Saturday, January 26, 2013

Taming the Wild

George Kottaras
Today the Kansas City Royals announced that they had claimed catcher George Kottaras off of waivers. Kottaras isn't a household name, but the move made me look into whether this was a good fit, or whether the Royals had another motive. Kottaras has played at least part-time in the Majors since 2009, playing in a career high 85 games last season. In his limited role, Kottaras has faced mostly right-handed pitching. He bats from the left-side, and has the typical platoon splits of a hitter with tools at the plate, but who has difficulty hitting MLB breaking balls off of lefties. Kottaras began the 2012 season in Milwaukee, but half way through the season, the Brewers traded him to the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics recently participated in a three-way trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle and John Jaso to Oakland. Jaso's value has been written about extensively, but lost in that deal was Kottaras.

 Kottaras is an average hitter, with a career wOBA of .322. On the other hand, over the last two seasons, as Kottaras has played more games, his OPS+ has been above average, 107 in 2011 and 108 in 2012. He hasn't hit many home runs, but his isolated power split is vast. Kottaras has posted a .209 ISO against right-handed pitching but only a .129 ISO vs. lefties. While this fact isn't dissimilar from many left-handed hitters, a closer look using pitch F/X data shows that Kottaras has an affinity to hit pitches in the upper portion of the strike zone against right-handed pitching for power. In fact, despite the adage that left-handed hitters are good low-ball hitters, Kottaras seems to be a better hitter against balls that are up in the strike zone against both righties and lefties. Overall, Kottaras looks like a hitter who is beginning to figure some things out at the plate. He is able to get on base against both righties and lefties, but shows impressive power numbers against only righties. This combination is enough to get him a back-up catching job, but I think something else caused the Royals to snag the former Athletic off of waivers.

Kottaras isn't a great defensive catcher, posting a slightly negative defensive rating according to Fangraphs in 2012. In fact, he has never posting a positive defensive rating. Fangraphs calculates their defensive for catchers based on two major statistics, rSB and RPP, with rSB accounting for a catcher's need to throw out base runners well and RPP accounting for a catcher's ability to block balls in the dirt. Teams that have pitchers who don't have good pick-off moves or are slow to the plate need catchers with good rSB's in order to counteract their pitchers' deficiencies. If a team's pitching staff has pitchers with erratic control and propensities for throwing breaking balls with lots of movement, said team would want a catcher with good RPP numbers. While Kottaras hasn't posted very good rSB numbers, his RPP numbers have been positive since 2010. In fact, since 2010, Kottaras ranks 13th amongst all MLB catchers in RPP, ahead of names like Jonathan Lucroy, John Buck, and Kurt Suzuki, and just behind Ivan Rodriguez, Buster Posey, and Jason Kendall. Given these numbers, a team whose pitchers have a proclivity for being wild would benefit far more from Kottaras's services as opposed to a pitching staff with pinpoint control.

Given Kottaras' talents for blocking balls in the dirt, it stands to reason that the Brewers wouldn't want to let him leave, especially since the Brewers' pitching staff was 9th in the league in wild pitches in 2012 and 3rd in the league in wild pitches since 2010. On the other hand, in 2012, both other catchers on the Brewers' roster, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado also posted positive RPP's, making Kottaras expendable, but not worthless. In fact, it's that value that the Kansas City Royals may have picked up on. This offseason, the Royals made a significant trade, acquiring Wade Davis and James Shields from the Rays in exchange for a dynamic package of prospects. Both Davis and Shields will make immediate impacts, Shields as their ace pitcher, and Davis as either a back of the rotation starter or right-handed reliever out of the pen. In addition, the Royals also added righty Ervin Santana to their rotation. Santana is a strikeout pitcher with a hard fastball and knee-buckling slider that often ends up in the dirt. Shields and Santana both ranked in the 21 pitchers in the Majors since 2010 in wild pitches, and since 2008 Shields, Santana, and fellow Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar have ranked in the top 30 in wild pitches. Overall, it seems as the Royals would disproportionately benefit from a catcher who is above average at blocking balls in the dirt, especially since if Kansas City is going to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985 every positive addition, no matter how small, will make a difference.

Salvador Perez
Kansas City now has a dynamic duo of backstops, with both Kottaras and young stud Salvador Perez on the roster. Perez is the better hitter of the two, and has better overall defensive numbers. In fact, Perez excels defensively in areas at which Kottaras is lacking, and visa versa. Perez has a very strong arm, and very good mechanics behind the plate, but is just below average in blocking balls in the dirt. Since overall defensive ratings for catchers weight throwing out base runners as more important than blocking balls in the dirt, Perez looks like the better of the two, but by adding Kottaras into the mix, it gives the Royals affordable and talented defense behind the plate. Kottaras also adds some more veteran experience, a left-handed bat with good power, and allows the Royals not to stress Perez too much without giving up too much production. Look to see Kottaras play predominantly against right-handed pitching, but more importantly, look for him to catch when James Shields and Ervin Santana take the mound. I'm in no way saying that it is absolute, especially given that Salvador Perez's RPP numbers aren't awful, and given his age, there is the possibility that his RPP numbers can improve. For the time being, the Royals see Kottaras' skills as solid value added, especially since his 2013 salary is only $1 million and he isn't a free agent until the 2016 season.

Don't overlook signings or pickups like this one. Numerous other teams could have benefited from even 80 games worth of George Kottaras. One specific team that comes to mind is the Chicago White Sox. White Sox pitchers have thrown the 3rd most wild pitches in the Majors since 2010, and the team recently lost veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to free agency. Moreover, given Pierzynski's absence, the team is considering using youngster Tyler Flowers as their dominant catcher in 2013. Adding a more veteran left-handed hitting catcher who can handle erratic pitching would seem prudent. The White Sox play in the same division as the Royals, the Sox finished one spot ahead of KC in 2012, and they haven't undergone nearly as many positive renovations to their roster as the Royals have done. So, picking up Kottaras not only benefits the Royals directly, but also indirectly benefits them by not allowing the White Sox to pick him up. Who's to say the Sox would have picked up Kottaras, but he does fit their team incredibly well. Look for pitchers like James Shields and Ervin Santana to have slightly better strikeout numbers than they did in 2012. Some of that will be due to moving to a less talented division, but some may also come from their ability to throw any pitcher to get a hitter out without worrying that the ball may get away from their catcher. While trading for Shields and Santana were sexier and more productive moves, both come with risks, which the Royals are lessening by adding Kottaras to the mix. It's possible that the Royals will make the playoffs for the first time since the 1980's in 2013, but the odds are against them, so it's a good thing that George Kottaras, the forgotten catcher, now dons a royal and white uniform.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Upton, Upton and Away

Justin Upton
Since June 2012, has put out 30+ articles with the words Justin Upton rumors in the title. This isn't just a blind fasciation with a specific player; the Diamondbacks have done everything but see Upton on the plane out of Phoenix. Arizona hasn't offered Upton an extension or publicly supported him; instead the team has shopped him all over the league hoping to get the best package in return. Upton still has three affordable years left on his current contract, is the ripe young age of 25 years old, and has compiled 17.1 fWins in his 6 MLB seasons, a combination usually destined for stardom. Upton has numerous skills and few deficiencies, and he's entering the most productive years of his career, and now he has a new team.

Justin Upton the Player:

Who is Justin Upton? Over the last few months we've taken to see him as a commodity, and not a player. Maybe familiarizing ourselves with him will give us greater insight into the Diamondbacks' decision to trade him and the Braves' desire to acquire him.

First of all, Upton is 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighs 205 pounds, a prototypical athlete's build. This is something a scout would say, but many well skilled in analytics would say that it isn't indicative of success. Both the scout and the numbers guy are correct. Not all athletic players are great and not all great players are athletic, but players with the combination of athleticism and the numbers to back it up generally make cases for Cooperstown. Upton's build aids in his ability to stay healthy and his raw combination of speed, power, and agility.

Offensively, Upton has had ups and downs in his career, but never a bad season, so we can safely assume that he won't drop off, and that the numbers we have are reliable. From a power hitting perspective, Upton fits the bill as a middle-of-the-order hitter. While Upton's home run totals have ranged from 17 to 31, he has a total of 2 more home runs in his career than fellow young talented outfielder Adam Jones, signifying a high probability that he will continue to pump out somewhere between 20 and 30 home runs per season for the duration of his prime years.
2007 2 0.143 0.364
2008 15 0.213 0.463
2009 26 0.232 0.532
2010 17 0.17 0.442
2011 31 0.24 0.529
2012 17 0.15 0.43

Upton is a right-handed batter, meaning he might have a problem with right-handed pitching, but as you can see from his platoon splits, Upton hits both righty and lefty pitchers fairly equally.  
vs L (Multi) 0.278 0.387 0.480 0.294
vs R (Multi) 0.283 0.349 0.460 0.285
Split (Multi) 0.005 -0.038 -0.02 -0.009
Upton's platoon split numbers show an ability to hit righties and lefties, but it also shows a lack of patience or an inability to see right-handed pitching as opposed to left-handed pitching well. Looking at his BB/K ratio splits, 1.04 vs. LHP and 0.37 vs. RHP, further proves this point. So, Upton goes from being a good hitter against righties to a very good hitter against lefties, typical for right-handed hitters.

Defensively, Upton is suited for his position, corner outfield. Using defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating, it's fairly obvious that Upton is just above average in right field, to the point that he is a defensive asset in comparison to an average right fielder. Given that the Braves have stud right fielder Jason Heyward patrolling right field, Upton will be moved to left-field, a least demanding outfield position, where his defensive numbers will most-likely improve even more. While defense does begin a descent as players age, Upton is only 25, so moving him to left field won't allow any defensive deficiencies to pop up for the near future. 

Upton also presents as an above average baserunner. He has posted a positive, if not above average UBR in each of his 6 seasons in the league, showing both speed and base running acumen. 
Justin Upton the Acquisition:
Martin Prado
So, it turns out to be true, Justin Upton is worth the price of a trade, but what about this specific deal with the Braves? The Braves sent 3B/OF Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, SS Nick Ahmed, RHP Zeke Spruill, and 1B/3B and Brandon Drury. Prado has been a great player, in that he is above average defensively at third base, left field, and previously at 2nd base, while posting career .341 wOBA, 111 wRC+, and .345 OBP. Prado makes his living by swinging. He doesn't walk often, career 7.0 BB%, swings a lot, career 90.1 contact percentage, but still produces 11% more offense than a replacement level player. 

Randall Delgado is the swing player in this deal. I say "swing player" because Delgado is on the cusp of becoming a full-time Major League pitcher. Delgado has a great deal of talent and upside given the impressive comments from scouts, but he hasn't replicated his Minor League success in the big leagues just yet. Delgado is 23, so if he is destined to blossom, it should happen within the next 3 seasons. He's cheap, under team control, and has a mid-90's fastball, sinker/change up combination that induces ground balls. On the other hand, he also has issues with his control, posting a 3.95 BB/9 rate in his career. In addition to his high walk rate, Delgado, despite his power four-seamer, posted a 50.2 GB% last season showing a pitcher who isn't going to post high strikeout numbers, but has a power sinker that has serious movement. That serious movement probably causes some of his wildness, so if Diamondbacks pitching coach Charles Nagy can work on keeping Delgado calm on the mound, and confident in his abilities, his walk numbers should come down a bit as the velocity on his fastball comes down. Fausto Carmona went through a similar situation when pitching in Cleveland.

As for the other three players in this deal, all three are prospects. Nick Ahmed is a polished shortstop that does everything well, but isn't exceptional in any category. He plays solid defense, has good speed, makes good contact, but doesn't project as more than a replacement level shortstop. Given most teams' lack of depth in up-the-middle position prospects, Ahmed becomes more valuable than his numbers/skills indicate. Look for the Diamondbacks to either move Ahmed for another pitcher, the rumor mill seems to think the Tigers' Rick Porcello, or to keep him to compete with Didi Gregorius as the future shortstop in Arizona. Spruill is an interesting prospect. He's similar to Delgado, but has no MLB experience under his belt. He's a righty with speed and multiple useable pitches, and has received positive scouting reports noting him as a future #3 type starter. This gives the Diamondbacks 4 young near MLB-ready or MLB-ready pitchers, one more than they had going into the offseason. While Trevor Bauer has the possibility to be a top-15 starting pitcher in the Majors for the next 10 years, Spruill isn't too far off, and he represents only 1/5 of the package the Dbacks received for Upton. 

Who Got the Best Deal:
GM Frank Wren
In this case, I'm going to say that it's a tie. In the short term, the Braves won. In fact, I think the Braves won this deal for the next 3 seasons. Once Upton's current contract expires and he is looking at a contract worth approximately $150 million, the Braves won't be able to afford him. Sure, his brother B.J. is signed on with Atlanta for 5 seasons, but that won't be enough to persuade brother Justin from leaving for the big money.  Upton is a stud, but not a star. Stardom comes with consistency, so when Justin Upton shows true consistency, we can dub him a star, but for now he is just a stud. On the other hand, I would say fellow Braves outfielders Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton are also studs. The Braves look like they traded a lot for Upton, but given his age, and previous experience, Justin is worth it. Oh, and there's the added bonus that the Diamondbacks also sent third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta. This is a downgrade from Prado, but when you add Johnson's projected numbers to Upton's projections, then subtract Prado's projections, the Braves have made a serious offensive upgrade. The Braves had to make a move like this if they wanted to have a chance to win the NL East since the Nationals, at least on paper, look to be the favorites to win the east for a second consecutive season. 
Braves Grade: A- (The Braves should continue to draft well, so replenishing the farm system won't be difficult. Given that they made a significant upgrade at a time when they had to in order to compete for the playoffs, makes me like this trade a lot.)

GM Kevin Towers
The Diamondbacks might regret this move for a season or two, but in the long run I expect them to be declared the winners of this deal. Every player they acquired other than Martin Prado is under team control at a cheap price for a minimum of 5 years. That being said, the Diamondbacks are reportedly looking to finalize a contract extension with Prado. In addition, if Kevin Towers moves Ahmed and another piece to Detroit for Rick Porcello, the Diamondbacks will have incredible pitching and outfield depth as well as great young hitters at catcher, 2nd base, and 1st base. The Diamondbacks are a middle market team, meaning they aren't usually blessed with options, yet this franchise is full of them. Towers has given himself flexibility where it counts. Outfielders can switch positions and lend themselves easily to platoon splitting while pitchers are oft-injured, so having a stock piling of players at both positions gives the Diamondbacks enough backup options to keep them contending with the newly strengthen NL West for years to come. The one possible move that some say will happen and some say shouldn't is a trade of Jason Kubel. Kubel provides a great power bat against right-handed pitching as well as a propensity to hit lots of home runs and doubles in the big alleys at Chase Field. In my opinion, the Diamondbacks should keep Kubel, since even the acquisition of Martin Prado doesn't make up for the offense lost with Upton's relocation. 
Diamondbacks Grade: A (They have everything they want, and more importantly, the options to further improve. If Upton becomes the next Hank Aaron Towers will be pissed, but this trade allows the Dbacks to compete in 2013 as well as 2014-2018.

My Grade: A

Friday, January 18, 2013


Chris Perez
Today, the Cleveland Indians announced that they had avoided arbitration with closer Chris Perez, settling on a 1-year $7.3 million contract. This was Perez's second year of arbitration, having qualified as a "super 2" player. MLB players with 3 years of service in the big leagues become eligible for arbitration. Arbitration lasts for 3 seasons, unless the player in question has almost three years of service (say 2 year 200 days) at the end of a season. In this case, MLB awards them "super 2" status, which allows the player to be eligible for arbitration for 4 years instead of the usual 3. Some teams have tried to use this to keep young players under team control for extra time, but the league recently changed the necessary dates of service time to make it more difficult for teams to exploit the apparent loophole.

Perez, a right-handed bullpen pitcher has served as the Indians closer since 2010. Ever since conforming Perez to the ninth inning role combined with his "super 2" status, has made Perez ever-increasingly expensive. Relievers are overvalued in the current MLB market; sometimes more often by arbitrators who weight saves as more important than true markers of success for bullpen pitchers. This combination has led to Perez's new 1-year contract of $7.3 million, which equates to about 1.33 fWins. Perez is young, and entering what can be the most fruitful years of a pitcher's career, meaning that he should be able to pitch up to, or at least close to, his annual average value. Since becoming the closer, Perez has accrued 1.6 fWins in 3 seasons for an average Fwins/season of 0.5 fWins. 0.5 Fwins is worth only $2.75 million, which is 38% of what he will be paid this year. Well, if it's so obvious that Perez won't be worth his 2013 contract based on his past performance, so is he set to improve to the point that he will?

As you can see from the graph to the left, Perez's strikeout numbers have fluctuated ending in a K/9 that ranked 51st amongst all 2012 qualified relievers. On a different note, Perez has consistently lowered his BB/9 numbers to end the season 39th amongst all relief pitchers. Essentially, Perez has been a decent bullpen pitcher, one that has improved in some areas, but not enough to make him one of the 20 best relief pitchers in Baseball. His numbers might cause some to wonder why he has been dubbed as the pitcher to throw in supposedly the most crucial situation for the Indians late in games. Maybe if he performed exceptionally well in the clutch, it might justify his AAV as well as his standing in the Cleveland bullpen. Unfortunately for Perez, his WPA/LI, which measures how well a player performs in high leverage situations in comparison to an average leverage situation, and Perez hasn't performed exceptionally well. His WPA/LI has been below 1.0 every year of his career, not a good sign, seeing as the top echelon of relievers (30 best), has a WPA/LI over 1.0 with names like Rodney, Chapman, and Kimbrel all hovering around 2.0 or greater WPA/LI.

Given that we have now proven that Perez's $7.3 million salary is quite inflated, even assuming some improvement, the next question to ask is why have the Indians not considered trading Perez. The Indians, while improving their status this offseason, haven't made significant enough improvements to put them in the discussion for possible playoff team. This fact only adds to my confusion as to why Indians GM Chris Antonetti didn't make a deal to move Perez before coming to a 1-year deal. Now, it is completely possible that the Indians decide to trade Perez now, after setting a definite price tag to him, but that possibility is logically outweighed by the chance that that the Indians go into 2013 with Perez in their bullpen. Given Perez's soft numbers, it's possible that Antonetti wants to wait and see if Perez's stock rises before flipping him so as to receive the best possible package in return.

According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as of January 6th, the Indians were still considering trade offers for Perez, but wouldn't budge unless they could receive a similar package to the one the team swindled for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo brought back outfielder Drew Stubbs and pitcher Trevor Bauer. Given that the Indians have set an asking price, maybe we should take a look at recent trades for relievers of similar or better caliber to get a sense of what the Indians might expect in return for Perez. So far this offseason two comparable relievers were moved. The Red Sox traded Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, and Mark Melancon to the Pirates in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Hanrahan represents the comparable reliever. Most thought that this trade broke down to Hanrahan for Melancon, which pundits quickly dubbed a victory for the Pirates. Hanrahan had a very lucky season last year given his peripherals while Melancon fought off a tough start to put together solidly underrated numbers. Melancon is younger and under team control for more years, making him slightly more valuable than Hanrahan. The other trade this offseason was between the Astros and Rockies. The Astros dealt reliever Wilton Lopez to the Rockies for minor league pitchers Alex White and Alex Gillingham. Both prospects are starting pitchers, each with enough deficiencies to label them both as projects. So, so far we have one reliever exchanged for another reliever of slightly better standing and the 2nd acquired for 2 project prospects. These aren't lofty hauls.

During the 2012 season 2 other "big time" relievers swapped teams, Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League. League went to LA for 2 prospects, one an outfielder with some upside and the other a relief pitcher who made double A last season, but struggles with his control. Broxton was moved in exchange for Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Josepth is a lefty specialist out of the bullpen who has put up very good numbers in AA and AAA, leading the Royals to put him on their 40-man roster heading into 2013. Sulbaran projects as a 4 or 5 starter who has the build to be an innings eater and the numbers to back it up. Both Broxton and League were under less team control than Perez, but both performed better than Perez prior to being traded. In 2011, 3 comparable relievers were traded midseason and 2 in the offseason, all yielding similar packages in return with the exception of the swap between the Rangers and the Blue Jays. In that deal, which was made in the offseason, the Blue Jays sent catcher Mike Napoli to the Rangers in exchange for reliever Frank Francisco. This was just prior to Napoli's power surge, making the deal very skewed in Texas' favor.

Overall, this analysis of previous trades gives us a sense of Perez's realistic trade value. Teams that are in the market for Perez's services include the San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and possibly the Cincinnati Reds. On the other hand, by the time the 2013 trade deadline roles around, that list may have grown to almost twice the size. Simple economics teach us that it is best to buy low and sell high. So, the Indians want to wait until Perez is at his highest demand before flipping him, which might be now, or could be in 6 months. At the moment I'd be surprised if the Indians could get more than a similar deal to the one that Astros got for Wilton Lopez. Lopez was a far better reliever than Perez in 2012, but he comes with some injury concerns (Just ask the Phillies), so his stock was about the same as Perez's is now. I expect the Indians would much rather receive one top 6 prospect than 2 high ceiling/low floor prospects like the Astros got for Lopez. This leads me to believe that Perez, if moved, won't call a new city home until June or July. Recently, with the Nationals' signing of Rafael Soriano, the pattern of NL teams polishing their rosters by stacking their bullpens has emerged. This advent has made Perez look more and more like a very likely future trade candidate, so watch out for teams like the Pirates, Phillies, and Reds to come calling looking for relief help midseason.

In the offseason, MLB lovers grasp onto anything to quell their desire for Baseball given the lack of games being played. This includes looking for a trade wherever possible, and over-analyzing every move made from the flashiest to the most diminutive. Anyone who works in an MLB front office has to be immune to such temptations because oftentimes it is not skill, guile, or competitiveness that leads to the best results, but good timing. MLB General Managers and their staff's have to act as stock traders, timing the market at the precise time so as to cash in for the best possible return. Antonetti and the Indians seem to be waiting patiently, asking for too much and fending off lesser offers for Perez now, hoping to time the market perfectly later to and get the high caliber prospect they are looking for in return for Perez. Such patience should be admired, as some GM's due to pressure from all sorts of sources often jump the gun and make a hasty trade that backfires with ease. The Mariners recent trade for Michael Morse marks a good example of such a move. The Indians know Perez is not worth the money they are paying him right now, but in due time, he may reap benefits they hadn't even though possible.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sweet DeJesus

As February 12th, the day that Phillies' pitchers and catchers report to spring training, approaches, many pundits, fans, and analysts continue to discuss the Phillies recent inactivity in improving the team's 2013 outfield. As their depth chart currently stands, the Phillies will play the newly acquired Ben Revere in center field, Domonic Brown in right field, and a mix of John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, and Layne Nix in left field.  If we look at "fans projections" current Phillies outfielders will produce ~ 7.9 fwins combined. For comparison's sake, the same projections have the Nationals outfield of Werth, Span, and Harper putting up more than 12 combined fwins. So, from the looks of it, the Phillies have some work to do if they expect to compete for 1st place in he NL East or even a playoff spot.

Platoon: Not Just a Movie:
Platoon was a great war movie featuring Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger. In Baseball the word platoon doesn't imply an Oliver Stone directed war movie, but when two or more players (usually 2) that play the same position, split time at said position instead of anointing one the starter and the other an occasional fill-in. The usual paradigm has one player named the starter for a given position, with bench players filling in for the starter once a week or even less frequently depending on the starters' age and production. The most common reason for using the platoon model instead of the starter/reserve model is when a manager is given two players who play the same position, but one player hits only lefties well while the other only hits righties well. The lefty/righty platoon difference is very real, and General Managers often exploit this idea when it is cheaper than paying/trading for one player that hits both righties and lefties well. For example, last season the Oakland A's used this system to perfection. At first base, the A's went with the duo of Chris Carter versus left-handed pitching, and Brandon Moss versus right-handed pitching. At the designated hitter spot, the A's went with lefty Seth Smith against righties and righty Johnny Gomes against lefties.
vs. LHP vs. RHP vs. LHP vs. RHP
Player Jonny Gomes Seth Smith Chris Carter Brandon Moss
OBP 0.413 0.352 0.311 0.363
SLG 0.561 0.454 0.526 0.643
wOBA 0.418 0.345 0.386 0.419
wRC+ 171 120 149 172
Now, if I were to show you these same players' combined statistics vs. lefties and righties, all four players' numbers would seem pedestrian. On the other hand, look at the numbers in the table above. All 4 of these players stats look equivalent or better than All-Stat caliber players. Here is the best number of all. The combined salary of these 4 players in 2012 was under $6,000,000. By using a platoon at two positions, the equivalent value of 2 star players for the price of ~ 1 fwin.

The Phillies Situation:
The Phillies find themselves in a solid platoon advantage situation. It is safe to assume that new center fielder Ben Revere will, if healthy, start the majority of the games in the outfield. On the other hand, the Phillies are then left with 4 players, 2 lefties, and 2 righties, to fill the corner outfield spots. With reports on the hot stove of the Phillies standing pat with their current depth chart as well as others reporting that Ruben Amaro continues to look for an outfielder, it is safe to assume that either option is possible. Unfortunately for Amaro, the number of available outfield options has been dwindling of late with Cody Ross signing a contract in Arizona, the Indians signing Nick Swisher, and Ichiro resigning with the Yankees. 

John Mayberry Jr.
Right now, the Phillies are projected to start Domonic Brown in right field and John Mayberry Jr. in left field. Mayberry, a right-handed batter, has little trouble dominating southpaws, but might consider closing his eyes when hitting against righties as it might produce more favorable results. 
John Maybery Jr.
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.328 0.302
SLG 0.547 0.379
wOBA 0.371 0.301
wRC+ 133 86
Mayberry plays good enough defense to play in the outfield for 100+ games a season, but given his inability to figure out right-handed pitching, it's a good bet that we see Mayberry playing at one of the outfield positions every time the Phillies face a left-handed pitcher. 

The Phillies still have Laynce Nix on the roster. Nix can play both corner outfield positions, but projects better in left, and has distinct platoon splits.  
Laynce Nix
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.238 0.297
SLG 0.288 0.447
wOBA 0.235 0.317
wRC+ 34 89
Nix's career numbers don't look too hot against any pitchers, but if played selectively against only right-handed pitching, Nix could provide some value. He has little ability to get on base, but against righties, Nix has shown he can smash the ball, with a slugging percentage of ~.450 and an ISO of .194. Nix isn't a very good defender, and project much better as a left-handed pinch hitter off of the bench as opposed to a left-handed platoon option in the outfield. 

Domonic Brown
In right field, the Phillies project to give Domonic Brown as many starts as possible. Brown was a top prospect only 2 years ago, and most think he is just a late MLB bloomer who needs to given playing time. Whether Brown lives up to his previous hype or becomes an official bust is uncertain, but what is fairly certain is that the Phillies want Brown to start in right field. Brown, a lefty, has shown a greater propensity for hitting right-handed pitching in comparison to southpaws. 
Domonic Brown
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.302 0.412
SLG 0.284 0.324
wOBA 0.260 0.321
wRC+ 59 99
Brown's power has been iffy since being called up to the big show, but he continues to show improved patience at the plate, making him valuable given the Phillies struggles at getting men on base. If we assume that Brown improves in 2013, against lefties and righties, he still remains a decent candidate for a platoon. More pitchers are righties, so Brown, if platooned with another player, will still get most of the at bats. A platoon of Brown and Mayberry in right field looks something like this: 
vs. LHP vs. RHP Average
Player Mayberry Brown
OBP 0.328 0.412 0.370
SLG 0.547 0.324 0.436
wOBA 0.371 0.321 0.346
wRC+ 133 99 116
Witha  platoon of Mayberry and Brown in right field, the Phillies have the ability to start a player every day who can provide above-average offensive value in right field.

In left field, the right-handed hitter the Phillies can use in a platoon is Darin Ruf. Ruf exploded on the scene last season after hitting 40+ home runs between AA and AAA, before being called up to the Major Leagues where, in limited playing time, he produced good value. Ruf is a young right-handed hitter who projects to hit left-handed pitching better than righties even though he seems to be able to put up at least average numbers against pitchers throwing from both sides of the rubber. Ruf is a big guy, and doesn't project to be an outfielder who can play 150+ games defensively without hurting his team. Combining his and Laynce Nix's numbers in left field might seem like a fit, but even if Ruf produced, Nix's numbers aren't good enough to make one solid outfielder when platooning. This leaves the Phillies with one need, a left-handed hitting corner outfielder who can hit right-handed pitching, and preferably plays above-average defense. 

The Solution:
After looking around the league for a player that fits my description above, the best player I could find is the Cubs David DeJesus. DeJesus is a veteran, having played well in Kansas City, Oakland, and most recently in Chicago. The big question is, can DeJesus + Darin Ruf combine to make an above-average left fielder like Brown and Mayberry do in right? Here are DeJesus' career splits:
David DeJesus
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.325 0.367
SLG 0.346 0.449
wOBA 0.302 0.357
wRC+ 80 117
As you can see, DeJesus hits a bit below average vs. southpaws, but is proficient at mashing righties. Due to Ruf's limited time in MLB, I'm going to use his overall projected statistics according to Fangraphs' "Fan Projections" for both righties and lefties combined, as the projections do not show splits.
vs. LHP vs. RHP Average
Player Ruf DeJesus
OBP 0.336 0.367 0.352
SLG 0.486 0.449 0.468
wOBA 0.353 0.357 0.355
wRC+ 115 117 116
Well, the two players combined would put up almost identical numbers to the combination of Mayberry and Brown in right field. Combine these two platoons with Ben Revere in centerfield, and the Phillies could legitimately muster an outfield that doesn't force a gag reflex. In addition to DeJesus' nice splits, he is under contract for 2013 at $4.25 million, with a team option for 2014 worth $6.5 million and a $1.5 million buyout. That is a very favorable contract, given that he would immediately become the most expensive outfielder on the Phillies roster if traded to Philly. DeJesus would also make up for Ruf's defensive inefficiencies. In his career playing left field, DeJesus has posted a combined 36.2 UZR and 8 DRS. Both of those numbers show an outfielder who may not be suited for center field, but can play well in left. 

Jonathan Pettibone
So, what would the Phillies have to give up to pry DeJesus from the Cubs? First, going into any negotiation with Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, a GM has to assume that he may not end up with the better deal. On the other hand, if the return from the Cubs first well, as DeJesus does, the cubs getting the better overall deal may not make mean as much. The Cubs don't need to trade DeJesus, and the Phillies could seriously use the upgrade, so Hoyer and Epstein do hold all the cards. But, a package of RHP Jonathan Pettibone (BP ranks him the Phillies 8th best prospect) and RHP Michael Schwimmer could give the Cubs enough of a return to justify trading DeJesus while not putting another dent into the Phillies farm system. DeJesus' departure would open up the chance for the Cubs to see more of prospect Brett Jackson in the Majors, something the Cubbies weren't considering, but could prove fruitful. Acquiring Pettibone, who Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus consideres a solid #4 starter beginning in 2014, gives the Cubs a young, controllable option in their rotation as opposed to constantly signing pitchers like Scott Baker and Scott Feldman every offseason. Schimer is a young power right-handed bullpen pitcher with some MLB experience, something every team, especially one in repair, could use going forward. 

The Reality:
The Cubs have no need to trade David DeJesus unless the team on the other end of the trade truly gives them something valuable. While Pettibon + Schwimer doesn't seem like a star-studded package, it is more valuable to the Cubs than 1, maybe 2 years, of DeJesus. The Phillies would solve their outfield problem without raising payroll very much, and without depleting the last bit of talent left in their recently beleaguered farm system. The most important thing to remember is that trades are tricky, and that they sound far better in theory. In reality, this deal might be difficult to push, especially since the Cubs have no reason not to ask for a better return for DeJesus. To conclude, this deal would help both sides, probably make DeJesus happy as he would be playing for a winning team, and most importantly would most-likely end the offseason for the Phillies. Will it happen? I doubt it, but a fan can dream, can't he?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Morse Code

Adam LaRoche
Yesterday, the Washington Nationals re-signed free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche to a 2-year $24 million contract with $22 million slated to be salary for the first two years and the other $2 million as a buyout in the third year if LaRoche's mutual option doesn't vest. Immediately, this move secures the Nationals a veteran first baseman who has performed well lately in D.C. and showed images of brilliance at pitcher friendly Turner Field in Atlanta. LaRoche, who recently turned 33 years old, brings a multi-faceted game to the Nationals, as well as a left-handed bat in the middle of the order to complement righties Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond. Some may poo poo LaRoche's age, but this contract is short term, 2 years, and LaRoche plays a relatively effortless defensive position that has allowed older players with power to continue to produce impressive stats.

Here's a look at LaRoche's 2012 season, which is essentially the sole reason for getting ~ $12 million AAV, more than the qualifying offer the Nationals offered LaRoche a few months ago.
2012 0.271 0.343 0.510 0.361 127 33
LaRoche's overall hitting production derived from his power numbers. The 33 home runs, a spike, led to a slugging percentage over .500, placing him 11th in the Major Leagues. No one denies that LaRoche has always been able to hit, but what has contributed to his inconsistent production? LaRoche's approach to the plate may have been altered slightly during the 2012 season in comparison to those that came before. LaRoche continued to swing more often than the average hitter, make contact less often than the average hitter, but increased his swing percentage on pitches in the strike zone while laying off pitches out of the zone. This alteration shows a better eye at the plate. This was a hitter looking to swing more at strikes, but more importantly crushing the ball when getting pitches in the strike zone.

While LaRoche's offensive game has been up and down throughout his career, Adam's defensive prowess has not wavered. While it took a year or so for his defensive abilities to become apparent, since then, LaRoche has proven he will flash the leather and corral every semi-arrant thrown at the far right side of the infield. Here are his numbers using more advanced metrics:
2004 -0.6 2 -7.4
2005 -18.2 -13 -2.5
2006 -4.6 -11 5.5
2007 7.6 2 10.3
2008 -6.5 -5 0.4
2009 0.2 -2 6.3
2010 4.8 6 9.7
2011 13.4 5 3
2012 5.7 8 10.8
Range at 1st base can often show itself more once a player has gained more experience, since speed is less necessary at 1st base than proper form and instinct. Without a doubt, LaRoche's defense ranks far higher than the Nationals other possibility at the position, Michael Morse. Morse's career -2.7 UZR and -5 DRS in a little over 800 career innings at 1st base pales in comparison to LaRoches consistent success at the position. LaRoche provides leadership both in the young infield as well as on a young team sporting Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and Ian Desmond. In addition, the Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has had issue throwing from third base, which puts a premium on having a skilled defensive first baseman. To cap off the reasons why the Nationals will most likely enjoy the services of LaRoche for the next two seasons without remorse is his projections for 2013. PECOTA projects him to put up about 1.3 WARP next season with 19 home runs and a .321 OBP. Bill James' projections have LaRoche putting up a slash line of .256/.334/.471. While this production doesn't stack up to Adam's 2012, LaRoche is a candidate for some regression, but the damage doesn't seem to be that bad.

Michael Morse
So, since, LaRoche will occupy 1st base for the Nats for at least the next 2 seasons, the club is heavy by one player, Michael Morse. Immediately after the news came down concerning the LaRoche's new deal with Washington, the rumors began to fly concerning a possible trade involving Michael Morse. Morse is a righty with experience in the outfield and at 1st base, who has recently figured it out at the plate. Morse has become more than a big guy crushing pitches, hitting for a solid batting average, above-average on base percentage, and doing it against both righties and southpaws. Over the last three seasons, Morse has figured it out at the plate, dealing with some injury problems in 2012, while LaRoche had a big year. 
Year Games Played fWAR rWAR WARP
2010 98 1.1 1.2 1.5
2011 146 3.3 3.1 3.4
2012 102 0.3 0.6 0.1
Morse doesn't have the resume of consistency that LaRoche brings to the tabel. In addition, Morse is under control for only one season, and bats from the right side of the plate as opposed to the left. Morse provides less defense prowess despite the position he plays. Despite the appeal of LaRoche, Morse provides solid plate discipline, constant doubles power to both gaps, and a hitter with very few deficiencies at the plate. He isn't abysmal in the field, making him a trade candidate to both AL and NL teames. The main issue with Morse is his contract. A team that trades for him might decide to invest in the slugger by signing him to an extension, while some may offer less to the Nats knowing full well they will only have Morse in the lineup for 1 season. Teams that have been linked to the Morse and the Nats include the Yankees, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, and Rays. 

Yankees: According to an article in the New York Daily News, the Yankees will send rookie catcher Austin Romine, who missed most of last season due to injury, back to triple A, and that the team is focused on finding a right-handed hitting outfielder. Given that the Yankees have already resigned Ichiro, and have both Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson returning, the team isn't looking to trade for a player like Michael Morse who is better suited for first base and hits well against both righty and lefty pitchers. The Yankees may see how little they can trade in exchange for Morse, but Brian Cashman would rather sign Scott Hairston but remain in on the Morse talks to drive the price up in case the Orioles/Rays remain serious contenders for Morse's services.

Orioles: The Orioles farm system is currently top heavy, and I doubt Dan Duquette is willing to trade any of his top prospects for one year of Michael Morse. If the Orioles forgo a trade for Morse, their most likely option at either DH or 1st base will be lefty Chris Davis. Davis came on strong following the trade deadline in 2012, ending the season with more than 30 home runs, while playing in the outfield and at 1st base.
True Avg HR wOBA wRC+
Morse 0.294 9 0.363 127
Davis 0.267 13 0.322 100
Take a look at this comparison between Morse and Davis. All numbers are either their career percentage or in the case of home runs, home runs per season. Morse has less power but may be the better overall hitter, while Davis is a known commodity that is under team control for fairly cheap until 2016. The Orioles plan to use Nolan Reimold in left field, allowing Chris Davis to occupy 1st base and fill in at DH along with Matt Weiters. While Morse might help the Orioles, he isn't a huge upgrade, the Orioles are a regional rival of the Nats, and the few players they would be willing to trade could be used elsewhere. If the O's were to deal for Morse the trade might look like this:
Orioles trade Brian Matusz and minor leaguer Branden Kline for Michael Morse. It is more likely the Orioles continue to shop J.J. Hardy for a 3rd baseman in an effort to move Many Machado to shortstop.

Mariners: The Mariners recently made a move to acquire Kendrys Morales, bolstering their abundance of prospective designated hitters. Morse originally played in the Seattle organization, and would most likely take over at 1st base for the awful Justin Smoak. The Mariners would rather find a long-term option at 1st base instead of a one-year rental, but if they could work out an extension with Morse, Jack Zduriencik could be persuaded to deal for Morse. If the Mariners make this move, you might see more pieces than just Morse moving as the Mariners might also try to clear space a position in which they have a prospect ready to make the leap to the big show. For example, the Mariners could look to trade shortstop Brendan Ryan and pitcher James Paxton to the Nationals in return for Michael Morse and Ian Desmond. The Nationals would replace the hole left when they treaded prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins with an almost MLB ready player in Paxton while upgrading defensively at shortstop. The Mariners would have a shortstop 3 years of arbitration with Desmond, which consequently makes prospect Nick Franklin expendable. Since the market for young MLB ready shortstops has been high (see the Didi Gregorius deal). More likely, the Mariners refrain from a trade altogether.

Rangers: The Rangers just signed a designated hitter in Lance Berkman, but would love to add a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Mitch Moreland. Moreland has been decent, but as a lefty, he performs much better against righties than versus lefties. His career true average against southpaws is a low .232, but that number goes up to .274 against righties. In addition, Moreland has thus far been inconsistent in his defense at 1st with 2 subpar seasons and a rebound year in 2012. Platooning Moreland and Morse could be valuable for a team probably not looking to resign Morse, but hoping to get the most out of him in 2013. If the Rangers make a deal for Morse, don't look for them to send back a well-known prospect. Two names that could be apart of negotiations could be pitchers Miguel De Los Santos, and Codie Buckle.

Phillies: Recently we've heard some competing reports coming from Philadelphia. Ken Rosenthal has noted that the Phillies are still looking for outfield help, especially of the right-handed persuasion, while others have noted that Ruben Amaro is done dealing. My guess is that Amaro will look to upgrade only if the right deal falls into his lap. Otherwise he'll go with platoons in the corner outfield spots including Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Darrin Ruf, and Laynce Nix. I would say that there is a popsicles chance in hell that these two teams consummate a deal. The Nationals are the reigning NL East champs with the Phillies claiming the top spot in the division the 5 seasons prior to 2012. Due to these teams' status as divisional rivals, there is no way Michael Morse ends up in a Phillies uniform.

Rays: If the Rays trade for Morse it'll for sure only for the 2013 season. 2014 marks Morses' first chance in the free agent pool, and the Rays definitely don't have the money to sign Morse. Given that his potential service time in Tampa would be for only 1 season, don't look for the Rays to give up anything special in return. My guess is the Nationals will ask for a possibly oft-injured and young high ceiling prospect in an attempt to replenish their system with a less likely to make it Alex Meyer. The Rays still don't have a DH, so if Tampa trades for Morse, he'll most likely spend his time hitting but not fielding. So, what could the Rays move in exchange for Morse? Maybe a pitcher like Jeff Ames. Ames was drafted a few times, and eventually fell from junior college to the Rays in a supplemental first round. He's got a mid-90's fastball making him a possible late-innings reliever in the majors or possible a back of the rotation starter if he develops some secondary pitches. He'll be 22 in 2013, but if his role becomes cemented to the bullpen, he could move through the minors quickly.

Mets: I didn't mention the Mets before, but they could be a sleeper team for Morse's services. The Mets need outfield help, both for now and the future. Morse looks to only help the Mets out now given his contract, but if he performs well in NYC in 2013, the Mets could look to either extend him or trade him at the deadline. While the Mets have the same issue as the Phillies, this potential intra-divisional trade is more likely than one between the Nats and the Phillies. The Mets are not likely to be in contention next season, so a trade remains a possibility. The Mets could look to deal a pitching prospect like Jacob DeGrom who throws hard and is coming off of an injury-plagued season along with a position player like Lukas Duda. Duda is a power-hitting lefty who could be the Nats new left-handed option off the bench for Davey Johnson. The Mets would only go in on this type of deal if they were sure they could either find value for Morse at the trade deadline, or could extend Morse on a deal in the neighborhood of 3 years and $33 million. Either way I don't see this deal happening, but don't count the Mets out of it.

Adam LaRoche was the last part to the Nationals puzzle. he solidifies a position that was up in the air, and does so for a finite amount of time. Although the Nationals loved Michael Morse, he becomes expendable. Morse wants to play in order to improve his dollar value heading into 2014 free agency, so sticking it out on the National's bench would definitely make him unhappy. My guess is that he will take the first ticket out of town, with no particular penchant for one city over another. Due to Morse's recent renaissance, recent injury, defensive liabilities, and the brevity with which his free agency comes, he probably won't fetch that much in a trade. If the Nationals aren't looking for much, a deal could be made soon, but if the Nats want something more significant, it either implies a multi-player trade possibility to the chance that Morse remains for the start of 2013. If I had to guess, I'd say Morse gets traded, possibly in a three-way deal involving the Padres or a simple 2-team deal involving either the Yankees or Rangers. With LaRoche gone, Michael Bourn headlines the remaining position players on the free agent market, but look for Scott Boras to hold off until he finds what he wants, similar to Prince Fielder's situation last offseason.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Every Move Counts

Generally in the Baseball offseason, the slowest time for transactions happens over the holidays, Christmas and New Years. General Managers and their staffs want to spend time with their family and friends, as do the players, agents, and their respective loved ones. So, the hot stove cools, and the fans (and pundits) are left with little to talk about. On the other hand, the entire industry does not come to a halt. Free agents still negotiate deals, trades are proposed, and players move from team to team. Here are some of the latest free agent signings.

Cody Ross
Diamondbacks sign OF Cody Ross to a 3-year $26 million contract: 
Where did this come from? Jason Kubel, Justin Upton, Gerrardo Para, Adam Eaton, and A.J. Pollock. This is the list of outfielders the Diamondbacks had at their disposal before signing outfielder Cody Ross to a 3-year contract. This, all after trading center fielder Chris Young to the Oakland Athletics. Basically, the Diamondbacks have stock piled the largest arsenal of outfielders we've ever seen. They have rookies, veterans, lefties, righties, power-hitters, speedsters, great defenders, and poor defenders. Missing an outfielder? If so, call Kevin Towers because anyone who doesn't play in the infield now resides in the desert. The reasons behind the Dbacks' decision to sign Cody Ross remain speculative at best. It puts the team in a position to keep all of these players, trade one, or trade more than one. The Diamondbacks play in hitter friendly Chase Field, which means they need a solid defensive outfield to take away opposing teams' hits, and great hitters to take advantage of the offensively-friendly confines.

Cody Ross is an interesting pickup. He's a right-handed hitting corner outfielder whose career has been above average, but nothing to call your mother about. In the last 3 seasons his numbers have followed his batting average on balls put in play. BABIP is a statistic that centers around a mean of .300, with exceptions for hitters that make their living purely on making contact with the ball.
BABIP Slash Line wOBA fWAR
2010 0.324 .269/.322/.413 0.322 2.3
2011 0.279 .240/.325/.405 0.321 1.0
2012 0.317 .267/.326/.481 0.345 2.4
When Ross' luck is better, his overall performance seems to improve, but when he hits balls in play at fielders, his production falters. Ross also has fairly distinctive righty/lefty splits. In his career, Ross's wRC+ against lefties is 141, well above the league average, but a meek 92 against righties. While Ross's offensive production falls in every category when looking at his splits vs. righties, his slugging percentage scuffles the most. In his career, Ross slugs .415 against right-handed pitchers, but a fantastic .575 against lefties. This split shows that Ross will play when a lefty takes the mound against the snakes. So, given his splits, it would seem that Ross would be a perfect fit for a platoon, but you may be wondering why a team would want to pay a player more than $8 million AAV to platoon with another player when a similar platoon option like Scott Hairston remains a free agent. Hairston comes at a cheaper cost, and there is no need to lock him up for multiple years, but the Diamondbacks probably preferred Ross to Hairston due to their difference in defensive ability. Cody hasn't been a star defender, but he's put up positive defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating numbers since in his career. He plays the corner spots much better than the defensively demanding center field, and he played much better in the smaller Fenway Park outfield than the expansive outfield in San Francisco. Ross is only getting older, which means slower, but given his splits, the Diamondbacks won't be counting on Ross for defensive perfection in every game. PECOTA expects Ross to be worth about 5.7 WARP for the duration of his contract in Arizona, but given his new home field, we might see more offensive production. Overall, this signing seemed crazy on the outset, but looks more and more genius as I delve deeper.
My Grade: B+ (As I said before, the Diamondbacks seemed stupid in making this deal, but when analyzing it, Ross looks like a fit in Arizona. The team could make serious upgrades at other positions by trading an outfielder. Most think Jason Kubel is the perfect candidate, but don't count out the team moving Justin Upton in a blockbuster deal.)

Brewers sign LHP Mike Gonzalez to a 1-year $2.25 million contact:
In 2012, the Brewers had one of the worst bullpens in Baseball. Given the Brewers' situation, the main goal this offseason had to be an upgrade in their relief core. The team's offense remains almost untouched, and their starting pitching has some youngsters looking to continue early career success. Recently the team signed lefty Tom Gorzelanny to a multi-year contract, and now Doug Melvin has inked fellow lefty and former Nat Mike Gonzalez to a 1-year contract. The Brewers relievers ranked 10th worst in Major League Baseball in wOBA against lefties last season, and 10th worst in home runs given up against left-handed batters. That, combined with the numerous left-handed hitters with power in the NL Central, made the Brewers go looking for some affordable upgrades in that department. Think about it, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Mike Rizzo, Pedro Alvarez, and Shin-Soo Choo all play in the NL Central. With hitters like that, the Brewers have to have a counter punch out of their bullpen, especially given those hitters' particular ability to hit the ball out of the ball park. Gonzalez has been solid his entire career, throwing from an over-the-top angle, but with a very "arms and legs" delivery. That means that his delivery isn't compact or simple, but instead has lots of moving parts that distract the hitter, in an attempt to keep the ball hidden from the hitters' eyes. Gonzalez has a higher career K%, lower career BB%, and drastically higher ground ball percentage against lefties than righties, making him the perfect lefty specialist coming out of Milwaukee's bullpen. At only $2.25 million, the Brewers found an affordable lefty reliever. What more could they ask for?
My Grade: A (I can't find a downside to this deal. It doesn't make the Brewers contenders, but it's a minor move that will prove important in division play.)

Indians sign RHP Brett Myers to a 1-year $7 million contract:
So, Brett Myers is sort of a weird player. He has twice moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and now for a second time will move back to the rotation. Most pitchers would rather start than relieve, and Myers probably turned down some offers to pitch out of the bullpen in order to sign with the Indians. The Tribe looks to be filling rotation spots with cheaper veterans rather than promote prospects. This comes from a lack of MLB ready, or close to MLB ready pitching prospects. The team recently traded for Trevor Bauer, and he will compete for a rotation spot, but most likely, if he doesn't impress, Bauer will begin the season in triple A. Myers is a solid innings eater, a solid #5 or possibly #4 starter who isn't flashy, but gets you through 6 innings of work most of the time. When tagged as a starter, Myers has thrown at least 190 innings in every season but one. That consistency combined with a very sparse injury history, and a low price tag made Myers the perfect target for the Indians. He has a typical four-pitch arsenal of fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, with the curveball acting as his best strikeout pitch. Myers has shifted from the four-seam fastball to a sinker in recent years, causing his ability to induce ground balls to go up in the latter half of his career. Myers has learned some better control recently, lowering his BB% from 2 to 3 percentage points in the last 3 seasons. The Indians aren't looking for anything spectacular from Myers, but they also aren't paying him for more than a 1.0 WARP value. If the Indians fall out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline, look for Myers to be dealt as he isn't owed very much money, and isn't signed past 2013.
My Grade: B (This deal isn't special. If the Indians perform well, Myers looks like a steal at $7 million, but if they falter, he might garner a utility infield prospect.)

Rangers sign RHP Jason Frasor to a 1-year $1.5 million contract:
The Rangers lost two important cogs in their bullpen this offseason. Both Mike Adams, now a Phillie, and Koji Uehara, now in Boston, moved eastward away from balmy Arlington for colder pastures. In addition, Neftali Feliz looks to have made a permanent move to the starting rotation, and Alexei Ogando could find himself a starter in 2013 as well. The Rangers already added righty Joakim Soria earlier this offseason, but this deal is different. Soria pitches well against both righties and lefties, making him valuable enough to sign a multiyear contract for $8 million. Frasor has a lot of difficulties getting lefties out (4.06 career FIP), but fairs better than average against right-handed hitters (3.60 career FIP). At $1.5 million, Frasor could put up similar numbers to his 2012 campaign and still be worth this contract. Look for the Rangers to possibly add one more reliever to sure up their bullpen. Texas starters Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz are both coming back from Tommy John surgeries, with Lewis expected back mid-season and Feliz towards September. These injuries force Alexei Ogando into the rotation and leave a hole in the bullpen, one that Frasor looks to fill.
My Grade: B+ (The Rangers needed a veteran reliever on the cheap, and they seem to have found their man.)

Dodgers sign LHP J.P. Howell to a $2.85 million contract:
J.P. Howell
The Rays discovered J.P. Howell, putting him in the bullpen where he thrived. Howell has performed well against lefties, but doesn't lose that much when facing righties. Many thought the Rays would resign Howell, but given his 2011-2012 value, the Rays might have been looking for a cheaper deal than almost $3 million. Only the Rays, and maybe the A's, have to worry about minute amounts of money like signing a reliever to a 1-year $3 million contract. The Dodgers have already added to their bullpen with the signing of Brandon League, albeit an overpay, but lost LHP Randy Choate to the Cardinals. Most likely, this lefty loss led L.A. to go after J.P. Howell. The Dodgers have deep pockets and a desire to win ASAP, so Howell probably wasn't attracting offers for more than $2 million before the Dodgers swooped in and outbid everyone. Howell is a solid pitcher who joins Scott Elbert as the two lefties in the Dodgers' pen. PECOTA and the Bill James projections see Howell outperforming his $2.85 million contract. He'll get a lot of work against lefties, and should prove his worth in pitcher friendly Chavez Ravine.
My Grade: B (If the Dodgers had to outbid other teams to get Howell, then this contract looks a little worse than I originally thought, but since most projections show Howell to outperform his current 2013 pecuniary value, I see this as a solid deal for both sides.)

Lance Berkman
Rangers sign 1B/DH Lance Berkman to a 1-year $10 million contract:
I previously wrote that that the perfect fit for Lance Berkman in 2013 would be in Tampa Bay. I sorely underestimated how much money teams would be willing to pay the soon-to-be 37 year old coming off of knee and calf injuries in 2012. Berkman has been very productive in his career, hitting for a career slash line of .296/.409/.544. Notice his incredibly high on base percentage and slugging percentage. Berkman is a duel threat at the plate, getting on base and hitting for power. The Big Puma has 360 career home runs and hasn't put up a wRC+ lower than 114 since his rookie season of 1999. Berkman was always a staple in Houston as part of the buzzing b's. He is a switch-hitter, who performs demonstratively better from the left side of the plate, but holds his own vs. left-handed pitching knocking southpaws around for a career .342 wOBA. Berkman has only two factors working against him, his age and recent injury history. PECOTA projects Berkman to be worth 3.0 WARP in 2013 and 2.2 WARP in 2014. The Rangers hope Berkman will fill the designated hitter role, smashing balls into the stands in right-field in hitter and home run friendly Texas. If Berkman produces the way PECOTA and Bill James (.279/.389/.485) expect he will, the $10 million price tag will look like a steal. If Berkman fails to hit 20 home runs and only plays in 70 games, it will look like a waste, but of only 1 to 2 million dollars.
My Grade: A- (The Rangers have a very right-handed lineup, so Berkman's power from the left side is a much needed upgrade. Berkman returns to Texas (he played most of his career for the Astros) instead of retiring, and should produce if healthy.)

Okay, you got me, none of these signings are monumental, but don't discount them as negligible. Howell, Frasor, and Gonzalez should all contribute to bullpens without needing to be the keystones, while Ross joins a well-stocked outfield in hitter friendly Arizona. The Rangers and Nolan Ryan apparently sought after Lance Berkman so much that Ryan flew to see Berkman in order to convince him to play in 2013, and do so for the Texas Rangers. Brett Myers is the true mundane signing of the bunch, but even he could prove interesting if traded mid-season. Look for January and February to be busy months on the MLB hot stove with Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, Adam LaRoche, and Shaun Marcum still unsigned and numerous trade-possible players still out there. Oh, and remember, only 37 more days until pitchers & catchers report.