hamilton, and failing to trade for Justin Upton, the Rangers finally make a move. Texas has signed veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a 1-year contract at $7.5 million. Pierzynski put up great numbers in 2012, headed by a major power surge. Pierzynski hit a career high 27 home runs in 2012, leading to a .223 ISO. U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago has long been a hitter park, but it took Pierzynski until 2012 to take advantage of the home-run friendly nature of his home field. According to fielding metrics for catchers, Pierzynski has always been just below average, which is another way of saying playable. Pierzynski had massive splits between lefties and righties in 2012, hitting for a .369 wOBA versus righties last year but only .293 versus lefties last year. He'll be platooning at the catcher position for the Rangers in 2013 with fellow backstop Geovany Soto, making a solid hitting duo at the plate. Pierzynski isn't the long-term solution for the Rangers behind the plate, but since they need to look to upgrade at other positions as well, nailing down the catcher position at a pretty inexpensive price tag works well for Texas. Since the Ballpark in Arlington is as hitter-friendly, if not more hitter-friendly, than U.S. Cellular Field, Pierzynski should expect some attrition in his power numbers, but not by as much as Bill James projects (.223 ISO in 2012, .153 projected 2013 ISO).
My Grade: A- (Pierzynski might have wanted a multi-year deal, but given his age this has to be the best he could do. The Rangers are set at catcher for 2012, and add a veteran presence to their team at a good price.)

Francisco Liriano
Pirates sign LHP Francisco Liriano to a 2-year $12.75 million contract:
Remember kwERA? Well, Francisco Liriano put up a 4.01 kwERA and 5.34 ERA in 2012. While neither number points towards great pitching, the 1.33 difference is one of the highest in MLB last year, pointing towards a bounce back year for Liriano. Combine that with his move from Chicago's hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field to pitcher-friendly PNC Park, points towards 2013 as a year of improvement for Liriano. Add in some better defense behind Liriano, and he becomes a similar pitcher to Edwin Jackson. Jackson has been more consistent than Liriano, hence the difference in AAV and number of years in this contract in comparison to the one the Cubs gave to E-Jax. This is Liriano's first free agent contract, and at the end of it, he'll still be only 30 years old, allowing him to find another multi-year deal. Pittsburgh needed to upgrade it's starting rotation, becoming the 2nd southpaw of the bunch. PECOTA projects Liriano to put up 1.7 and 1.8 WARP respectively in 2013 and 2014, which would be a significant increase from his 2011/2012 production (0.7/0.0). I also expect Liriano to improve, but the best thing he can do is lower his walk rate. If Liriano can go from a 5.00 BB/9 to a 4.00 BB/9, he might go from being a 1-2 fWin player to a 3-4 fWin player. Given the Pirates recent improvements, and the significant young talent knocking at the MLB door (Gerrit Cole, Jamison Taillon, and Starling Marte), pitchers like Francisco Liriano could help them compete for a Wild Card spot in 2013/2014.
My Grade: A (From what I've seen, the Pirates are positioning themselves perfectly to make a splash in 2013/2014. The Liriano signing is prudent, justified, and a solid pecuniary decision. For Liriano, this is great because it's for more than 1 season, and allows him to pursue more money his next go around on the open market.)

Indians sign Nick Swisher to a 4-year $56 million contract:
Nick Swisher
The 2012 offseason market for outfielders was vast, but has diminished in size due to a mix of signings and trades. Overall, those many moves made Nick Swisher a hot commodity. Swisher plays both the corner outfield spots as well as 1st base, provides average defensive ability, almost no speed on the bases, and strikes out at an above-average rate. On the other hand, Swisher is an on-base machine, posting the 14th best on base percentage amongst all MLB outfielders in 2012. He hits for power, posting a .201 ISO, 24 home runs, and collects an extra base hit every 2.5 games. Research has shown that players with good plate discipline tend to age better than those without it. Since Swisher's contract with the Indians will cover his age 32-35 seasons, we can expect Swisher's impressive on-base numbers to hover right around .360. Swisher has had very consistent success from a power-hitting perspective, but given players' tendency to lose some power as they age, we can't expect Swisher to hit 25 home runs per season throughout the course of his newly minted contract. Still, Swisher should remain a valuable player over the next few years, and the forecasting system PECOTA backs me up on this assumption.
Projected WARP Projected Worth in $(Million)
2013 2.2 $18.04
2014 2 $16.40
2015 1.7 $13.94
2016 1.2 $9.84
Now that we've asserted and, for the most part, confirmed that Swisher is a successful player, let's analyze his new destination. Cleveland made a splash earlier this winter when GM Chris Antonetti traded OF Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds in a 3-team trade, and received Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs in return. Stubbs joins Michael Brantley as options to play center field, but the Indians continued to need corner outfielders. With Swisher projecting as the Indians opening day right fielder, it allows Terry Francona to set up a a very good defensive outfield with Brantley, Stubbs, and Swisher playing in left, center, and right field respectively. Here's the problem. Swisher is a veteran who would make a good team into a potential playoff team, but the Indians are a bad team that, even with the addition of Swisher, most likely won't make the playoffs in 2013. Swisher could contribute to playoff pushes for he Indians in 2015 and 2016, but by that point he'll be older and thus less productive. Swisher won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009, but his AAV has broke $10 million for the first time in 2012. This shows he was looking for the team that would give him the highest AAV for the longest term. In addition, Swisher has roots in Ohio as he attended Ohio State University for college before becoming a professional Baseball player. Even though numerous teams were reportedly courting Swisher, Nick took the deal that fit him best.
My Grade: B+ (A+ for Swisher who looks to have gotten everything he wanted out of this deal. The Indians get a C-C+ for the move because while Swisher is an upgrade, the move makes little sense in 2013 because the Indians aren't making the playoffs in 2013 and probably not in 2014 either. It could prove fruitful in 2015 and 2016, but by then Swisher won't be the player he is now. Still, Swisher is an upgrade, plain and simple, both in 2013 and beyond.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Outfielders, They're Everywhere

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim recently made a dashing, daring, out-of-the-blue move, snatching Josh Hamilton, considered the best hitter on the free agent market this offseason, to a 5-year $125 million contract. With the signing of Hamilton, the Angels now found themselves with an abundance of outfielders, a group that includes Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, and Peter Bourjos. Also, due to the Angels residence in the American League, we can add Kendrys Morales to that group as well. The Angels have already made it known that they are willing to hear offers for any of the players mentioned above except for Mike Trout. Especially given the fact that the Angels could still use a #3 or better starter to solidify their roster, Trumbo and Bourjos, who have the most value, look to be the most likely to be traded. The question remains, where might Bourjos, a speedy outfielder who plays great defense (think Ben Revere), or Trumbo, a right-handed masher at the plate with trouble finding a position to play in the field, end up.

Peter Bourjos Bunting
Peter Bourjos: So far this offseason, we've seen two similar players moving from one team to another via the trade. First the Twins traded Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for RHP Alex Meyer, and next the Twins traded Ben Revere to the Phillies in exchange for RHP Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May. Bourjos plays a very similar style of game to Revere and Span in that every aspect of his game that adds value comes from his speed. Over his two and a half seasons in the Majors, Bourjos has a well above-average infield hit percentage and bunt hit percentage. His defense is excellent, ranking 2nd in outfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating and 7th amongst all outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved last season. Interestingly, Bourjos had a significant drop off in his overall value from 2011 to 2012 despite becoming a much better defender, something that generally adds value, not subtracts it. So, what happened to Bourjos in 2012? My opinion is that due to a nagging wrist injury that he suffered after being hit by a pitch caused Bourjos to swing at fewer pitches, thus giving himself fewer chances to use his speed to get on base.
SB OBP IFH% O-Swing % Z-Swing % F-Strike %
2011 22 0.327 14.1% 33.2% 63.0% 62.9%
2012 3 0.291 9.7% 25.8% 60.4% 65.1%
Looking at his numbers, the 2012 version of Bourjos stopped swinging at as many pitches as he did in 2011. Both his swing percentages, at pitches in the strike zone and out of the strike zone, dropped and the percent of first-pitch strikes he saw went up. The difference in the ability for a hitter to get on base between going down 0-1 or going up 1-0 in any given at bat is staggering. Hitters that get ahead of the pitcher gain a significant advantage in getting on base, a sign that one of the worst things Bourjos could have done was to swing at fewer pitches. Swinging at fewer pitches affected Bourjos' infield hit percentage, which plummeted from 14.1% to 9.7%. 9.7% is still above the MLB average for all outfielders, but given Bourjos' lack of power, .155 career ISO and 16.1 extra-base hits per 100 games played, he needs a healthy wrist in order to achieve his full potential at the plate. Given the offseason's magical healing qualities, I see Bourjos as a +2.5 win player +/- .6 wins.

So, now that know a little more about Bourjos, where, if the Angels decide to trade him might he fit best? The Cubs could be possible suitors for the young outfielder, who is under team control for the next 4 seasons, entering his 1st year of arbitration in 2014. Currently the Cubs project to start David DeJesus, Alfonso Soriano, and Nate Schierholtz in their outfield, none of whom plays good enough defense to justify playing in centerfield. Given that the Cubs were willing to offer Anibal Sanchez a 5-year contract at $77 million, it isn't unreasonable for the Cubbies to trade a starting pitcher and replace that rotation spot with a free agent signing. So, maybe the Cubs should consider trading Peter Bourjos for righty starter Matt Garza. Garza has one year left on his contract, but he's also returning from an elbow injury, making him the perfect trade partner in a straight up 1-for-1 trade with the Angels. The Angels lost out on Zack Greinke, and still need that third 2nd tier starter in their rotation to complement Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson.

Southpaw Jon Lester
Another possible destination for Bourjos is Boston. Given the fact that Boston already has Jacoby Ellsbury to play center field, Bourjos doesn't look like a fit. How about this trade proposal? The Red Sox send Jacoby Ellsbury to the Texas Rangers in exchange for RHP Alexi Ogando and LHP Robbie Ross, and simultaneously trade LHP Jon Lester to the Angels for Peter Bourjos. These moves make a lot of sense for every team involved. The Rangers get their replacement for Josh Hamilton in Jacoby Ellsbury without trading prized prospects Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, and Martin Perez, while the Red Sox add serious depth and controllable years to their starting rotation. The Sox also acquire Bourjos who will camp out for cheap in center field allowing the Sox to utilize Shane Victorino in right field. The Angels get a bonafide #2 start in Jon Lester at a reasonable price for one year.

Mark Trumbo: Who is Mark Trumbo? Of every player to hit above a .220 ISO (MLB avg in 2012 was .151), Trumbo had the 3rd worst BB%. Trumbo's high swing percentage and low contact percentages on pitches both in and out of the strike zone, portray a strong free-swinger who needs to develop some plate discipline in order to become more like an Adrian Beltre type hitter rather than a Chris Davis like hitter. At only 26 years old, Trumbo isn't expected to have already developed the plate discipline he needs to succeed for the next 10 seasons, but few players at his age have. As you can see by Trumbo's numbers in different pitch counts, Trumbos fairs disproportionately well when the count is in his favor, but as the count drifts from 0-0 to 0-1, to 0-2, he becomes extremely susceptible to breaking pitches out of the zone, leading to easy outs for the defense. Since Trumbo, like Bourjos, is under team control for the next 4 seasons, the needed improvements in plate discipline and BB% have time to come. In the meantime, Trumbo will continue to crush the ball when he makes contact.

In the field, Trumbo has more issues. He's played both first base and outfield for the Angels, proving to be below average in the outfield and surprisingly above average at first base. This split brings up the comparison of the Nationals Michael Morse who has also played both outfield and 1st base, playing subpar in the outfield and above average at first. If the Angels find an American League suitor for Trumbo, a mix of first base and DH would fit him well, and might even provide positive defensive value. A trade to an NL team in which he might split time between left field and first base might make him more of an aggregate average defensive player. From a base running perspective Trumbo is above average on the bases. These good numbers derive more from smart base running rather than speed, something the 6 foot 4 inch 225 pound Trumbo doesn't possess.

Mark Trumbo
Where else, other than in LA, might Trumbo fit? 3 teams come to mind. First up is the Miami Marlins. The Marlins recently cleared house by moving all major contracts to either Toronto or Arizona, but one player remaining on the Marlins depth chart that could be moved is righty Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco projects to be a +1.5 win (WARP) player according to PECOTA for another 3-4 seasons. He's currently under contract for one more season at a reasonable salary of $11.5 million. He isn't as big time an acquisition as Jon Lester, but he is a better option than Joe Blanton or Tommy Hanson. The Marlins would get their first baseman of future, and just as importantly, a power bat to complement Giancarlo Stanton. It's possible that in order to make this acquisition a done deal the Marlins may need to either pay a portion of Nolasco's 2013 salary or add in a young prospect.

Another possible destination for Trumbo is Tampa Bay. Tampa signed James Loney to a one-year deal, but Trumbo would make a great platoon bat at first base given that he is a righty and Loney a lefty, but would also do well for the Rays at DH, a position that currently has Ryan Roberts filling. Trumbo would be under Rays control for 4 years, and would be given a chance to contribute every day. In order to complete such a transaction, the Rays might consider trading RHP Jeff Niemann, who becomes a free agent in 2015. The Rays have options to fill Niemann's spot in the rotation including Chris Archer, Alex Torres, and the newly signed Roberto Hernandez. This might weaken the Rays rotation a bit, but they gain 2 overall years of control, solidify the middle of their lineup, and allow a young starter to gain some much needed experience.

Justin Masterson
The final possible venue for Trumbo would be in Cleveland. The Indians already made a trade this offseason in order to build for the near future, and making a deal for Trumbo would follow the same game plan. The Indians got the worst power production from the 1st base spot of any team in Major League Baseball last season at .106 and the worst slugging percentage in the league at .342. In addition, the Indians have been known to be shopping a starting pitcher like Justin Masterson with teams like the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox interested in the righty sinker baller. Masterson is under team control for 2013 and 2014, is a good candidate for a contract extension, and forecasts as a ~ +1.8 win player for 2013 and 2014. The Indians would receive a first baseman to help fans forget the troubles they had with Travis Hafner, becoming the exclusive option at 1st after 2013 since the Indians already signed Mark Reynolds to a one-year contract for next season. In Masterson, the Angels would be getting a pitcher who is dominant when he locates his hard sinker, but only a bit above average when he's wild. Masterson is a ground ball machine who gives up very few home runs. It means he's not liable to let walks score en masse, but he might not be counted on to go more than 6 innings due to a high WHIP (1.45 in comparison to a 1.31 league average). He's a better pitcher than both Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, and similar to C.J. Wilson (2012 fWAR: Wilson- 2.5 Masterson- 2.3).

The Angels have a plethora of outfielders, with numerous possible lineup combinations depending on which outfielder they trade or if they make any trades.
Position Player Proj 2013 WARP
LF Trumbo 1.3
CF Trout 2.2
RF Hamilton 3.4
Total - 6.9
LF Trout 2.2
CF Bourjos 1.7
RF Hamilton 3.4
Total - 7.3
Both combinations of outfielders are quite valuable, especially since we can expect a better WARP than 2.2 out of Mike Trout next season. Both Bourjos and Trumbo have value on the trade market; enough value to garner a decent pitcher in return. If the Angels instead find a new home for Vernon Wells or Kendrys Morales, they will have retained a better overall lineup for now and the future, but most the team most likely will not upgrade their rotation significantly enough to make a difference. If the team trades Vernon Wells, the key will be to ask for little in return other than for the acquiring team to pick up the ridiculous $42 million left on Well's current contract. If the Angels were to get rid of even 3/4 of Well's contract, it might allow them to go after the best free agent pitchers on the market next year. Overall, the Angels hold all of the cards. If they don't want to trade anyone, they have that option. On the other hand, their current depth chart shows a need in the rotation and a plethora of outfielders, pointing towards an upcoming trade.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Recent Movement: Part II

Free agency and the MLB offseason stop for no one. Following the usually bustling Winter Meetings, numerous free agents have signed with teams and trades have been consummated. In our first installment, I looked at contracts signed by Zack Greinke, Kevin Youkilis, Ichiro Suzuki, and others. In this follow up post I'll look at some of the contracts signed in the last three days including big names like Josh Hamilton and Anibal Sanchez as well as minor ones like Mike Adams and John Lannan. So, without further adieu, let's begin.

Josh Hamilton in Halo Red
LA Angels sign OF Josh Hamilton to a 5-year $125 million contract: With Zack Greinke safely secure in a Dodgers jersey, the next biggest name remaining unsigned until now was Josh Hamilton. According to sources, prior to signing this multi-year deal with the Angels, Hamilton's suitors included the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Seattle Mariners. Notice how I didn't mention the Angels as a team noted to be interested in Hamilton. No one saw the Angels coming, but LA has a history of swooping in as a mystery team to sign big name free agents. Last offseason Jerry Dipoto and Arte Moreno made a big splash by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to multi-year deals. This offseason, the Angels revamped their pitching staff, but no one suspected them of needing another outfielder. Nonetheless, Hamilton is now a halo, staying in the same division, but moving a bit further west.

So, what does Hamilton bring to the table? Hamilton is a top hitter. While in Texas, Hamilton put up great offensive numbers including both power numbers and hitting for average.
2008 0.384 132 32 0.226 4.1
2009 0.321 85 10 0.158 1.4
2010 0.445 175 32 0.274 8.4
2011 0.369 126 25 0.238 4.1
2012 0.387 140 43 0.292 4.4
As you can see, Hamilton is the prototypical middle of the order hitter, He creates runs at above average rates, hits home runs regularly, and in 4 out of the last 5 seasons he has been an overall offensive juggernaut. In the field, Hamilton has shown to be adequate, posting solid UZR numbers in every season in Texas other than 2012. With the impending move from the more demanding position of center field to a corner outfield spot, Hamilton's defensive numbers should return to above average rates. Hamilton brings the entire package to Los Angeles. The Angels made a bold move here. They are a wealthy team, with major money coming in from a big TV deal, but most though the Angels were done spending after picking up Pujols and Wilson. Instead, Hamilton joins Pujols and Mike Trout as a three-headed monster in the Angels lineup. 

Interestingly, the Angels signing of Hamilton fits well with the other moves the team has made this offseason. The team ridded themselves of the talented underachieving Ervin Santana as well as Dan Haren replacing the two starters with Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson. Hanson and Blanton are solid innings eaters, but without a solid offense, these two pitchers won't make the difference between Angels wins and losses. Well, with the addition of Hamilton, the Angels added the cog that will help the Angels win games despite average pitching. With Trout, Hamilton, and Pujols making up 3 of the first 4 spots in the Angels batting order, opposing pitchers will have to tread carefully. 

My Grade: A- (Okay, so no one saw this coming, but it actually makes a lot of sense for both the Angels and Hamilton. Hamilton moves away from Texas, but joins a team with one of the best managers in baseball, and most importantly a team willing to give him more than a 4-year contract. Hamilton wanted stability, but most teams saw him as volatile given his off the field problems with substance abuse. The Angels needed another big bat in their lineup to provide value in place of the departing Zack Greinke. It's odd to think that the Angels could replace Greinke's production on the mound with a bat, but value is value, and instead of giving up fewer runs, the Angels are just going to score more. Both lead to more victories.)

Red Sox sign RHP Ryan Dempster to a 2-year $26.5 million contract: You might be asking yourself, do the Red Sox have a thing for players making $13 million AAV? Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and now Ryan Dempster will all make ~ $13 million per season over the course of their contracts with the Sox. Victorino and Napoli aside, let's focus on Dempster's recent deal. Dempster is somewhat of a phenomenon in that his career took off after crossing age 30 threshold. Ever since Dempster turned 30, he has posted an average fWAR of 3.6 per season as opposed to an average fWAR of 0.8 in the 5 years prior to turning 30. This portrays a pitcher who has always had talent, but figured it out later in his career. That type of turnaround only comes from someone who has the intelligence to adapt towards falling velocity on his fastball, and the acumen to learn how to fool hitters by locating and mixing up his pitches. PECOTA projects Dempster to put up 1.7 and 1.2 WARP in 2013 and 2014 respectively, making him worth just about the amount of money he will be paid in those years. The Red Sox are definitely not stupid, and whether Dempster ends up becoming a trade candidate at he 2013 deadline or a solid #3 starter for a contending Sox team, Ben Cherington and company can be assured to get a solid value out of Dempster. Dempster gets outs by throwing a hard sinker that has a solid pitch value, enough to consistently get Dempster GB% numbers above 43%. Combine those numbers with a K/9 rate of ~ 8.00, and you've got a pitcher that keeps the ball in the ballpark, but misses plenty of bats as well. As long as Dempster continues to pound the strike zone, keeping his BB/9 low, he should provide the value that PECOTA forecasts he will.
My Grade: B+ (The Red Sox should get solid value out of Dempster, with the key to his deal being the length of the contract, not the dollar amount. If the Red Sox are contenders in 2013, Dempster will surely be a significant component, but if they falter, he would be the perfect trade candidate at the 2013 trade deadline. Most teams in contention would love a right-handed veteran who gets ground balls at a reasonable salary and with one year of control under his belt.)

Anibal Sanchez
Tigers sign RHP Anibal Sanchez to a 5-year $80 million contract: So what do we have here? Every big name free agent on the 2012-2013 market has changed teams. Greinke went from the Angels to the Dodgers, Hamilton switched AL West teams going from Texas to LA, and B.J. Upton moved from Tampa to Atlanta. Finally, a top free agent who decided to stay with his 2012 team for the future. As this article shows, Greinke and Sanchez compare fairly favorably, except that Greinke has shown glimpses of ace status pitching, while Sanchez seems to top out at a #2 starter. Still, Sanchez's new $80 million contract bests C.J. Wilson's deal deal from last offseason, so how did this deal get done? It was reported that the Cubs had offered Sanchez a deal similar to the one Wilson got last season from the Angels, until Sanchez decided to give the Tigers a last shot at besting the Cubs' offer. The Tigers swooped in, and signed Sanchez, effectively stealing him from the Cubs. Sanchez obviously wanted to return to Detroit, but then why would he want to leave? The Tigers are contenders who need Sanchez to solidify their rotation behind Justin Verlander. Sanchez is young (28 years old), durable (3 straight seasons with at least 195 innings pitched), keeps the ball in the park (.92 HR/9 in 2012), and most importantly, projects well in the future. At $16 million AAV, Sanchez will need to continue his > 3 win success in order to justify the money coming his way. Whether he can accomplish this feat is unknown, but given the Tigers' other option, this was probably the best decision for the franchise. 
My Grade: B (A+ for Sanchez seeing as he's probably getting more money than he's worth, but only a C+ for the Tigers. Theoretically they could have spent that money more wisely because Sanchez isn't a sure thing. It'll be interesting to see if Sanchez lives up to this deal, or becomes an overpaid #4 starter.)

Mike Adams
Phillies sign RHP Mike Adams to a 2-year $12 million contract: Ruben Amaro continues to stupefy Phillies fans by making prudent, intelligent, and understated moves. First he traded for Ben Revere instead of paying boatloads of money for Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourn, next he traded for Michael young instead of signing Kevin Youkilis, and now he's making smart decisions to upgrade the bullpen. Mike Adams is about as solid of a bullpen pitcher as is out there. Adams won't blow you away, but he throws a very good cutter and curveball that fool hitters from both sides of the plate, forcing them to hit the ball on the ground, but more importantly keeping the ball in the park. Adams, even in home run friendly Texas, kept his HR/FB % below 8%, which is an incredible feat. Since 2006 only three Texas relievers have kept their HR/FB % below 8%, and they are all considered top of the line relief pitchers (Joaquin Benoit, Neftali Feliz, and Darren Oliver). Adams has been durable, providing an average of ~ 59.0 innings pitcher per season since 2008, doing so in San Diego and Texas. It is important for late inning relievers to be able to pitch in higher-pressure situations, and Adams does just that, posting positive WP/LI numbers in his last 5 seasons as well as a 1.27 clutch in 2012. At age 35, it makes sense that Adams is looking for a veteran team with playoff hopes as well as a multi-year contract. The Phillies must have been thrilled to keep Adam's annual salary to an average of $6 million, willingly giving the righty pen pitcher more than a single year deal. Adding Adams to lefty Antonio Bastardo, righty Philippe Aumont, and closer Jonathan Papelbon makes a lot of sense, and solidifies the Phillies bullpen.
My Grade: A (There is little to be said against this deal. The Phillies aren't paying a lot for a solid late inning reliever with experience, and an inability to give up home runs, which is a must in home run friendly Citizens Bank Park. Adams gets the security of a 2-year deal, something most relievers over the age of 35 get.)

Phillies sign LHP John Lannan to a 1-year $2.5 million contract: Ruben Amaro continues to impress. The Phillies trade of Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins in exchange for Ben Revere left the Phillies with a hole in their rotation. This is precisely the hole that the Phillies expect John Lannan to fill. Lannan spent most of his time in triple A last season due to the plethora of pitchers the Nationals had on their roster including Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, etc... So, why would the Phillies want a pitcher who couldn't even crack an opening day roster in 2012? Well, John Lannan is a very specific type of pitcher. He, like Mike Adams, keeps the ball in the ballpark, and more importantly keeps the ball on the ground. In his career, Lannan has put up some abysmal strikeout numbers (career 4.71 K/9), but has compensated for his inability to miss bats by posting a career GB% of 53%. While Lannan will give up his share of base runners, with runners on base, he has a 50% ground ball percentage, showing his ability to keep runners from scoring by forcing hitters to ground into double plays. The Phillies have solid up-the-middle defense in the combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, a duo that should make Lannan look very good. In looking at a comparison between the departed Worley and Lannan we see a two pitchers who produce similar value but do so in completely different ways. Worley combined solid K/9 rates with good left on base % to keep his ERA down, while Lannan uses the ground ball to get most of his outs. So the equation for this deal is as follows: Ben Revere + John Lannan = Vance Worley + Trevor May. Does this make sense? Well, it probably does. The Phillies have a group of young pitchers all close to being able to compete for the 5th spot in their rotation including Jonathan Pettibone and Brody Colvin, so signing Lannan to fill that spot for one season makes a lot of sense. Here's what PECOTA projects for the Phillies 2013 rotation: 
2013 WARP
Roy Halladay 4.2
Cliff Lee 3.6
Cole Hamels 3.6
John Lannan 0
Kyle Kendrick -0.3
Total 11.1
My Grade: B (Now the Phillies sport three ground ball pitchers in their rotation to go along with strikeout gurus Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Lannan is a cheap replacement for Vance Worley, and he's only under contract for one year. For Lannan, this contract means an chance at redemption. A chance to show every team that he can still pitch, and that the Nationals were fools for relegating him to triple A. Citizens Bank park is a home run friendly venue, but doesn't lend itself to lots of other extra base hits, so if Lannan can keep the ball on the ground and in the park, he should perform well in 2013)

The free agent market looks to be shaping up. With Hamilton off of the market it is only a matter of time before Nick Swisher, Cody Ross, and Michael Bourn have new contracts. Multiple teams still need outfielders and those are three very good ones. Pitching-wise, with Greinke and Sanchez signing contracts, teams will begin to scramble to complete their starting rotations with those pitchers left on the market. In my next column, I'll look at the two, and soon to be three big trades made since the end of Baseball's Winter Meetings. 

Recent Movement: Part 1

Baseball's Winter Meetings may be over, but it doesn't mean the shopping has stopped. We are only a few weeks away from the biggest gift giving time of the year, and it seems like Baseball's general managers have gotten the message. Recently, a number of big names have found new homes, and I have taken it upon myself to evaluate these deals. So, let's get started.

Greinke In Dodger Blue
Dodgers sign Zack Greinke to a 6-year $147 million contract: Yes, the moment we were all waiting for. Greinke represented the largest domino out there; once he signed, we would see every other pitcher on the market begin signing contracts. Greinke's contract makes him the highest paid right-handed pitcher ever, and the contract's average annual value of $24.5 million surpasses the C.C. Sabathia's $24.4 million AAV as the record for a pitcher on a multiyear contract. The Dodgers had money to spend, and they went for the gold. Greinke joins Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw atop the Dodgers rotation, giving them a solid 1-2-3- punch that every playoff team needs. Greinke's contract will take him through his age 34 season, which means the Dodgers will get Greinke's production before it begins to seriously slip due to age. PECOTA forecasts Greinke's future value as such:
2013 3.5
2014 3.5
2015 3.4
2016 3.1
2017 2.9
2018 2.6
Average 3.17
Median 3.25
If we extrapolate those forecasts to value in dollars, this deal should benefit both Greinke and the Dodgers. Greinke has proven he can pitch in both the American League (Kansas City Royals and LA Angels) and the National League (Milwaukee Brewers). There is little to say about Greinke's production or this contract, as it seems as though both sides accomplished their respective goals. Greinke becomes a very very rich man who will be in annual contention to make the playoffs, and the Dodgers acquired the top-tier starting pitcher they needed to complement fellow ace Clayton Kershaw, making a big splash with their newfound deep pockets. The Dodgers and Rangers were both vying for Greinke's services, but the Dodgers came out on top. Choosing LA over Texas makes sense for Greinke given that Dodger Stadium ranks tied for the 25th least hitter friendly park in the majors (Park factor of 0.867) while the Ballpark in Arlington ranks as the 4th most hitter friendly park in the league (Park factor of 1.183).
My Grade: A (Greinke and the Dodgers both wanted this union. The Dodgers look to have paid a reasonable amount, while Greinke made a solid career choice, choosing a more hitter friendly home park over the exact opposite.)

Pirates sign RHP Jason Grilli to a 2-year $6.75 million contract: The most fascinating part of this deal is that former MLB outfielder Gary Sheffield represents Jason Grilli. Apart from that aesthetic aspect of this deal, the Pirates sured up their bullpen by bringing back the 33rd best reliever in MLB in 2012 according to Fangraphs calculation of Wins Above Replacement. For comparison's sake, let's look at both Jonathan Broxton and Raphael Soriano, who ranked just better than Grilli last season. Soriano remains a free agent, but he did turn down a qualifying offer ($13.5 million/1 season) to test the waters for more money, showing that he thinks his services are worth more than $13.5 million per season. Broxton recently signed a 3-year $21 million contract with the Reds, which puts his worth at about $7 million per season. Grilli's new contract will net him about $7 million over two years. See the difference? The Pirates made out great here.

Jonathan Broxton 58 6.98 2.64 79.2% 3.03 1.3
Rafael Soriano 67.2 9.18 3.19 88.0% 3.32 1.2
Jason Grilli 58.2 13.81 3.38 82.8% 2.8 1.1
The pirates retain a veteran back end of the bullpen pitcher who strikes out hitters at a great rate, and does a good job of keeping base runners from scoring. Grilli is durable, putting up the same number of innings pitched as Broxton who is 8 years Grilli's junior.
My Grade: A- (The Pirates are taking a chance on an older reliever who has never posted K/9 numbers like he did in 2012. It probably points toward some regression, but even still, this is a very team friendly contract. Given the Pirates young arms in the rotation, giving Clint Hurdle a reliable righty in the pen is a solid move.)

Twins sign RHP Kevin Correia to a 2-year $10 million contract: This deal isn't a blockbuster, but I'm sure we can find something interesting here. Correia is a replacement level pitcher who has the ability to "eat innings". Correia was lucky to get a 2-year contract given his less than stellar production over the last few years, but if any team were to sign the veteran, the Twins make some sense. While many of us think of Target Field as a pitcher's park, in reality it is the 10 best hitter's park in the Majors. This means that Correia's numbers could take even a greater turn for the worse in Minnesota. He'll be pitching in a hitter friendly park while simultaneously moving from the NL to the AL. This deal heavily favors Correia since he'll be getting paid an AAV of $5 million, which equates to about 0.9 wins per season, a number, that given his recent production, will prove difficult for Correia to achieve.  On the other hand, if Correia puts up solid first half numbers in 2013, he could be a perfect trade deadline candidate as he has a team friendly deal with a full year of control for 2014. If his production continues to decline, the Twins have essentially signed a place holder until recently acquired young pitchers like Trevor May and Alex Meyer are ready to play big-league ball.
My Grade: C- (A lot of ifs are involved here. He could turn out to be a valuable asset, but too much of the evidence points towards the opposite. Correia is making way more money than he's likely to be worth, so from his side, this deal is an A.)

Kevin Youkilis
Yankees sign 3B Kevin Youkilis to a 1-year $12 million contract: It was no surprise to anyone when the rumors came in about the Yankees being in hot pursuit of Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis represented the best free agent option at third base, and with Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez out for at least the first half of 2013, the Yankees would settle for nothing less than the best available option. Last season the Red Sox replaced Youkilis with a younger model, but shipped him off to the Windy City. In Chicago, Youkilis got back on track, returning from an injury to post solid numbers (109 wRC+, .339 wOBA, and .188 ISO). PECOTA projects Youkilis to return to his former self, 3.9 WARP, .303 TAv, and .374 OBP. Youk, known as the "Greek God of Walks", has always provided value by getting on base at well above average rates, while providing enough power to compensate for his utter lack of speed. The Yankees gain a versatile veteran who gets on base, and might produce more value than a healthy A-rod would. Youkilis is looking to show the league that he hasn't lost a step despite a down year in 2012, hoping to net himself a multi-year contract beginning in 2014. 
My Grade: B+ (This deal works for both sides. Honestly, the Yankees should have made a longer commitment to Youkilis. A-rod is as close to a sunk cost as a player can get, and if Youkilis can replace Rodriguez for the next 3 seasons, it might seriously benefit the Yanks. This deal gives the Bronx Bombers some options, as Cashman and company can let Youkilis go after 2013 and either make a deal for another third baseman, or risk going with A-Rod in the future. Youkilis gets a healthy contract, looking to justify a multi-year deal going into 2014.)

Ichiro Suzuki
Yankees sign OF Ichiro Suzuki to 2-year $13 million contract: At 39 years old, Ichiro is not the superstar he once was, but he's still a viable MLB outfielder. After performing miserably at the plate in Seattle last year, Ichiro resurrected his hitting production in NYC, going from a .261/.288/.353 slash line as a Mariner to a .322/.340/.454 slash line in pinstripes. The biggest difference in Ichiro's approach to the plate between his time in Seattle and New York in 2012 was that in NYC, Ichiro became more selective. His swing percentage dropped from 49.8% to 46.6%, which caused an increase in hitter's counts. By becoming more selective, Ichiro saw more fastballs, and thus began to put the ball in play in places that allowed him to reach base safely. He his more home runs in New York (thank you short porch), and hit the ball on the ground more often, causing his infield hit percentage to double. The biggest drop off between his play on the west coast and his play on the east was Ichiro's defense. He posted a +13 DRS in Seattle while compiling a well below average -7 DRS playing in the New York outfield. This is a wild swing in defensive abilities, but given the difference in total plays made between Ichiro in Seattle and in New York, the difference in defensive efficiency can be explained by a massive difference in sample size. In the few plays Ichiro made in New York, he didn't perform well, but had he made 4 times as many plays, his top-notch defense would have shown through. The Yankees don't have a proven lead off hitter, but the combination of Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and now Ichiro Suzuki should serve as suitable fill-ins. The most surprising part of the deal is that Ichiro found a contract offer for more than 1-year, but after rumors surfaced that the Phillies has offered Ichiro a similar contract, the Yankees were forced to pony up an extra year in order to retain Ichiro's services.
My Grade: B (The Yankees get a cheap option to play the outfield well who uses his speed and savvy to get on base and create runs. Ichiro got the ever illusive 2nd year despite being 29 years old. This isn't a perfect deal since Ichiro's age points towards a decrease in future production, and the Yankees have other needs to fill.)

Reds sign 3B Jack Hannahan to a 2-year $4 million contract: This isn't a biggie, but it is worth noting. The Reds recently acquired Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians via trade, but with the likelihood of the Indians bringing back Scott Rolen decreasing by the second, Hannahan makes a find replacement. Hannahan is a solid defender at third base, putting up a positive DRS in all 5 of his MLB seasons. On the other hand, FRAA, used by Baseball Prospectus, shows that Hannahan has always been a top defender, posting a 16.1 and 10.9 FRAA in 2011 and 2012 respectively. As far as back-up infielders go, Hannahan will serve the Reds well. Hannahan's splits show a huge disparity between his ability to hit right-handed pitching over left-handed pitching. Hannahan posted a 100 wRC+ vs. RHP last season, but an abysmal 40 wRC+ against left-handers. Look for the Reds to put Hannahan in the starting lineup when the Reds run up against right-handers. 
My Grade: B+ (I like this deal for both sides. Hannahan was essentially left out to dry by the Indians, but Cleveland is all about rebuilding at the moment, and a solid platoon third baseman would only take up a roster spot for the Indians. For the Reds, Hannahan represents half the answer at the hot corner. Hannahan will platoon with Todd Frazier, an up and comer for the Reds on the left-side of the infield.)

That's all for this edition of free-agent frenzy, join us next time when we discuss the Josh Hamilton signing, as well as others. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Getting Younger, Well, Not Exactly

Michael Young
Today, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Texas Rangers 3rd baseman Michael Young in exchange for right-handed pitcher Josh Lindblom and minor league reliever Lisalverto Bonilla. Supposedly, this deal was made 2-3 days ago, but the teams had to wait to make it official due to Young's no-trade clause. Today, Young waived the clause, after negotiating $1.2 million more on top of his contract, to compensate for the state tax difference between Texas and Pennsylvania. The Phillies have Young signed for 2013 but not beyond that. The Rangers seriously wanted Young gone, which is unsurprising given Young's recent complains concerning the loss of his starting job. The Rangers will pay $10 million of Young's $16 million salary for 2013 so he can play third base for the Phillies.

So, what are the Phillies getting in this deal? Is it the Michael Young who had 5 consecutive 200+ hit seasons, the comeback kid who compiled 213 hits as a 34 year old, or last season's -1.4 win player who seemed to have fall off the age curve cliff? Young has spent his entire career in Texas, and leaves the team as the franchise leader in hits, games played, and doubles. Fortunately for the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park and the Ballpark in Arlington are two of the most hitter friendly parks in Major League Baseball, thus Young shouldn't experience any drop off due to a park change. Young's career has been built on his ability to hit for average, but unfortunately, not much else. Young's .147 career ISO has more to do with his ability to hit doubles rather than any significant home run power, and he has a below average career BB% at 6.6% compared to the 2012 league average of 8.0%. On the other hand, Young consistently racks up the hits, and unless there is a significant drop off in swing speed or the ability to make contact with pitches in the zone, the hits should continue to come.

Young League Avg
Contact % 79.90% 85.90%
SwStr% 9.10% 7.10%
Z-Contact% 87.20% 89.80%
As you can see, even in his worst season in the big leagues, Young continued to make well above average contact, make better than average contact on pitches in the strike zone, and accumulate as many swinging strikes as the average player in 2012. So what went wrong? Young's 2012 season marked his lowest in terms of BB%, batting average on balls in play, and OPS+. Given Young's consistently below average BB% throughout his career, seeing him walk even less isn't something to worry about, but his .299 BABIP could be an issue. The low BABIP derived from his increased ground ball percentage coupled with an attrition in his fly ball percentage. If Young can get a bit more lift on the ball this year, Phillies fans shouldn't be surprised to see him return to some semblance of his 2011 self. It might be unreasonable to assume or even forecast Young's power to return, but getting the ball in the air more can lead to more extra-base hits.

Other than Young's on-field production, this move makes a lot of sense for the Phillies.  The Phillies have most of their payroll wrapped up in 4 players (Howard, Halladay, Lee, and Hamels), and while many thought Ruben Amaro would spend frivolously on free agents, instead he has adroitly acquired necessary parts via trades. In doing so, the Phillies retain the ability to make a move on the free agents who remain. This move opens up options for RAJ; allowing him to go after a corner outfielder like Cody Ross or Nick Swisher as well as top of the line bullpen help like Peter Moylan, Jon Rauch, or Mike Adams. In addition, it allows the Phillies to go after a high-risk high reward starting pitcher like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jair Jurrjens, or John Lannan. Young isn't perfect, but he shouldn't be as bad as last season. Combining his skills at the plate with Kevin Frandsen's slightly above-averaged fielding will make for a viable option at third base, and a suitable replacement for the departing Placido Polanco, while waiting for prospect Cody Asche to mature.

The Rangers have a good young prospect in Mike Olt primed to take over the hot corner, which made Young expendable. Couple Young's age, diminishing production, and desire to start together and you get the perfect candidate for a trade. The Rangers picked up two relief pitchers from the Phillies. Josh Lindblom, who the Phillies received from Los Angeles in the trade that made Shane Victorino a Dodger, and all Lindblom did was finish dead last in wins amongst all Major League Relievers (-1.1). Lindblom's high BB/9 of 4.44, low GB% at 35.8%, and high HR/FB % of 15.7% show that he can't keep the ball in in the strike zone, but when he does, it has a tendency to fly out of the park. These stats show a pitcher who won't give up solo home runs, but instead will allow 2-run and 3-run home runs due to his propensity to allow base runners. While all of these are correctable, Lindblom now enters an even more home run friendly park, which doesn't bode well for the young righty.

Lisalverto Bonilla
The scouting report on Lisalverto Bonilla is that he has performed much better as a reliever than as a starter. Even since moving the bullpen Bonilla's FIP has fallen due to more strikeouts and fewer home runs. He still walks too many hitters, which means that if Rangers see an increase in home runs given up they will also see worse overall results from Bonilla. According to the scouting report at Phuture Phillies, Bonilla has a good fastball with great changeup, giving him a good pitch combination for a late inning reliever who can get out righties with regularity. At 22 years old, if Bonilla can put up similar numbers over twice the number of innings, he could become a full-time big leaguer by 2014.

Overall, from the Phillies side, this trade was slightly reassuring. Michael Young isn't the answer long-term, and he might not even be the full-time answer at third base this season, but given the abysmal market for third baseman this offseason, Amaro should feel proud of this move. He has many options as far as what to do next, but going after either Nick Swisher or Cody Ross seems logical. PECOTA expects Young to put up 1.2 wins next season, which would be worth about $9 million, 33% more than what the Phillies will pay Young in 2013. The Bill James projections also see a return to semi-normalcy for Young, predicting a .330 wOBA, 176 hits, and a .343 on base percentage.
My Grade: A- (Phillies now have an option at third, and didn't increase payroll, while the Rangers get a possible future set-up man and clear room for Mike Olt at 3rd)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Meetings: Day 4

Ahhhh, the end of the week. Time to kick back, relax, maybe knock back a few. Well, maybe for most people. Those who remain in Nashville, Tennessee for Baseball's Winter Meetings see Thursday and Friday of this week as crunch time. Remember though, last year we were a bit spoiled. Huge names moved at last year's winter meetings, but this year the opposite happened. Josh Hamilton, still a free agent. Zack Greinke, still a free agent. Michael Bourn, still a free agent. Nonetheless, every day multiple moves were made, teams satisfied, players happy, and fans left shaking their heads. Let's check in on day 4 and see what went down.

"Big" Joe Blanton
Los Angeles Angels sign Joe Blanton to 2-year $15 million contract: This deal came in late last night. The immediate reaction on Twitter was that this deal was stupid, ineffective, and most likely an overpay. Blanton is what we in the business call an innings eater. He is effectively league average, but isn't injury prone, and doesn't implode to the point at which he has to be rushed off the field lest an arrant piece of flying fruit from an angry fan hits him in the face. Blanton throws strikes, plays to contact, and gets sneaky strikeouts with pitches like tailing fastballs and circle change ups. Given Blanton's makeup, there is one particular statistic to watch. That is BB/9. When Blanton isn't walking hitters, but instead pounding the strike zone, he provides his team much more value. Sure, he'll probably give up some more home runs, but a solo home run here or there isn't a bad thing when compared to 3-run home runs due to back-to-back walks. Blanton's title is back of the rotation starter, and with Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson at the top of the Halos staff, that's all Jerry Dipoto is looking for from Big Joe. $7.5 million per season is a little steep, so I can't say the Angels did a sneaky-good job here, but if Blanton can put up better numbers than either Dan Haren or Ervin Santana, this deal will look a lot better 10 months from now.
My Grade: B (No, not B for Blanton, but B for average, which is the exact title this signing entails)

Cubs sign Nate Schierholtz to 1-year 2.25 million contract: I won't spend much time on this other than to say that my gut is telling me that Nate Schieholtz won't be a Cub come August, 2013. Nate was non-tendered by the Phillies after they received him in the Hunter Pence Deal. The Phillies need outfielders and didn't resign him, but did so to the chagrin of the Cubs. According to both PECOTA and Bill James' projections, Schierholtz is in line for a bounce-back season in which he'll probably provide league average offense form the outfield. From a fielding point of view, Schierholtz's range seems to be declining a bit in addition to his ability to make plays that average outfielders can't make. So, Wrigley Field could make Schierholtz look better than he is. If so, he will be moved at the trade deadline for some prospect that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer most likely already have in mind.
My Grade: B+ (Can only be good for the Cubs, and for Schierholtz it didn't matter where he signed, he needs to put up good numbers to be coveted at all next offseason)

Ben Revere
Twins trade outfielder Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Vance Worley and RHP Trevor May: This was the big move of the day. As a Phillies fan, expect me to spend some time analyzing this deal. Okay, so first from the Phillies side. Ruben Amaro has finally made a deal that makes logical sense. Ben Revere is a 24-year-old center fielder who is under team control through 2017. Given the fact that the Phillies current infield has an average age of 32.5 years old, adding a 24-year old isn't a bad idea. Next, take a look at these numbers:
2011 2012
wRC+ 71 88
wOBA 0.278 0.300
fWAR 2.0 3.4
Okay, something's wrong here. Revere has been worth an average of 2.7 wins over the last two years, but his run creation is below average in addition to subpar overall offensive productions. The reason for these odd numbers is that Revere does his work with his legs. Here's his "legs" numbers: 
2011 2012
UZR 10.0 16.4
FRAA -2.0 1.9
DRS -3 8
SB 34 40
UBR 3.5 3.6
fWAR 2.0 3.4
Essentially, Revere is a defensive beast in center field, covering incredible amounts of ground, with average arm. In addition, when Revere reaches base he is a distinct threat to steal second, and even third. Revere's UBR shows that he runs the bases with solid aptitude and efficiency, something that fellow Phillies Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have been doing for years. Revere gets on base at just above the league average (.333 in 2012), bunts for hits (34.6% BUH%), and makes contact at the plate (92.2% contact %). Essentially, Revere does everything you would want from a young leadoff hitter aside from his BB%. All Revere needs to do to become Michael Bourn at age 24 is to see some more pitches (3.61 pitches seen per plate appearance in 2012, which was 16 worst in the American League), and walk a bit more (5.2 BB% in 2012 compared to a league average 8.0% BB%). Often times though, plate discipline comes with maturity, and at 24 years old, we can expect Revere to mature a bit. From the Twins point of view, they have now traded 2 outfielders without power for 3 pitchers. Worley is a typical #4 starter, and will play well at Target Field, since he pitches to contact and the park in Minnesota is quite vast. Trevor May was considered the Phillies top-pitching prospect going into 2012, but the Phillies have a number of prospects similar to May, thus making Trevor expendable. The Phillies retain Brody Colvin, Jonathan Pettibone, and especially Jessie Biddle, and get an MLB ready, defensive stud in center field in return. Anyone in Philadelphia who is sad to see May go needs to look at themselves in the mirror because while May might end up as a #3 starter, the Phillies have more of those guys.
My Grade: A (The Phillies get exactly what they want, the Twins get a substantial return, it is a win-win)

Koji Uehara
Red Sox sign Koji Uehara to a 1-year $4.25 million contract: Koji Uehara spent the last two seasons in Baltimore and Texas, doing a good job out of the pen. Koji has sported an average of 1.7 wins per season over the last 4 seasons, which is fairly substantial for a relief pitcher given the minute number of innings relievers throw in comparison to starters. Uehara dominates right-handed batters, and fairs incredibly well against lefties due to his split-fingered change up. Here are Uehara's splits from last season: 
vs. LH 3.09 0.47 9.95 0.73
vs. RH 1.62 1.06 11.65 0.55
These numbers show that the Japanese reliever dominates righties by striking them out, and gets lefties out by playing to contact, a combination destined to produce good results out of the pen. I saw Uehara as one of the best relievers on the market, and based on this contract, if Koji puts up the same numbers in 2013 as he put up in 2012, the Red Sox will have gotten a solid deal.
My Grade: A- (Good deal for both teams, only issue is that teams who are more likely to be in playoff contention missed out on Uehara. If the Red Sox don't project to make the playoffs by the trade deadline, look for Ben Cherington to trade Uehara to a team in need.)

Braves resign OF Reed Johnson to a 1-year contract, financials unknown: Without the dollar amount given, the analysis cannot be as accurate, but I'll give it a whirl. Reed Johnson is the perfect 4th outfielder. He plays hard, is great in the clubhouse, and has been worth an average of ~ 1.1 wins per season throughout his 11 year career. The Braves have 2/3 of their outfield settled, and Johnson makes a great signing to platoon at that third third of the outfield. Johnson was originally acquired by the Braves via the Chicago Cubs along with Paul Maholm at the 2012 trade deadline, and the Braves saw enough to want to keep Johnson around. Johnson is the older form of Nate Schierholtz, and if the Braves have given him a similar contract, they are probably getting a good deal. The most interesting thing about Johnson is that, according to pitch f/x data, he doesn't have a problem hitting any pitch in the strike zone at an average rate. Oftentimes, batters are susceptible to pitches in certain parts of the plate, but Johnson seems to hit pitches all over the strike zone at the same rate (about 57%). This makes for a good pinch-hitter.
My Grade: B (Good for both sides, but not great.)
So, day 4 of the Winter Meetings didn't prove to be exciting, or even as exciting as the first three days. The Phillies/Twins trade proved to be the most interesting move of the day, and in all honesty, it wasn't mind blowing. The surprising part of that deal was Ruben Amaro's willingness to make a sensible move instead of a flashy move, something that should make Phillies fans happy, hopeful, but still a bit skeptical. Hamilton, Greinke, and Michael Bourn remain free agents, but there is a lot of offseason to go before pitchers and catchers report. Once Zack Greinke signs, the other pitchers on the market like Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, and Shaun Marcum should sign quickly, but until Zack decides, those pitcher will most likely remain unemployed. 

The winter meetings this year were not filled with the huge moves of the past, which were replaced with ridiculous and constant rumors. Will Justin Upton be traded? My guess is yes, but never attempt to predict what Kevin Towers will do, he's proven to be unpredictable in the past. The winners of the winter meetings have to be the Boston Red Sox who have signed multiple players that could all be valuable in the next 2-3 years, which isn't an unreasonable timetable for the Sox to become relevant once again. Overall, it's been a fun 4 days, the hope is that the next 2 months will prove just as fascinating.