Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Real All-Stars

I don't really have much to add to this story. It's really easy to look at the misbehaving superstars and immature super-prospects and think that baseball players are in it for the money, glory, and fame. But while that's true for some, there are players who are still in it because they love the game and the camaraderie that comes with being on a team.

I still miss playing soccer. I miss the way that mist rises off the grass early in the morning, leaving the ball damp and dark. I miss the way that a ball sounds when it hits the net; I miss the mass exhalation that players and fans share when the first goal of a game whispers into the goal. I miss joking around with the guys and eating orange slices during halftime. I never played for money, I never got any real glory or fame. But it was never about that. It was about playing for love of the game and for the love of your fellow players.

There are still guys out there in the Majors who can't give it up because they still love everything that baseball is. It's those guys that I root for because they are the heart of the game. They're the ones I identify with and who are closest to the fans. So let's focus less on what's wrong with baseball and take a little time to appreciate the good guys for all they've given us, the fans, and to the game itself.

Kendall Continues

I want to continue the conversation about Jason Kendall because I think it's relevant to player evaluation and worth. The comparison between Brad Ausmus and Jason Kendall was brought up. Ausmus made $4 million last year with the Astros. Now, that's horrible for obvious reasons but at least he had a WARP of 3.3 with positive defensive stats. Kendall had a fantastic WARP of 0.1 and 0.9 split between the A's and Cubs. PECOTA has them projected for WARPs of 1.3 and 1.7 for Ausmus and Kendall respectively (link for Ausmus and link for Kendall).

So they're both pretty terrible players at this point. But Kendall is making $4.25 million in guaranteed money this year. Ausmus is making $2 million. Also, PECOTA has Kendall down as a below average defensive catcher and that will only worsen with age. At least Ausmus still has a positive defensive rating.

That's the entire point, though. Ausmus is being properly valued as a defensively minded, veteran catcher who can help a rookie, Towles, make the transition into the bigs. Kendall is being paid as if he's still a starter, a guy who can positively contribute to the team offensively and defensively. And he can't do either, really. The contract is just horrid and above market any way you cut it.

Oh, and one other thing in Ausmus' favor: he went to Dartmouth. 'Nuff said.

Corpas Collects

The Rockies locked up Manny Corpas long-term. Despite my usual aversion to long-term commitments to relievers, I actually like the deal. Essentially, the deal is for 4 years averaging a little more than $2 million a year, with club options for 2 more years including his last year of arbitration and first year of free agency. Those options, if exercised, could raise the overall value of the deal to over $22 million.

Corpas had a great year last year; while his K/9 wasn't great (6.69), he has a nasty sinker that generates lots of ground balls which is crucial in Colorado. That is supported by his sparkling HR/9 rate of 0.69. He's also young (25 years old) and does get lefties out as well. He held opponents to a .595 OPS last year. All of these numbers are the good side.

However, his K/9 rate may become problematic. I would wait and see if he might start striking out more guys once his secondary pitches develop. But the K/BB rate is fine (2.9 last year) so it's not a cause for too much concern. It really comes down to whether or not he can continue to close effectively. If so, the deal is great for both sides. The Rockies get cost certainty and Corpas gets financial security. Furthermore, the Rockies only really have to start shelling out money in the options years. By that point, they should know if he can handle the role. It's a smart gamble for them in the short and long-term.

Also, even if Corpas busts out and becomes a middle reliever, the contract is affordable enough for him to remain trade bait. There are always big-market teams looking for effective relievers. Just look at the money that the Yankees threw at Kyle Farnsworth. So the Rockies should be able to unload Corpas if they feel that they're not getting a good return. All in all, a good signing that might become great if Corpas can increase his strikeout rate and stay healthy.

Oh, and in Pirates news, Moskos was perfect in his spring debut. Silver linings, I guess.....but I'd still rather have Wieters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pitcher Up! and Other Thoughts

I wrote to Chris Jaffe yesterday about my blog post responding to his piece and he replied promptly. I won't post the email here but he basically said that park factors matter a whole lot more than he had anticipated. For example, the Green Monster at Fenway screws up the system due to its immense height; hitting a ball more than 10 feet over it or a wall's length beyond it is pretty damn difficult. I'm sure others are working on figuring in park factors for those numbers. I'm too lazy to do it myself at the moment but once I hear more, I'll post it here. In any case, Chris Jaffe is a great guy so please, continue to read his stuff at the Hardball Times.

Now, in other musings:

Apparently, Ned Yost is thinking about batting Jason Kendall 9th and putting the pitcher in the 8 hole. Now, Kendall had an OPS of .610 in 2007. Yup, that number is not a typo. To put this monumental suckage in perspective, Dontrelle Willis has a career OPS of .639 and Carlos Zambrano has a career OPS of .580. While I would prefer for Yost to bat Kendall 34th in the lineup, that isn't possible, at least not in this universe (but maybe in this one, if we're lucky). If Kendall does continue to get on-base closer to his career clip of .375 and not the horrid .301 that he posted last year, this move makes a lot of sense especially if Braun hits 2nd. Tony la Russa hit his pitcher 8th last year with some moderate success and the writers of "The Book" seem to agree that this could produce an extra couple runs a year. So all in all it's a fine gambit that will probably seem odd to purists but will continue to put a smile on the face of theorists around the globe. Whether or not Joe Maddon will try out his new kryptonite strategy against Big Papi and A-Rod remains to be seen.
But lost in all of this theory is the fact that Jason Kendall is a horrible ballplayer. In what world is he worth $4.25 million guaranteed with another $1 million incentives? He's worse than Neifi Perez since Perez was paid "only" $2.5 million last year to be absolutely horrible. On a side note, did you know that Perez has made nearly $21 million during his career to post a lifetime OPS+ of 64? So having Kendall hit anywhere is a loss for the Brewers, those 2 runs be damned. I am sick of teams throwing money at veteran players who have only proven that they suck. Give the kids a chance and if they fail, at least you're only out a bit of money as opposed to the millions that Kendall, Perez, and their ilk soak up. Plus, who knows when you'll hit pay dirt?

Now, on to veterans who deserve jobs, or fliers at least. I must admit that I am surprised that Barry Bonds does not have a job. No matter what drama he brings, the guy can flat out hit. For example, if the Mariners added Bonds to their lineup, they would have a legitimate chance to challenge the Angels. Plus, Bonds wouldn't be a significant downgrade defensively over Raul "The Statue" Ibanez if at all and he would be a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) upgrade offensively over Jose "Why Do I Have a Job" Vidro. That said, I'd still take Adam Jones back and start preparing for the future. But then again, maybe the M's will defy logic and statistics and somehow rip the division away from the Angels. Though if they do, I'll shave my head. Promise.

The situation for David Wells is more difficult. I have to admit that I am fond of Boomer if only because he actually got a case of gout (beat that, Bartolo Colon!). Regardless, I think that he should at least get a minor league deal as extra insurance for a team with a young rotation, much like Bartolo Colon received. No matter what his physical shape, Wells throws strikes. Sure, he gets hit much harder now than he did before but he's a great clubhouse guy who knows a ton about pitching. There are plenty of teams out of contention who could use a guy to soak up some innings to keep inning counts down for young arms and options/service time unused for replacement starters when the inevitable injury bug hits. Plus, he'd cost a whole hell of a lot less than Jason Kendall and might even provide more value. And as a final benefit, he could even lead these guys in a pinch.

That's it for tonight. More about manatees tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Length Matters

So I was reading the Hardball Times today and ran across this gem. The article discusses home run length and uses statistics from Hit Tracker to break down "no doubt," "plenty," "just enough," and "lucky" home runs. The first two categories seem throwaway since they contain homers that were plenty far enough so no matter what, they were leaving the yard. It's the second two categories ("just enough" and "lucky") that Rob Neyer talks about here (subscription needed) that warrant discussion. The Jaffe piece argues that teams and players with high percentages of "just enoughs" will have a higher probability of regression the next year. Notable teams and players include the Red Sox (36% compared to a league average 29%), Giants (43% cheap), Brandon Phillips (14 of 30 cheap), and David Wright (12 of 30 cheap). Jaffe then suggests that one can better predict a team or player's home run rate by normalizing their "just enoughs" to the league average of roughly 29%.

My problem with his analysis is that he does not take into account what I call "just misses." For every ball that makes it over the wall by ten feet or falls one wall's length beyond the wall (the threshold for "just enough"), there is in all likelihood a ball that falls short by the same amount (a "just miss"). If we normalize home run rates by adjusting "just enough" rates to the league average, we need to do the same for "just misses." Without "just miss" rates, we really have no concrete way to know whether or not Gary Sheffield's ridiculously low "just enough" rate of 4.17% is attributable to the kind of contact he makes or to horribly bad luck with fly balls within the "just miss" threshold. For all we know, he hit tons of balls that died short of the wall that could potentially be homers next year. We need to know "just miss" rates for individual players as well as the league average so we can normalize correctly on both ends.

Furthermore, Jaffe doesn't take the full effect of weather into account. For every fly ball that becomes a homer just because of favorable weather conditions ("lucky"), there is in all likelihood a fly ball that fails to go over the fence because of adverse conditions ("unlucky"). For example, David Wright had 10 "lucky" home runs last year. However, to accurately predict the overall effect of weather on Wright's home run rate, we have to know how many "unlucky" fly balls he hit. Additionally, we have to know the average rate of "unlucky" fly balls for the league so we can normalize his rate for predictive purposes. This will give us a complete picture of Wright's overall luck factor by taking in both the positive and negative effects of weather.

TLDR: Unless we can normalize for "just misses" and "unlucky" fly balls, we do not have a way to accurately predict home run rates through Jaffe's method. I hope he continues his analysis by taking this into account because it's a fascinating line of research; he simply needs to get both halves of the whole to see if there's a correlation to be found.

Sorry that there's not more to be posted today. Some things came up and I don't have more time to blog at the moment. But don't worry, I'll be plenty bored at work tomorrow so there should be more updates then.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Fat Man Signeth (and other news)

So the big (and I mean big) news of the day is that the fattest man in baseball finally signed today (and no, I haven't checked if he's actually the fattest. That's entirely besides the point and if you want to waste your life looking up that particular stat, you have far too much time on your hands). Most of the details haven't leaked but if the ESPN report is true and there is absolutely no money guaranteed, then it's a great upside play for the Red Sox. While Colon hasn't impressed this spring so far, he still has rebound potential and, as this breakdown suggests, there is upside here. Now, the story with Colon is always his conditioning and his health. They are very much related; you simply cannot weigh as much as Colon does and expect to anything other than disaster. That's why the Red Sox signing is so good. The only way Colon gets spending money for Ho-Hos is if he gets his ass in shape. That should be motivation enough and if he gets himself back to 80%, then he should be able to provide some insurance in case Buchholz needs spelling to keep his innings down, Wakefield's knuckler starts dancing like this guy on Dancing with the Stars, or Schilling turned out to be telling the truth about his shoulder. As much as I hate the Red Sox, Epstein and Co. run a tight ship and this is a great signing.

In other news, Brad Lidge managed to hurt himself on his first pitch off a mound. Big surprise. I know that people absolutely destroyed Ed Wade for some of his trades this offseason. Some were warranted. But Lidge, while possessing lethal stuff, is fresh off one surgery and is heading for another. He had a couple great seasons but never seemed to regain his aura of invincibility after he gave up that monster homer to Pujols. The Astros didn't get a ton for Lidge (outfielder Michael Bourn, pitcher Geoff Geary, and minor leaguer Mike Costanzo) but at the very least, they're not paying his salary this season. The less money they spend this year the more money they'll have to lock up players like Hunter Pence to long-term contracts. A team that should be rebuilding doesn't have the luxury of paying millions to relievers (particularly given reliever volatility). So even if they didn't get the best possible return on Lidge, it sure beats $5+ million to him this year to sit out for the beginning of the year and be a head case for the rest of it. That said, Ed Wade is still an idiot.

In vaguely related news, my girlfriend often says that my feet look like manatees. While being strange and somewhat disturbing, this is also untrue. These guys look like manatees. Hell, it's even their freaking NAME. And while I support gender equality when it comes to cheerleaders, I'm going to spend more time looking at the Mermaids.