If anyone is looking for a job in MLB:
Job Posting: Baseball Info Solutions Multiple Openings.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) is committed to providing the most accurate, in-depth, timely professional baseball data, including cutting-edge research and analysis, striving to educate major league teams and the public about baseball analytics.
We are seeking highly motivated individuals with a passion for baseball to join our team.
Would you like to launch your software development career working with the latest .NET tools and technologies? Would you be interested in working closely with a small team of senior developers to create new products and features in a baseball centric environment? Baseball Info Solutions is seeking a Junior .NET Developer in our Coplay, PA office to help deliver new web-based products to our customers. This is a great opportunity in a casual office environment with one of the leading providers of in depth baseball statistics.
The candidate will develop assist in developing new products as well as help maintain existing products. Strong candidates will possess a self-motivated attitude, great communication skills, and be able to work in a collaborative, team environment or independently as needed.
Candidates must possess:
Develop new features, applications and maintain existing applications.
Full life-cycle development.
Web development in C# and Asp.NET 4.0.
Full understanding of Asp.NET using a C# object oriented code base.
Understanding of SSRS.
HTML and CSS
In depth knowledge of MS Development tools
Knowledge of baseball statistics and analytics.
SQL Server Development is a plus.
Skills and Qualifications:
For more information or to apply, please submit your résumé and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Video Scouts
BIS Video Scouts watch multiple games per day throughout the season and record their observations for our clients’ consumption. The BIS Video Scout internship is perhaps the best pipeline into a successful career in the baseball industry. Many executives inside major league front offices credit BIS for their first steps into the baseball industry.
Score and pitch chart MLB games using specialized computer software
Check the accuracy and validity of data
Prepare and analyze statistical data for delivery to customers
Assist with the production of the 2015 Bill James Handbook
Provide administrative support to the full-time staff
Demonstrated knowledge of baseball and baseball scorekeeping
Ability to identify and differentiate between pitch types
Computer proficiency and the ability to quickly learn new software
High school or college baseball playing experience is preferred but not necessary
Must be able to work nights and weekends
Must be willing to work from our Allentown/Bethlehem, PA office
Interns will begin in either January or March and conclude at the end of the regular season (September 29th), with a possibility of extending through the middle of October.
An hourly rate of $7.25 and/or college course credit will be offered to each Video Scout. Anyone interested in the internship should send a cover letter and resume to Dan Casey at email@example.com.
Research & Development Intern
Baseball Info Solutions is looking for candidates to fill a paid internship in our R&D Department in the spring and/or summer seasons. The intern will work out of our office near Allentown, PA and will assist our R&D team, supporting research for publications and future products, including Stat of the Week, The Bill James Handbook, and The Fielding Bible. Recent R&D interns have landed internships and full-time jobs with major league teams.
The position requires a variety of skills including (but not limited to) an analytical mind, computer expertise, writing ability, and a passion for baseball.
Ideal candidates will possess:
Knowledge of and familiarity with baseball and sabermetric research
Proficiency working in Microsoft Office programs (or equivalents), especially Excel
Experience with MySQL, SQL Server, or similar databases.
An ability to write and communicate effectively with a variety of audiences
An ability to work both collaboratively and independently
Experience with other statistical packages, programming languages, and/or graphical visualizations would be a plus.
For more information or to apply, please submit your résumé and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Morse: Regular Outfielder.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Sometimes the easiest posts to write turn out to be the most challenging. Earlier Thursday, the Giants signed Michael Morse for a year and a base salary around $6 million, and the plan is for Morse to be the team’s regular left fielder. This is the kind of post I could write in three or four sentences if I wanted to, a classic bloggy kind of post where I imply that the Giants are stupid. We know the Giants aren’t stupid, though, and this is a move that should be explored, not unlike any other move. The challenge here is to talk about the transaction without being insulting and dismissive.
Here’s one place we can start. The other day, there was talk that the Astros were interested in Morse, and apparently Bo Porter was pushing pretty hard. I don’t know the extent to which that’s all truthful, but the Astros are supposed to be a brilliant organization now, and they were said to be interested in the same player the Giants just picked up. If we figure the Astros have a clue, and if the Astros had interest in Morse, it follows that there’s reason for some optimism.
But there is one important difference. And it’s not that the Giants paid enough to bring Morse in.
Morse’s strength is his strength. He’s a pure power hitter, and he’s huge, so he looks the part. His weaknesses include defense and staying on the field. Morse has been fragile in the past, and there’s reason to believe he’ll remain fragile down the road as he only gets older. Playing hurt a year ago, Morse struggled after a hot start, but in 2011 he was a beast. Over a partial season in 2010, he was a beast. There’s a lot of offensive upside if a team can keep Morse’s body intact.
That’s why Morse had a market. A healthy Morse is one of baseball’s better power hitters. But the Astros could’ve put Morse at DH, with the occasional time spent at first. The only people in his way would be Chris Carter and Brett Wallace. The Giants are planning to put Morse in the outfield, often, and they don’t have a DH, and they have Brandon Belt at first. So there are two problems. One, Morse doesn’t defend well enough to play in the outfield. Two, as an outfielder, Morse will be more likely to get himself hurt. Oh, and I forgot, three, Morse sure seems like he’s worse than fourth outfielder Gregor Blanco. Maybe we’ll get to that later.
Morse is 31, and when he wasn’t 31, he was bad in the outfield by the numbers we have available. The last four years, Morse ranks third-worst in baseball among outfielders in UZR per 1,000 innings. He ranks 14th-worst in DRS per 1,000 innings, out of 155 guys. The last two years, he ranks third-worst in baseball among outfielders in UZR per 1,000 innings. He ranks fourth-worst in DRS per 1,000 innings, out of 103 guys. Over four years, he’s spent nearly 2,300 innings in the outfield. Over two years, he’s spent nearly 1,400. Now he’s older and he’s been more hurt. Everybody knows that Morse is a defensive liability out there, and over a full season he’s likely to cost something like 15 or 20 runs, in the hypothetical he were to stay healthy.
You know what the positional adjustment is between left field and DH? Ten runs. That is, if you’re a left fielder, and your defensive true talent is worse than ten runs below average, you’d probably be better off as a DH, depending on how your bat would adjust. Morse, presumably, should be a DH. He’d be more valuable as a DH. He could’ve DH’d with the Astros, but with the Giants he won’t have that option outside of interleague play. He’s going to have to run around, and he’s bad at that.
And there are the injuries. Absolutely, there are lots of ways for a guy to get hurt, and being a first baseman or a designated hitter doesn’t by any means eliminate that risk. Last year Morse got hurt by a hit-by-pitch. He also wound up needing wrist surgery, and he probably didn’t develop a bone spur in the outfield. He strained his quad running the bases. Nick Johnson got hurt all the time as a 1B/DH. But I think it’s reasonable to suggest that playing the outfield is harder on a body than not playing the outfield. Having to run that much increases the injury risk, and that can mean either extended missed time, occasional bits of missed time, or reduced productivity from playing through pain. Morse has played through pain for stretches at least the last two years and he’s done less as a result. As a matter of fact, by WAR, over the last two years, Morse has been among the least valuable players in baseball. Injuries haven’t helped.
And taking a seat behind Morse will be Blanco, whose WAR the last two years is higher by almost seven wins. The last two years, the WAR difference between Gregor Blanco and Michael Morse has been Freddie Freeman, and Blanco’s younger by more than a year and a half. Now Blanco’s the fourth outfielder, and while he should play often, Morse is the designated starter. It helps that Blanco is available as a late-inning defensive replacement, because that should limit Morse’s exposure in higher-leverage innings, but this situation isn’t necessary to begin with.
Brian Sabean wanted right-handed power. Just like how Kevin Towers wanted right-handed power, before swinging the Mark Trumbo trade. Morse is right-handed and powerful, so, that’s that. Blanco’s left-handed and the owner of ten career dingers. He’s good on the bases, he’s good in the outfield, he’s good at drawing walks, and he’s good at making contact. There’s one thing that Blanco doesn’t do well. There’s one thing that Morse does do well, when he’s healthy. The Giants seem to prefer what Morse can do, and if they’re right about that, then we simply don’t have the information to say so. If Morse is truly the better bet for the Giants this year, then there are a lot of things we’re getting wrong.
I’m sure we are getting a lot of things wrong, but not that much. It’s fine to make Blanco a fourth outfielder, because most teams need at least four outfielders, and Blanco is super useful. It’s important to have depth, and there’s nothing wrong with Brian Sabean looking to make an upgrade. But now he’s in a situation where, if his third outfielder gets hurt, his team is probably better off overall. If the Giants end up in a place where they need to swap Blanco for Morse, that shouldn’t hurt them, and what that tells you is they probably didn’t find an upgrade at all. They upgraded their right-handed power, but last year the team with the most right-handed home runs was the Brewers. It sure seems like there are a lot of better ways the Giants could’ve gone, and as much as Morse might bounce back offensively, he’s a poor fit for the roster and the league.
Kevin Towers set his sights on right-handed power and overpaid in assets. Brian Sabean set his sights on right-handed power and seems to be overpaying in playing time. Morse is not going to cost much, and there is no long-term commitment. But he’s probably not really going to help the team win. He’s a bounce-back offensive candidate committed to the wrong opportunity.
Jerry Jr. and The Amazing Hairstons.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Jerry Hairston tweeted his retirement Wednesday; almost immediately, he was announced as a new announcer for the Dodgers. It was fitting: Hairston rarely started, but he was always needed. The longtime utilityman picked up a World Series ring with the 2009 Yankees, logging time in the Fall Classic at every position but first base, catcher, and pitcher.
Jerry’s actually from one of the great baseball families — his grandfather Sam, father Jerry Sr., uncle Johny, and brother Scott all reached the major leagues — and Jerry Jr. had more plate appearances than the rest of them combined. As a matter of fact, as Red Reporter points out, “The Hairston family is the biggest baseball family ever.” His family is one of only four three-generation families in major league history, along with the Boones and Bells, and, most recently, the Colemans (Joe Sr., Joe Jr., and Casey).
The Hairstons are the only one of those four families to get a total of five players to the majors, and the only African-American family. Jerry’s grandfather Sam actually played on the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 1940s, right around when Henry Aaron played for the team. Then, in July of 1951, Sam became the first African-American player on the Chicago White Sox. (Cuban-American Minnie Minoso joined the team in May, so he was the first player of color for the team.) Moreover, Jerry’s mother is Mexican, so Jerry and Scott played for Mexico in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Fourteen years ago, Jerry described his grandfather to a reporter:
My grandfather was never a bitter man… He didn’t really talk a lot about (the barrier). He just talked about playing.
He told me tremendous stories, like having caught Satchel Paige, playing with Jackie Robinson, with Willie Mays, with Hank Aaron. And I got to meet some former Negro League greats, like “Double-duty” Radcliffe.
I remember one story about when they played the white all-stars. Satchel Paige was throwing and struck out Joe DiMaggio four times. And Joe DiMaggio turned to my grandfather and said, ‘That’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.’
He just loved the game, and until the day he died, he was coaching baseball.
– Bruce Deachman, Ottawa Citizen, August 12, 1999 (link unavailable)
Though Hairston was not drafted until the 11th round of the 1997 draft, his talents were recognized early, and he advanced quickly through the system, reaching the majors for his first cup of coffee in 1998. One scout in 1997 sized him up quite well: “Can be an offensive type second baseman at worse a utility type player, I feel he will play in the ML in some capacity/ Highly instinctive type player, knows how to play game.” By 2000, Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Pearlman recognized him as “Baltimore’s top prospect,” and that year a scout wrote even more simply: “You can tell when you see Hairston play that he comes from a baseball family.”
The Hairstons had a special gift for making the majors, but none of them have been starting players. The White Sox only allowed Sam to play four games in the majors — where he happened to collect two hits and two walks in seven plate appearances, for a career .400/.571/.600 batting line — before sending him back to the minors for good, and John only managed three games.
Jerry Sr. did a bit better than his father and brother. He was primarily known as a pinch hitter, the Lenny Harris of his time: he led the league in pinch hits each season from 1982 to 1985, collecting 94 over his career. For his career, Scott has been a utility outfielder, and Jerry Jr. has, for the most part, been a utility infielder. But for brief moments, he has been a starting player. Indeed, Jerry Jr. is the only member of his family to collect 500 plate appearances in a single season.
He did that in 2001, when he was the Baltimore Orioles’s regular second baseman. After two years of being blocked by Delino DeShields, he managed to beat out Brian Roberts for the starting job. Sadly, he couldn’t hold onto it for very long. In 2002, he started 118 games at second while the up-and-coming Roberts started 25. Then, in 2003, Hairston fouled a ball off his foot and landed himself on the 60-day DL.
It would be the first of 14 DL trips for him, and it sealed his fate: with rare exceptions, for the rest of his career he would be a bench player.
His medical history reads like a game of Operation: over the course of his career, he fractured his ring finger, his ankle, his thumb, his tibia, and his wrist, strained his hamstring, thigh, and groin, sprained his elbow, and had surgery on his hip. No word on whether he had butterflies in his stomach.
(This is the paragraph where I perfunctorily disclose that Hairston was named in the Mitchell Report. He denied ever having used steroids.)
Other than their appearance on the Mexican team in the World Baseball Classic, Jerry and Scott only played together for one season, 2010 in San Diego. It was the first time two Hairstons had ever played together in the majors: John and Jerry Sr. were brothers, but John’s four plate appearances came with the Cubs in 1969, four years before Jerry Sr. debuted with the White Sox. (While that was a first for the Hairston family, baseball-reference points out that there were two players who played with both Jerry Sr. and Jerry Jr.: Ozzie Guillen and Harold Baines.)
The highest points in Jerry’s career came in his 30s, the 2009 World Championship and his brilliant fill-in play for the Reds in 2008. As Reds Reporter explains, “Due to injuries to Alex Gonzalez, Jeff Keppinger, and Jolbert Cabrera (?), Hairston played nearly half of his games at shortstop.” All he did was hit .326 with an .871 OPS while playing every position but first, catcher, and pitcher; he was worth 2.6 WAR in a little under 300 plate appearances. Not bad for a 32-year old utilityman.
He may have gotten that from his father. Jerry Sr., the pinch-hitter, embodied tremendous patience: he spent four seasons in the Mexican League between his 1977 release and his 1981 pickup by the White Sox and reinvention as a pinch hitter extraordinaire. “I count them as years of learning, of growing up, of putting my feet on the ground, learning patience,” Hairston told the Toronto Star in 1986, and he described the art of pinch-hitting. “What you have to do is monitor the pulse of the game… You’ve got to kind of play manager all the time, put yourself in situations, figure out what might happen. You have to be ready.” His son clearly absorbed that lesson.
“Game will not miss me,” Hairston modestly wrote in his farewell tweet, “but I will miss it and teammates immensely!” There’s no doubt that the second part is true. But I’d like to believe that Hairston — the greatest player in his remarkable family — sold himself short in the first part. Though he was flashy when he came up, Hairston got more understated as he got older. He was the kind of player teams wanted to have around, who knew how to use each of his seven gloves and could play anywhere in a pinch.
He’s the kind of player that you don’t know how much you need until he’s no longer around. Here’s hoping a fourth generation of Hairstons picks up a glove.
Phillies Grab Whatever Roberto Hernandez Is.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I remember the way things used to be. Used to be, writing about baseball analysis was pretty easy. Inflated or deflated BABIP over here. High groundball rate over there. This guy has a big difference between his ERA and his xFIP. That guy is miscast as a role player. That’s not the way things are anymore. Many of the principles were fine, and you still see a lot of the same ideas, but over time things have grown more complex, more nuanced. We’re moving beyond pointing out weird things, and we’re moving toward trying to explain weird things. It’s all in the name of identifying what is and isn’t sustainable. All of us want to be fortune tellers.
The Phillies signed Roberto Hernandez today, as a starting pitcher. He’s going to get a base salary around $4.5 million, and with incentives he can top out around $6 million. If writing were the same as it was a few years ago, I could just write a few paragraphs about how Hernandez put up a 4.89 ERA and a 3.60 xFIP. On that basis alone, hey, look, bargain! But because of what writing and research have become, now you also get that intro paragraph.
What’s known is that, in his return to the majors, Hernandez put up some neat peripherals in Tampa Bay. What’s also known is that he allowed too many runs, because he allowed too many home runs. Just about the entire story here is trying to figure out whether or not Hernandez is severely homer-prone. And, I don’t know. I’ll just put that out there now. I don’t know what his dinger rate is going to look like in 2014.
But, for the record, Tim Lincecum is coming off a 124 ERA- and a 94 xFIP-, and he signed for two years and $35 million. Dan Haren is coming off a 125 ERA- and a 97 xFIP-, and he signed for one year and $10 million. Hernandez, as a starter, is coming off a 131 ERA- and an 89 xFIP-, and he signed for one year and no more than $6 million. The deal looks at least reasonable, and because it’s a one-year commitment it’s a virtually harmless roll of the dice. Something of a sabermetric roll of the dice, being attempted by the Phillies. Ruben Amaro was just talking about pitcher wins the other day. He signed a guy with a miserable ERA who also tied for 27th in baseball among starters in park-adjusted xFIP. Amaro didn’t sign Hernandez because of his xFIP, but it’s funny when certain organizations end up with surprising types of players.
Here’s something to know about Hernandez. Since 2002 — as far back as the data goes — 111 starters have thrown at least 1,000 innings. Hernandez has put up an FIP- ten points higher than his xFIP-, which is the second-biggest positive gap in the pool, below only Brett Myers. One of his selling points is that he can keep the ball on the ground, but because of the homers, Hernandez’s “effective” grounder rate is quite a bit lower. It seems to be Hernandez is unusually homer-prone, and last year was a major flare-up.
Again, since 2002, there have been 1,580 individual starting-pitcher seasons of at least 100 innings. Hernandez’s 2013 owns the second-highest rate of homers per fly ball, above 21%. Basically, twice the league average. Mark Trumbo just put up a rate of about 21%. The question is, all right, so what does that mean going forward? We can look at the four worst rates from the season before. Ervin Santana regressed to something much closer to average. Tommy Hunter regressed to the average, but as a reliever. Jason Marquis kept allowing a ton of homers. Henderson Alvarez rebounded to allow the lowest rate of homers per fly ball in all of baseball.
So, there’s your answer. Hernandez, this coming season, will not regress at all, or he’ll move to the complete opposite extreme, or he’ll regress to the average, or he’ll regress to the average upon changing jobs. That covers literally every base. It feels like we’ve learned a lot, but really, we haven’t learned anything. Not as far as next season is concerned.
The safest assumption is that Hernandez will allow dingers, but fewer of them. He allowed 24 last season, throwing about 2,400 pitches. In other words, 1% of Hernandez’s pitches wound up as a dinger, and you can see why this is a stat with so much volatility. We’re talking about roughly one pitch per game, and even good pitchers are frequently making mistakes in terms of location. The average mistake rate is way higher than 1%, and when there’s a mistake the opposing hitter still has to do what he can do to cash in. Sometimes the pitches get punished; sometimes they get swung through or popped up. Some missed timing here, some fortuitous swings or wind gusts there, and Hernandez can look a lot better. It’s clear that xFIP leaves a lot out. It’s clear that xFIP is still extremely useful, and worth keeping in mind. Better to have a guy coming off a high ERA and a low xFIP than a guy coming off a low ERA and a high xFIP. For 2014 I’d rather have Roberto Hernandez than Hector Santiago.
It’ll be interesting to see if Hernandez holds on to some changes with the Phillies. The Rays had him throw a low more changeups to same-handed hitters, and a lot more sliders to opposite-handed hitters, both of which defy convention. Against righties, Hernandez posted his lowest career xFIP. Against lefties, Hernandez blew away his previous career-high strikeout rate. Lefties also torched Hernandez for 17 of his 24 homers allowed, so that could be a real concern, but as we’ve discussed, we don’t know how much of one. We just don’t. Probably can’t, at least not from here.
So the Phillies will take the chance, for a year and a little money. They’ll take the chance any sabermetric writer would’ve recommended a few years ago. Absolutely, it could work out real well. Absolutely, Hernandez could keep allowing homers, because he has a problem we can’t quite put our fingers on. For a team in the Phillies’ position, better to take a cheap chance than a more expensive one. Maybe Hernandez won’t be good, but then the Phillies probably won’t be good, either. As free agents go, the right thing to target is affordable volatility.
The Market Value of Post-Hype First Basemen.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Logan Morrison came up with glove, power and patience and a big twitter presence. It was exciting. Then he was injured, the power waned, and he used that twitter account to upset his franchise. Now he’s a Mariner, traded for Carter Capps. And all of this means something for the Mets and Ike Davis.
The bar is so high when it comes to first base that a little bit of struggle can really hurt your trade value. The Mariners did buy two of the available first basemen — which is weird because they had one already — and that does mean that the supply was altered. But for every bit of good that might have meant for the Mets in their pursuit of trade value for their struggling first basemen, the move was also harmful. Logan Morrison was traded for a reliever.
Carter Capps is a good reliever. He might be a great one if he continues to improve his control. His strikeout rate was in the top 40 among relievers with more than 70 innings over the last two years. He has a great slider, a good change, and a 97 mph fastball. He’s under control until 2019. He could close, before or after Steve Cishek moves on.
He’s still a reliever, and is projected to put up about a half win next year. You’d think a first baseman who’s shown offense that’s 8% better than the league over nearly 1500 plate appearances and is under team control for three years would be worth more than a reliever, no matter how good he is. The problem with Morrison is that an ankle injury has hurt his defense, making him a likely Designated Hitter, and it’s sapped his power, too. And! American League first basemen were 13% better than the league with the stick last year. So Morrison has been below average to date among his new peers.
So we come to the Mets. They have two first basemen that were once better-regarded. Lucas Duda has been 15% better than the league average at the plate, but is a problem in the field. Ike Davis has been 12% better than the league. Though he supposedly had more upside in the field, the defensive metrics have ceased to be kind to him over the last two years. Duda has one more year of control than Morrison, but Davis is a free agent in 2017. Injury aside, they’re roughly comparable with Morrison.
And that’s why the same teams that were in on Hart and Morrison will now turn to the Mets. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tampa. And the Mets are holding two cheap first basemen, and then there’s Kendrys Morales and James Loney on the open market.
Perhaps the game of musical chairs will result in the Mets getting more for their first baseman than the Marlins did for Morrison. Davis was on the field roughly 50% more often than Morrison, his injury wasn’t as debilitating, and his power drop-off was more of the one-year variety than the slow, steady loss that Morrison underwent. If both Morrison and Davis are equally healthy and play to their projections, it’s Davis that will be worth more.
But how much more? The rumored names in Milwaukee are Tyler Thornburg and Mike Fiers, and both are flawed pitchers. Thornburg has an average changeup, 93 mph gas, and an up-and-down history of command. He was supposedly too much for Davis, and ow the talk has moved on to Fiers, who has an 88 mph fastball and is second in baseball in line drives allowed over the last two years. His changeup is decent, his curve is okay, he’s under team control until 2018, but the homers and line drives are a problem, probably created by his fastball.
If Ike Davis is traded, Mets fans may feel that the return is light. Unfortunately, what we learned from the Logan Morrison trade was that the market for a bounce-back first baseman — even if he’s young — is not great. The supply is too great, and the bar for excellence is too high.
Mark Trumbo’s Upside and Reality.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ah, the winter meetings, a four-day swap meet where the entire baseball industry gets together in one place and…makes a fraction of the transactions they made the week before, when they were all in their respective home cities. In fact, until about an hour ago when I sat down to write this, there had only been one trade consummated in Orlando. It was an interesting one, a three-teamer that sent slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona, young starting pitchers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs to Anaheim, and catalyst CF Adam Eaton to Chicago. Dave and Jeff have already checked in with analysis of the deal, and I figured I’d throw in my two cents on one facet of it.
Within the entire population of major-league players, opinions of Mark Trumbo’s value likely vary as much as anyone’s among and within major-league front offices. From a scouting perspective, he absolutely crushes the baseball. From an analytical perspective, he hemorrhages outs. What is Mark Trumbo, and where is he headed?
First, let’s take a look at a number of players whose first three years as regulars line up quite nicely with Trumbo’s. Here are the parameters:
Completed their third years as regulars within the last 40 years, within an age range of 25-29
Most similar cumulative number of standard deviations above/below league average OBP and SLG over those three years
LAST FIRST + OBP 3 YR + SLG 3 YR + OBP CR + SLG CR # YRS REG OPS+ 3 YR OPS+ CR
Wallach Tim -1.57 1.07 -8.98 1.50 15 109 102
Kingman Dave -2.85 2.52 -12.47 13.49 13 109 115
Carter Joe -1.99 1.99 -11.10 8.44 13 111 105
Armas Tony -3.17 2.34 -10.37 7.09 9 114 103
Sexson Richie -2.40 1.77 -1.81 5.74 8 115 120
Samuel Juan -2.61 2.05 -5.26 1.16 8 104 101
Maldonado Candy -1.87 1.84 -1.89 3.50 7 113 107
Snyder Cory -2.94 2.75 -8.23 2.57 7 107 96
Pagliarulo Mike -1.73 1.69 -3.47 0.87 7 108 93
Balboni Steve -2.53 2.77 -6.75 4.42 6 110 101
Davis Jody -1.72 1.83 -4.15 1.85 6 104 92
Fullmer Brad -1.76 1.37 -1.64 2.70 5 108 111
Kittle Ron -2.71 2.88 -5.39 3.48 5 107 110
Hobson Butch -2.55 2.26 -4.18 0.63 5 100 91
Trumbo Mark -2.32 2.34 114
Alvarez Pedro -2.03 1.85 106
Saltalamacchia Jarrod -1.92 1.62 95
The first four columns list the players’ number of cumulative standard deviations above/below the average of league regulars’ OBP and SLG through their first three years as regulars, and for their entire careers. The next column indicates the number of years as regulars they logged through the end of their careers, and the last two indicate their OPS+ through three years as regulars, and for their entire careers.
Interestingly, two of the player comps are 2013 peers, Pedro Alvarez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The remainder of these low-OBP, high-SLG players went on to have varied careers. The best player, though not the best hitter, is probably Tim Wallach, a very solid 3B defender who would have been a viable No. 5 or 6 hitter in a good lineup in some seasons. Joe Carter was a durable RBI-guy with a cannon arm in RF, a solid if unspectacular No. 5-type hitter in a good lineup in some seasons, whose Achilles heel was always his OBP.
There are other players with very high one-season offensive peaks, ranging from Richie Sexson‘s 50-HR season, to Dave Kingman‘s 48-HR, .613 SLG season, to Juan Samuel‘s power/speed/middle-infield hijinks, to Tony Armas hitting 43 HR as a CF. I think we can agree, however, that we are not talking about perennial star-level offensive talent here. The highest career OPS+ is Sexson’s 120, ironically owed to the swift, sudden type of decline that many of these players experienced. Of the 14 of these players whose careers have ended, five of them completed no more than another three seasons as regulars, and among the other nine, only Kingman and Sexson improved their career OPS+ by their careers’ end.
Bottom line — these players largely remained within the average range of offensive major-league players, though they did show some pretty impressive single-year spikes here and there. None of the 14 players turned into above-average OBP players for the entirety of their careers, and only Sexson and Fullmer (barely) crept closer to league average OBP after their first three seasons as regulars. A case can be made, however, that Trumbo has a chance to rise to the top of this group, though he may not be able to reach beyond it.
As discussed last week in my article on Robinson Cano‘s potential aging curve, hitters separate themselves in the following categories:
Hard Fly Rate
Hard Ground Rate
How does Trumbo measure up?
K Rate – Over 1 standard deviation worse than MLB average, trending negatively
BB Rate – MLB average range, trending positively
Popup Rate – MLB average range, trending positively
LD Rate – MLB average range, trending positively
Hard Fly Rate – Over 1/2 STD better than MLB average, trending slightly negatively
Hard Ground Rate – Over 1 STD better than MLB average
On balance, there are obvious flaws here, but there is also room for significant growth. The walk rate has almost doubled since his rookie year, and he hits the ball hard in the air and on the ground. The main problems are: 1) oh, that K rate, 2) he doesn’t hit the ball in the air enough, and 3) there is a substantial amount of Weak Ground contact to go along with the Hard. The growth could come from a spike in his Hard Fly rate. Trumbo hit 34 HR in 2013, despite having a Hard Fly rate less than half of that of Chris Davis. Ponder that for a second. Davis’ 2013 performance was likely fluky and not repeatable, but it does show what Trumbo could be capable of in an absolute best-case scenario.
Before this becomes too much of a feel-good scenario, however, let’s take a step back. Imagine all of a player’s plate appearances in a given season in the shape of a pie, and since I’m Italian-American, call it a pizza. Let’s split the pizza into “good” and “bad” parts. Take nearly 30% of it away and put it in the “bad” pile for Trumbo. That would be the strikeouts. Then take about 8% away and put it in the “good” pile. That would be the walks. Now you have barely 60% of the pizza remaining from which all of the damage must come, with the bad pile already dwarfing the good.
This leaves very little margin for error re: the quality of contact that must be made with the remaining 60% of the pie, if star-quality production is desired. Chris Davis’ outlandish hard-fly rate — about three times the MLB average — enabled him to do so. Mike Napoli and Adam Dunn had to run Hard Fly rates of over twice the MLB average to have decent seasons compared to peers at their positions, and their BB rates fairly easily outpaced Trumbo’s. To take it to an extreme, Miguel Olivo‘s typical K and BB rates couldn’t have been saved by a Hard Fly rate created in a video game. Poor performance relative to the league in K and BB rate gives the competition a head start that is very hard to overcome without an elite batted-ball profile.
(1) Mark Trumbo ranks high within the average range among the entire population of major-league hitters. However, once adjusted for position, and defense, he drops much lower within that average range. Among players at this level, he possesses extremely high levels of ceiling and risk.
(2) Mark Trumbo is likely a better offensive player than most of the players in his comp group. Richie Sexson feels like the best match. Look for Trumbo to have a massive single-season HR total somewhere along the line, but remain a low-OBP, high-SLG type unless he makes the necessary adjustments to turn some of his Ks and weak grounders into BBs and more flyballs. There is a potential road to excellence here, but it is long and very treacherous.
(3) Mark Trumbo is an asset with upside. However, more than 100% of his value is in his bat, especially considering that he’s going to play LF in Arizona. Kind of a younger, healthier Michael Morse. He is much more of a buy-low lottery ticket than he is a premium commodity. Surrendering two young, cheap assets with upside like Eaton and Skaggs values him much more like the latter.
Billy Burns and Hamilton Share a Thing Besides a Name.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While managing editor Dave Cameron will typically find any manner of excuse to dissuade the present author from providing transaction analysis to these hallowed and electronic pages, he’s made an exception in the particular case of the Jerry Blevins-Billy Burns trade, it appears, between Oakland and Washington, on account of the latter of those players is one upon whom I’ve waxed enthusiastic already.
Specifically, he’s suggested that I consider the similarities/differences between the very swift Burns and also very swift Billy Hamilton. Because he’s capable of firing me — and because I’m clearly not doing anything more productive for this minute — that’s precisely what I’ll do.
The differences between Billys Burns and Hamilton are, in fact, immediate — at least so far are their respective draft pedigrees and prospect statuses are concerned. Hamilton was selected in the second round out of a Mississippi high school; Burns, the 32nd round out of college which appears to have produced three major leaguers ever. Furthermore, one finds that Billy Hamilton has been ubiquitous among industry prospect lists — ranking 65th, 43rd, and 30th, for example, on Marc Hulet’s last three top-100 lists and 50th, 48th, and 20th on the last three of Baseball America’s. Burns has been absent from all six of those respective lists. By how much, one doesn’t know. But given that he’s also been absent from recent organizational lists, one assumes by more than a bit.
“Why is this even a thing, then?” one might reasonably ask. Largely owing to the following table, is why — a similar version of which appeared in mid-November in a post attempting to identify the best minor-league basestealer. What it features is the top-10 minor-leaguer players by stolen-base runs, calculated by applying the linear-weight run values of a stolen base and caught stealing to the relevant totals of every minor-league player. There are a number of caveats to make regarding such an exercise — like how the run environments of each minor league are likely to differ from the present major-league one, and how the minor leagues exist predominantly for developmental purposes. Still, the methodology isn’t entirely unreasonable.
Here’s that table, then:
Name Org Level G SB CS SBR
Billy Burns Nationals A+, AA 121 74 7 12.1
Freddy Guzman Mexican AAA 99 73 9 11.1
Terrance Gore Royals A 128 68 8 10.5
Billy Hamilton Reds AAA 123 75 15 9.2
Travis Jankowski Padres A+ 122 71 14 8.8
Michael Taylor Nationals A+ 133 51 7 7.5
Jesus Galindo Giants A 89 48 6 7.3
Jose Peraza Braves A+ 114 64 15 7.0
Micah Johnson White Sox A, A+, AA 137 87 27 7.0
Mookie Betts Red Sox A, A+ 143 46 6 6.9
Above the celebrated Billy Hamilton, one finds only three other players: one of them a 22-year-old in Class A; another, a 32-year-old in the Mexican League. Above both of those players, however, is Burns.
That any minor leaguer — especially one at an age-appropriate level — would dare to outperform Hamilton by a baserunning measurement is a form of sacrilege, surely. This is, of course, the same player to whom Jeff Sullivan alone dedicated no fewer than three September posts following Hamilton’s promotion. This is the same player to whose speed prospect analysts have written lengthy and effusive paeans.
Merely outperforming Hamilton by one metric in one season isn’t, of course, the same thing as possessing objectively better speed or baserunning skills — nor is it my intention to suggest here that Burns is likely to record better major-league baserunning numbers. If we’re in the habit, though, of adjusting certain performances by park or era, then perhaps it’s also possible to adjust a prospect’s skills for the magnitude of attention said prospect has received. Hamilton’s “raw” demonstration of speed has probably surpassed Burns’s. The attention his baserunning exploits have received, however, relative to Burns’s probably isn’t representative of the actual gap that exists between those two players.
Q&A: Alex Meyer, Minnesota Twins Pitching Prospect.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Alex Meyer doesn’t shy away from the power-pitcher label. The 6-foot-9 right-hander readily acknowledges having a big fastball. It won’t be long before it’s on display at Target Field.
The Minnesota Twins acquired Meyer in the November 2012 deal that sent Denard Span to the Washington Nationals. A year earlier, Washington had drafted him 23rd overall out of the University of Kentucky.
Limited to fewer than 80 regular-season innings because of a tender shoulder, Meyer finished up the year with the Arizona Fall League’s Glendale Desert Dogs. The 23-year-old talked about his power arsenal during the last week of the AFL campaign. Also weighing in on his game — and his future — were Twins general manager Terry Ryan, and manager Ron Gardenhire.
Meyer on his 2013 season: “When I was out on the field, it was definitely a positive. The negative is that I had to miss two months. Fortunately, I got back out there and finished the season healthy. I threw the ball well down in instructs. I’ve thrown the ball well here in the fall league, and before that, I got a few starts in New Britain. So everything has come back from the injury. I’m honestly throwing the ball as well as I ever have.”
On velocity: “I usually sit anywhere from 95-98 [mph]. That’s where I was this season, pretty much throughout. Out here, I’ve topped out at 100 a couple of times, maybe 101. I was able to get it up there pretty well in my first start, and that was pretty big. It showed me there was nothing to worry about, that everything is back.
“Velocity is important for me. I’m a power pitcher. It’s a comfort thing to know you have your good stuff and can run a fastball up there against a hitter. It’s a nice thing to have.”
On the power-pitcher label: “I like it. I embrace it. It’s what I want to be. I’m a strikeout guy and don’t like giving up hits. I’m trying to cut down on the walks, but yeah, a power pitcher is what I want to be. I watch guys on TV, like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Matt Harvey. They’re as good as anybody in the game, and I aspire to be looked at as that type of guy.”
On his repertoire: “I’ll throw two-seam fastballs, trying to get the same backspin on it. But there are definitely times, like on 0-2 when I want to get one by a guy, where I’ll go four-seamer.
“I throw a circle change, which is 87 to 91. My knuckle-curve is a big pitch for me. It’s anywhere from 82 to 88. It’s a pitch my dad showed me in high school. The guy who showed it to him called it a knuckle-curve, so that’s what I call it.
“I try to get two different breaks on it. There’s one I throw with maybe more of a slider grip, and there’s one where I try to get more of a 12-to-6 action; it’s more of an actual curveball grip. I can do a couple of different things with the pitch.”
On his mechanics: “They’re trying to close up my front side a little bit, to help me stay on top of the ball and get better angle, and obviously better command. I feel I’m making huge strides with that. There are still times I’ll fight my command, but I’m a lot better at making a one-pitch adjustment to get back to where I need to be.”
On development and different perspectives: “There aren’t necessarily any differences [between the Nationals and Twins systems]. The Twins have been helping me out with the same things the Nationals did, in regard to my command and my changeup. For the most part, they’re pretty similar; there’s nothing drastic, or notably different.
“My catcher out here, Tucker Barnhart, was actually my summer ball catcher, growing up. I was kind of lucky in that respect, because he knows me. My pitching coach here [Tom Browning] is awesome. His philosophy, and style of pitching. I can talk to him about what I need to work on, and his way of going about it is very beneficial. He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever worked with.
“I haven’t really talked to any opposing hitters [about what it‘s like to face him]. Not down here, anyway. I’ve talked to a few buddies I faced in college, but they haven’t really gone into depth. All they really say is that I throw hard.”
Terry Ryan: “Meyer will be in major league camp and we’ll let him pretty much dictate [how ready he is]. Unfortunately, he missed two months at New Britain, which is not the ideal summer. He caught up a little bit in the Fall League and did well there. He’s got some of the best stuff we’ve got, if not the best stuff.
“I’m hoping he’s a fast mover. Whether or not he can beat out some of these other people… he’s coming out of Double-A — and not even a full year in Double-A — so we’re not going to push it. We’ll let him progress and see how he responds. We’ll go from there.”
Ron Gardenhire: “Whether he’s ready for this or not, he’ll tell us. He hasn’t pitched in Triple-A yet. He had some shoulder injuries last year and we had to back him off a little bit. He missed some time [but] had a heck of an Arizona Fall League.
“To say he’s going to make my team out of spring training… I’ll never say no. I don’t want any player coming in to spring training thinking they don’t have a chance. But he’s a long shot, just because he didn’t pitch a lot of innings last year, and we want to make sure we do the right thing. But he has a definite chance, sometime next year, probably, to get a chance to pitch.”
Mets Sign Unreliable Workhorse Bartolo Colon.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It’s an oxymoron, the unreliable workhorse. Maybe it doesn’t make sense. But Bartolo Colon has thrown over 340 innings over the past two years, and that’s 62nd in the league. Seen in total, the results have been great — his ERA was sixth-best among qualified starters over the last two years. Using available research on the cost of a win, the deal — two years and $20 million — looks like a good one for the Mets.
And yet the risk markers are large.
Some risk comes from the change in park. Over the last two years, Colon has given up fewer home runs per fly ball than the league average. In terms of homer-suppression, the Coliseum was fifth-friendliest in baseball to pitchers. Citi Field was 11th-friendliest to hitters, as it slightly augmented home runs in general. Over his 16-year, career, Colon has given up more than a homer per nine innings in 12 seasons. Over his last two seasons in Oakland, he didn’t hit that benchmark. There’s a chance he gives up more long balls in New York.
One piece of risk comes just from his age. At 41 this year, Colon is off the far end of the aging curve map, in uncharted territory when it comes to starting pitching. Since 1974, only 24 pitchers have qualified for the ERA title over the age of 40. Three threw the knuckler primarily and one threw the spitball.
The age goes hand in hand with the injury risk. Bartolo Colon is the starting pitcher most likely to head to the disabled list next year in Jeff Zimmerman‘s starting pitcher DL projections. Those are based on age and past trips to the DL. Since Colon has gone on the DL for thigh, abdomen and groin issues over the last three years, he hits the disabled list in two-thirds of this year’s simulated seasons. Maybe it won’t be an arm issue, maybe it will.
Durability is obviously a component of this injury risk. Colon’s velocity and effectiveness dwindled as the season went on in 2013, to the point where he was passed up for playoff starts when the games mattered most. Sometimes his velocity perks up again when after he hits the DL for a refresher, sometimes it doesn’t:
The erratic nature of his fastball velocity is a little scary, especially when wrapped up with the injury risk. Consider the four starts that led into his disabled list stint last season. As he lost more than a mile per hour off his average fastball velocity in successive starts, his effectiveness plummeted. He struck out eight, walked nine, and gave up 13 runs and two homers in the 18.2 innings leading into his two-week vacation.
There are a few risk factors that skew positive for Colon. He throws strikes, for one, and pitchers with good command have traditionally aged well. Perhaps it’s merely a proxy for good mechanics, but it seems to be working for Colon recently. He throws mostly fastballs, for two. He leads the league in fastball percentage, actually. Staying away from heavy breaking ball usage is good for your health.
And you have to look at this deal in the context of the league as it stands now. Dan Haren is only 33 and has thrown about as many innings as Colon over the last two years, and he only got one year and $10 million. Perhaps the hip and back problems that made Anaheim so nervous are obvious to any signing team. Scott Feldman got three and thirty, but he’s only just now turning 31 and was injured two years ago. He got the extra year because he’s younger. Tim Hudson has a lot of things in common with Colon, at 39 and coming off an injury, and he got $3 million more than the new Met. Scott Kazmir has a lengthier injury history, but is younger, so he got $2 million more.
Each of Bartolo Colon‘s risk factors comes with an asterisk. Yes, he’s moving to a park that gives up more homers. He’s also going to the easier league for a pitcher. Yes, old pitchers get injured more often. He’s a strike-thrower that doesn’t rely on elbow-stressing breaking pitches. And among the old-pitcher co-hort, his stats and arsenal look a little bit like Greg Maddux‘s at the same age. Yes, his fastball is rapidly losing gas. He’s been effective around 90 mph before.
So the Mets got an older pitcher for fewer dollars or fewer years than comparable pitchers on the free agent market. And he’s a reliable risk. Or a firm flyer. Or a predictable plunge. Or a steadfast speculation.
Or maybe a cheap, old pitcher.
Corey Hart and Optimism.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There was word Tuesday night that Corey Hart was closing in on a decision, and while Hart didn’t figure anything out Tuesday, it didn’t take him long Wednesday to settle on a new employer. For a year, Hart will play for the Mariners, and according to Ken Rosenthal, his deal is a lot like Mike Napoli‘s deal a year ago, in that he’ll get something like a $5-million base, with $8 million or so available in incentives. There’s no long-term commitment, and the incentives also mitigate the risk. Hart might be the first offensive player ever to go to Seattle to try to re-establish his value.
By and large, my exposure to baseball fans is on the Internet, and they tend to be smarter than average. I’m also familiar with Internet analysts, and there seems to be a consensus here: the Mariners did well in signing Hart for what they did. I don’t disagree with the conclusion, but it also makes me wonder about a bias that might exist. They say the Mariners are getting a good deal in signing a guy who just missed an entire season, having both his knees operated on.
Most of us love upside and we love rolling the dice. We love looking for potential bargains, and we love highlighting players who might have injury issues. It’s this perspective that makes the Hart deal look so good. The same perspective led people to like the Ben Sheets contract, and it’s why people have remained interested in players like Erik Bedard and Rich Harden. If you have to pick between talent and durability, you go for talent, right? Because, who knows? Why pay the premium for someone more “proven”?
If you allow me to defer to authority for a moment, the league allowed Hart to sign this contract with Seattle, as a free agent. Nobody else was willing to pay much more, if more at all. Other teams, therefore, must not see this as a tremendous bargain, except maybe for some teams with absolutely no roster space. You’d think there has to be some significance in there. Realistically, I think there are two things going on.
One, I think a lot of teams are conservative about these kinds of things. They recognize Hart’s ability, but you can’t overlook a guy not playing. So you could have a market overreaction to a guy being sidelined. At the same time, I think we tend to be the opposite of conservative, recognizing Hart’s ability while not thinking enough about the downside. The fan projections we’ve had here demonstrated that people tend to be pretty optimistic, and we probably don’t give enough consideration to the ways in which things can go wrong. So you could have a fan under-reaction to a guy being sidelined.
Hart’s defense could be worse, and maybe he’ll be limited to DH duty. Maybe the knee issues will nag at him, forcing him to miss time or taking a toll on his swing. No player in baseball is a sure thing, but Hart is less of a sure thing than average. This matters. Yet I am still in favor, overall. I still like the move, and I suspect Hart’s market was limited to just a handful of teams, some of whom weren’t comfortable with the idea of potentially shelling out $13 million.
There’s nothing we can do with Hart’s 2013. All he did was get cut open and rehab, and we have no way of knowing what that’s going to mean. So we have to go back to the last time Hart was healthy, and we can examine the 2010-2012 window. Over those three years, Hart was one hell of an offensive weapon.
Out of 230 qualified players, Hart ranked tied for 27th in wRC+. His company was Billy Butler, Joe Mauer, and David Wright, and he was one point back from Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Gonzalez. By isolated power, Hart ranked 15th, a point behind Mark Reynolds. For that window, Hart was one step back from being an elite-level slugger, and that window closed just a year ago. Not because Hart went on to perform worse; because Hart went on to not perform at all. There’s no certain deterioration of skill, so the upside here is that Hart is one of the better hitters in baseball, again. It’s by no means unreasonable.
Of course, you’d never sign Hart for his defense, especially now that his knees have been looked at from the inside. He might well be a DH. But, you’d never sign Choo for his defense. You’d never sign Nelson Cruz for his defense. Choo projects for the same wRC+ that Hart put up over those three years. Cruz projects considerably worse. Choo is looking for a nine-figure contract, and Cruz is looking for something in the upper eight figures. Both those guys have draft picks attached. Hart might turn out just as good, or better, in 2014, and while that’s an obvious gamble, it comes with no long-term commitment and no lost draft flexibility. Hart’s an upside play that won’t clutter the books down the road.
It’s the right kind of move for a team that’s going for it, but that might not be close enough yet. Choo would be the sexier get for Seattle, but then that would be another massive contract on the books, and there’s no guarantee this is going to work out. Hart doesn’t spoil anything beyond 2014, and while that also means he’s not under contract in the event he’s really good, then the Mariners can at least extend a qualifying offer. The Mariners need to improve now without sacrificing much long-term value, so Hart is precisely the right kind of target.
The Mariners added Hart almost simultaneous to adding Logan Morrison, and that makes things confusing with Justin Smoak already around. At present, it looks like one of Hart or Morrison would have to play in the outfield, and just last year the Mariners fielded some real shipwrecks. But it’s only still December, so we don’t know what else the team might do between now and the spring. They could turn around and deal Morrison, or they could move Smoak. We can’t just assume a subpar defensive alignment, and this is why general managers complain about moves being evaluated in isolation. Sometimes you have to wait to see what else might go down.
I don’t know what’ll go down in Seattle yet. I do know that Hart looks like a good, virtually risk-free roll of the dice. The addition of Morrison makes things at least temporarily weird, but that’s its own subject, independent of the Hart pick-up. This can exist as a fine move within a suboptimal plan.
Locking Up the Second Charlie Morton.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A lot of people are big fans of player comparables. When describing a current reality or a projected future, it can help to attach a familiar face, so that an audience has a better idea of the point being conveyed. Comps can be useful, but they’re also controversial, in part because every player is unique, and in part because they’re frequently unrealistic. A flattering comp lasts forever, and if a player doesn’t pan out it can make an analyst or scout look pretty stupid. I don’t even remember the context anymore, but a few years ago I remember seeing J.A. Happ compared to Cliff Lee, and this was well after Lee became awesome. Happ obviously hasn’t gone in that direction, and while maybe the observer was on to something at the time, now it’s a comparison to laugh at. The most one can say is that J.A. Happ is closer to being Cliff Lee than you are, presuming you’re not Cliff Lee or someone better than J.A. Happ.
Talk about Charlie Morton and, at least on the Internet, you’ll probably end up talking about Roy Halladay. The backstory is simple enough: Morton was bad, and he wanted to not be bad, so he went to a new delivery that looked a lot like Halladay’s. People chuckle, because Halladay simply had one of the best pitcher peaks ever, while Morton’s just a guy on a team. But ignore the Halladay angle and it’s clear that Morton has turned himself into something, and now he’s got a new three-year contract with the Pirates, worth $21 million. Morton saved his career, and now he’s a part of a good team’s present and future.
The boring details: Morton was a year away from free agency, so this buys out two of those years and one year of arbitration eligibility. He’s going to get $4 million in 2014, which he was already in line to receive. The subsequent two years are each worth $8 million. Then there’s a pricier club option with a $1-million buyout. In his free-agent years, he’ll get paid like Phil Hughes and Jason Vargas. He’ll get paid a little less than Scott Feldman.
We’ll come back to Hughes later, but first, a word on how Morton has changed himself. He’s a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery, but last season he made 20 starts. Out of the 139 starters who threw at least 100 innings, Morton tied for 65th in FIP-, at 98. His immediate company was Eric Stults and Juan Nicasio, but both of them were considerably worse by xFIP-. By that measure, Morton tied for 58th, his immediate company being Andy Pettitte, Jon Lester, Dan Haren, and Chris Tillman. Just back from major surgery, Morton pitched well for a contender for more than half a year. It continued a trend.
Morton was a disaster in 2010, at least according to his runs and hits allowed. It was after that season that Morton started making changes, providing for us a really neat and convenient dividing line. Previously, Morton threw more over the top, like Halladay used to. He readjusted to a lower arm angle, like Halladay did, and here’s a hell of a quote:
That’s when Overbay compared Morton to reigning NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay of the Phillies. Last week, Overbay added this: “This is Roy Halladay with better stuff.”
Morton says that he reinvented himself, and by the narrative, he did become a completely different pitcher. And, certainly, Morton’s the guy who experiences his own throwing motion, so he knows how much he’s changed. By the statistics, however, the change hasn’t been super dramatic. We can compare 2011-2013 Charlie Morton to 2008-2010 Charlie Morton, very easily. His strikeouts haven’t really budged. His contact rates haven’t really budged. His walks have gone down a little bit, but not significantly. He’s got the same heat. But, before, Morton generated 48% grounders. Since changing, he’s generated 60% grounders. That’s what the new Charlie Morton is.
He’s an extreme groundballer. The last three seasons, no starter has generated a higher groundball rate. It’s easy to see how this meshes well with Pittsburgh’s aggressive defensive shifting, but you can also see how this would help under any circumstances with any team. Before, Morton posted an FIP- of 117 and an xFIP- of 108. Since, he’s come in at 101 and 103. He was a little bit better this past season. Morton has gone from the fringes to adequacy, and now he’ll get paid roughly the market rate for a perfectly adequate starter. Dropping the arm and getting more sink will have turned Charlie Morton into a multimillionaire.
Naturally, there are some warts. Because he throws so many sinkers from a lower angle, Morton can have trouble putting lefties away. He’s going to run some pretty big platoon splits. On top of that, Morton’s never proven himself to be durable, and within individual games, he’s unlikely to go far beyond 100 pitches. He’s a sinker-baller, but not a sinker-balling workhorse, and left-handed lineups can drive him out early. But any roughly average starter is going to have his strengths and weaknesses. Morton also keeps balls down and keeps righties quiet, and there are a lot of good righties out there.
I think it’s interesting to compare Morton and Hughes. The situations aren’t directly comparable, because Morton was still under team control another year. Also, Hughes is a few years younger. But both guys have been given three-year commitments, both guys will be paid the same in their free-agency years, and age means a lot less for pitchers than it does for hitters. When you think Phil Hughes, you think about the pitcher he was supposed to become, and the raw talent that has to still be in there somewhere. Morton, though, might well be the better investment.
Another reason they’re fun to put side by side: the last three seasons, as noted, no starter has posted a higher groundball rate than Morton. The last three seasons, no starter has posted a lower groundball rate than Hughes. Hughes has started more games, but Morton seems to be over his injury problems. Hughes wins by strikeouts and walks, but, interestingly, the two have been dead even by contact rate. Hughes hasn’t had a meaningful velocity edge. And, Morton’s posted the better ERA- by 14 points. He’s posted the better FIP- by eight points. He’s posted the better xFIP- by six points. On a per-inning basis, Charlie Morton has been a better starter than Phil Hughes, and he was much better in the most recent season. The Twins are paying for potential. The Pirates are paying for what’s already there.
This isn’t some kind of tremendous bargain, because Morton is only so good, and he can get only so much better with his skillset. It is a good deal, with little long-term risk. And in the bigger picture, a guy who didn’t know who he was after 2010 just signed an eight-figure contract to remain with the same organization that saw him through the low points. In a sense, the big winner is Charlie Morton, and in a sense, Charlie Morton had already won. He’s not Roy Halladay, but he’s become extremely confident in just being himself.
Mariners Challenge Justin Smoak with Justin Smoak 2.0.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A couple of years ago, Logan Morrison was one of the best prospects in baseball. Before the 2009 season, Baseball America rated him the #18 prospect in baseball, and before the 2010 season, he was rated 20th overall. Then as a 22 year old rookie in 2010, he hit .283/.390/.447 in his debut, good for a 129 wRC+. He took walks, he made contact, he hit for some doubles power, and he looked like one of the game’s best young hitters.
And it’s been all downhill since then. In 2011, he annoyed the Marlins enough that they sent him back to the minors for a week to teach him some humility. His wRC+ regressed to 116, which combined with atrocious outfield defense made him a marginally valuable player. The last two years, he’s been even worse, posting below average hitting lines while struggling to play the field, and knee surgery limited both his playing time and his mobility.
So now, here we are heading into 2014, and Morrison has nearly 1,500 plate appearances, a 108 wRC+ over the years he’s spent in the big leagues, and a career WAR of +1.0. He will head to arbitration for the first time as a 26 year old who has been a replacement level player for each of the past three seasons. What once looked like a promising young hitter now looks like more of an opportunity to salvage a former prospect in his post-hype stage.
So that’s exactly what the Mariners are trying to do. By swapping Carter Capps for Morrison, Seattle is betting that the promise of 2010 still holds some predictive value, and that Morrison is going to develop into a late bloomer. It does happen. Raul Ibanez didn’t become a good hitter until he was 29, while Erik Karros and Tino Martinez broke out at 27. There are examples of guys who have been essentially lousy for their first 1,500 plate appearances and then still became good hitters who had solid careers.
Interestingly, though, this entire story almost perfectly describes incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak. They acquired him as part of the Cliff Lee trade in 2010 when he was one of the game’s best first base prospects, and since then, he’s given them 2,000 useless plate appearances. For his career, he has a 95 wRC+ and has been worth -0.1 WAR, and he just turned 27 last week. Before acquiring Logan Morrison, the Mariners had a first baseman who was teetering between the post-hype and bust stages of his development. Now, they have two of them.
Of course, for an AL team, you can afford to double up on players like this, because the designated hitter spot gives teams in the junior circuit an extra spot to carry a bat only player. Only, a few minutes before the Morrison trade became public, it was also reported that the Mariners have signed Corey Hart to a one year contract. Hart, coming off two knee surgeries, should probably be projected as a DH going forward, or at least until he proves that he can play the field without breaking down again. With Hart in the fold, either the team will have to choose between Morrison and Smoak at first base, or one of those three are going to be asked to run around left field.
The Mariners tried the DHs-at-every-spot tactic last year, going for power at the expense of outfield defense with Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez regularly playing the field together. It didn’t work. The defense was atrocious, and the team’s pitching staff predictably took a beating due to a lack of support from their teammates. One would hope that watching 162 games of defensive futility would convince the organization to not go down that path again, but it is possible that either Morrison or Hart are going to be asked to play the outfield. That would diminish the value of the offensive upgrades, and it’s not clear that Morrison can actually hit well enough to offset his atrocious defense in outfield. Realistically, both of the players the Mariners have just acquired should be 1B/DHs only.
So, perhaps this means the Mariners are moving on from Justin Smoak, and simply wanted to make a similar bet on a similar player in a different uniform. Morrison and Smoak have both been awful against left-handed pitching, so a platoon doesn’t work between them. They are duplicative, not complementary.
However, there is also another option. The Mariners have been widely reported to have interest in David Price, who Tampa Bay is shopping. The Rays currently have a void at first base. The Rays were reported to have some interest in Morrison, and if they’re interested in Morrison, perhaps they’re also interested in Smoak. It is at least theoretically possible that Morrison was acquired either to be part of a David Price package, or because they know that they’ll be shipping Smoak to Tampa in a deal that has not yet been completed. This is all speculative, of course, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’d seen a team make one trade in anticipation of making another.
Neither Smoak nor Morrison look like particularly valuable assets, with both being projected for something like +1 WAR over a full season’s worth of at-bats as a first baseman; Morrison would project worse if he was an outfielder. There is some glimmer of potential left with both, but it has mostly faded, and now both look more like under-powered first baseman who don’t have enough offense to make up for the fact that they don’t do anything else to help a team win. The Mariners seem to be stockpiling these guys, and with Hart, they are once again stockpiling bat-only players.
If the Mariners plan to keep Smoak and Morrison, then this looks like it could be a repeat of last year’s decision to punt outfield defense in search of a moderate offensive upgrade. That would make this move questionable, even if Morrison has some potential in and of itself. If Smoak is being used to help facilitate an upgrade elsewhere, then picking up Morrison for a reliever — even an interesting young arm like Carter Capps — might not be a bad little move.