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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 1008

post #30211 of 73514
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

Imagine In 10 years? sick.gif

Another reason why MLB needs a salary cap

There isn't one reason baseball needs a salary cap, let alone there being another.
Edited by dland24 - 12/3/14 at 8:24am
post #30212 of 73514
Thread Starter 
What Are We Missing About Nick Markakis?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There’s not a contract agreement yet or even an indication that one is close, but one thing seems clear about this particular baseball offseason: There might not be a larger gap between our perception and the conversations we’re hearing in the real world than in those regarding Nick Markakis. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the Orioles were ready to retain him for the next four years, but that hasn’t quite happened yet, and the latest rumors have the Braves, Blue Jays, Giants, O’s, and potentially others all showing interest.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jim Bowden — who’s really very good at this sort of thing — suggested Markakis could get four years and $52 million. MLB Trade Rumors said 4/$48M in October. FanGraphs readers were a little more conservative, coming up with an average of 3.4 years and $39.8M, but we also know that the FanGraphs crowd tends to underestimate free agent contracts somewhat.

Just by those numbers, one would think that Markakis is a desirable player to have, but you probably already know that most of the FanGraphs staff doesn’t really see it that way. A month ago, Dave compared Markakis to Nori Aoki, who clearly isn’t getting a four-year deal. Steamer pegs him for a 103 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR in his age-31 season, and that’s with the benefit of a projected 679 plate appearances. Using Steamer/600 on our Free Agent Tracker, he’s tied for the 15th-best unsigned hitter out there. (The usual “don’t overthink the decimal point” caveat applies.) You’ve probably seen many of us mention how down we are on him via tweets or in chats, as well. He’s not young. He’s not improving. He’s not even a source of righty power, this year’s trendy “must-have.”

And yet, Markakis seems very likely to get a comfortable deal. So before we even know what team is going to give it to him, opening themselves up to inevitable ridicule, perhaps it’s time we shine the spotlight inward first. Where’s the disconnect? What are we missing that makes Markakis so inexplicably appealing?
Is he a better defender than we think?

This is the easiest place to start, because it’s the area that’s got the largest gap. Markakis won a Gold Glove in 2014, his second in the last four seasons. In nine years and 11,758.2 defensive innings, he’s made only 18 errors. A full one-third of that total came in 2009 alone, and in the four years since, he’s fumbled only two balls. He hasn’t made a single error in more than two seasons, not since misplaying a Jeff Francoeur foul fly on Aug. 10, 2012. Clearly, Markakis is sure-handed, and in the three seasons that we have Inside Edge fielding available, he’s made 99.7% of “Routine” plays.

So if you only knew that, you might find it extremely difficult to parse the fact that our advanced fielding metrics find him to be below-average. Here’s Markakis’ important advanced fielding stats for the last five seasons:

DRS UZR/150 Defense
2010 -11 -4.8 -12.8
2011 2 -5.2 -12.7
2012 -7 -13.2 -13.6
2013 -7 -5.8 -14.1
2014 1 5.8 -2.5
That looks pretty miserable, though of course the “defense” stat is adjusted for position, and right fielders get a -7.5 adjustment, since it’s one of the least important defensive positions. If you wanted to just look at Markakis without comparing him to everyone else, he’d be below-average from 2010-13 (but less so), and above-average in 2014.

The obvious next question is why advanced stats dislike Markakis so much, and that’s an answer that’s relatively easy to answer if you’ve lived through any of the endless Derek Jeter arguments over the years. The chart below shows the three major components of UZR to the left, and the results from the Fan Scouting Report at the right.

Arm RngR ErrR Arm Strength Arm
2010 1.0 -8.2 1.7 92 98
2011 1.8 -9.2 1.8 83 91
2012 -0.4 -8.9 0.7 71 73
2013 2.6 -11.5 2.3 57 70
2014 5.5 -1.6 2.3 76 87
While the FSR is obviously not exactly a scientific method, what we have here shows some pretty obvious reasons why the eye test and the metrics test on Markakis don’t align. Again, we see his ability to avoid miscues appear in ErrR, and we see an accurate (though potentially weakening) arm on both sides of the table. You rarely see Markakis look bad in the outfield, and that accounts for a lot when you’re watching on television. But it’s the RngR column that dooms Markakis much as it did Jeter — it’s great to be sure-handed, but if you’re poor at actually getting to the ball, your value is going to be limited.

That’s long been an issue for Markakis, and the seeming rebound in 2014 is what looks like the outlier more than anything. We can’t know for sure what caused that, because it’s not like he’s had any lower body injuries to recover from, and though he’s aged and slowed somewhat, he’s not David Ortiz out there either. Part of me wonders if the Orioles’ increasing (and increasingly effective) usage of shifts have helped Markakis end up in more favorable spots to field the ball in 2014, but that’s just speculation on my part.

Still, perhaps different teams value what he brings with the glove differently. If you’re looking for someone spectacular who is going to regularly make the extraordinary play to keep runs off the board, Markakis probably isn’t that. If you want someone steady who won’t burn you, he’s your man. That’s about as strong of recommendation as we’re going to be able to offer on defense, however. Range isn’t something that’s likely to improve as he ages.

Do teams care more about contact skills?

This is the other defense of Markakis that regularly comes up, and it’s partially a valid one, maybe moreso if you really buy into the idea that teams are going to copy the Royals’ blueprint of adding plus-contact hitters. (As opposed to the wildly great bullpen or fantastic outfield defense.) As the rest of baseball keeps striking out more, Markakis has been able to keep his whiff rate well below the league average.

Of course, there’s a few issues with that. One is that after three straight years of a K% starting with a “10,” Markakis’ whiff rate increased to 11.9 in 2014. Over the last three years, that number is 11.2%, which is good, but not necessarily elite — it’s tied for 18th-best among qualified hitters. His K/BB numbers have remained relatively steady for the last five years, so there’s not much danger of imminent collapse here, and that should help keep what is usually an above-average OBP afloat.

That said, “contact” and “good contact” aren’t always the same thing, because Markakis’ power has all but disappeared over the years, potentially affected by 2012 surgeries on his right wrist and left thumb as well as to fix a hernia. His batted ball distances have been nothing short of terrifying, really:

Avg. Feet MLB rank
2009 297.91 71
2010 291.23 124
2011 279.86 145
2012 284.07 124
2013 271.22 223
2014 267.92 228
There’s also this: Camden Yards is generally a pretty good place for a lefty hitter to find the stands. Here’s every single Markakis homer over the last three seasons, 37 of them, 23 of which came at home:

If he were to end up in a park that didn’t cater so well to lefties, it’s easy to see that homer total dropping from his usual 10-12 into the single digits. Obviously, this all plays into his total wRC+. An 88 in 2013 was terrible, and a 106 in 2014 was adequate. Combine the two, and he’s tied for 128th in baseball in 2013-14. Among the names ahead of him: Michael Saunders, Chris Johnson and Ike Davis.

It’s true that Markakis has better contact skills than most other players. It hasn’t yet been proven that the market is willing to wildly overpay for that, or that he brings a ton else to the table offensively.

I still don’t think we’ve figured out what makes him appealing. Let’s look at some potentially similar players, but…

How about some comps?

…I don’t think this is going to help the case. I really want to know what it is about Markakis that’s fascinating. I’m not sure this table gets us there. This is a list of eight outfielders, Markakis’ age or younger (save for Aoki), with superior performance over the last two years and similar projections in Steamer/600 for 2015.

2013-14 Steamer/600 2015
Colby Rasmus 26 834 .253 .315 .477 117 4.1 5.4 110 2.4
Michael Saunders 26 731 .250 .330 .416 109 -4.3 3.2 104 1.9
Drew Stubbs 28 905 .259 .321 .418 99 -6.3 3.2 101 1.8
Nori Aoki 32 1223 .286 .353 .366 103 -3.3 3.9 97 1.8
Alejandro De Aza 30 1203 .258 .319 .397 96 -0.9 3.6 92 1.6
Nick Markakis 30 1410 .274 .335 .371 97 -16.6 2.4 104 1.5
Gregor Blanco 30 955 .263 .337 .361 103 12 4.9 100 1.4
Will Venable 30 963 .248 .301 .411 102 -0.6 3.8 91 1.2
Gerardo Parra 27 1237 .265 .316 .387 91 20.6 4.6 103 1.2
These are players who are either freely available for a fraction of what Markakis is expected to get or would be reasonably inexpensive to acquire via trade. Blanco seemed like less than a lock to even be tendered a contract last night, though he ultimately was. This isn’t exactly a great market for offense — after Chase Headley, it’s Melky Cabrera and cover your eyes — but it’s not like there aren’t other options that couldn’t provide most or all of Markakis’ value for a portion of the price. Why a team would commit multiple expensive years when there’s other options, well, it doesn’t add up.

Let’s say you disagree with Markakis’ defensive ratings, that you prefer to think of him as a 2 WAR player, which isn’t unfair. That’s a league-average player. Markakis seems like a league-average player. If wins are somewhere around $7 million this winter, you can make the argument that he’s worth $14 million next year. Let’s even call it $15 million, if you really like not striking out. But even if we go with that, he’s already shown that the last two years are the start of his decline. A four-year deal easily takes you to below-average or replacement or worse. It’s hard to see a team coming out ahead on that.

When I started this, I really wanted to see what I’d been missing. I wanted to know why the public perception and the advanced metrics seem so far apart. I’m not really sure I accomplished that. Markakis is a steady player, nothing more, with little upside remaining and age squarely against him, one who could look worse outside of Camden depending on where he winds up. Some team is going to pay heavily for that. Some team is going to regret doing so.

Rico Brogna: Quality Control in Anaheim.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Rico Brogna‘s primary role with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is to see if statistical data passes the eye test. His official title is Quality Control Coach, and he’s well-suited for the job. Brogna played nine big-league seasons and has scouted and managed in the minor leagues. He knows how to break down what happens on the field.

The 2014 season was Brogna’s first with the Angels, although he and general manager Jerry DiPoto go way back. They were teammates with the Mets in the 1990s and later worked together in the Diamondbacks organization.

Brogna began the year as a special assistant to the general manager, writing reports on players inside and outside the Angels’ system. He moved into his current role when Rick Eckstein, the club’s inaugural Quality Control Coach, departed in August for a job at the University of Kentucky.

According to the analytical Brogna, his day-to-day duties varied, but the focus remained the same.
“Basically, I was matching data with what my eyes told me,” said Brogna. “I worked with a lot of the data that’s provided to us. I’d study video and compare it to the statistical data in respect to how we might use it. I’d also go behind the plate during games and look for things our team was doing, or should be doing. At times, Mike Scioscia or one of coaches might say, ‘Hey Rico, keep an eye on this for us tonight.’”

Defensive positioning was one of the focal points. Jeremy Zoll, Anaheim’s advance scouting coordinator, provided the data. First base coach Alfredo Griffin aligned the infield. Scioscia oversaw the process. Brogna brought a scout’s perspective from his vantage point behind the screen.

“I made sure we were aligned the way the coaches wanted, whether it was straight up or a shift,” explained Brogna. “Also, my eyes might tell me, ‘You know what, the stats are telling us this, but it looks like he’s making adjustments with his swing and going the other way.’ It was kind of on-the-spot advance scouting. I was lining things up with the data and either reinforcing it or challenging it.

“I got the best of both worlds – scouting and data – but I wasn’t sitting on a fence, I was utilizing both. Butch [pitching coach Mike Butcher] was great. We watched video and he was really open to trusting my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of swings over the years. I was always reading swings as a first baseman and you can build a big library in your brain of what hitters’ tendencies are and what will happen if you pitch them a certain way. Experience teaches you.”

Brogna’s experience lends itself to communicating with players as well as coaches. He sat in on hitters’ meetings this year, and while he didn’t have a hands-on role, he was ready whenever his input was needed. If a question came his way, he had both the data and an understanding of how to share it.

“One thing you want to prevent is paralysis by analysis,” said Brogna. “As a coach, you need to know how to filter. I’ll use my playing experience as a guide, recognizing that while all of this is great information, it’s hard to take all of it to the field.

“What you want at the plate is a direct plan that can be modified in an instant without too many alternatives. You have A and you have B. You have to be able to play fast – you have to be able to think on the run – and too much information can freeze your mind. Without a straightforward focus, you’re more apt to be caught in between and not have full conviction in your plan.”

The Angels are fully convicted when it comes to preparing their hitters. Like all teams, they go over opposing pitchers before the first game of each series. Unlike most, they also had shorter hitters’ meeting – quick recaps – before each game this season. Some would end with, “Rico, do you have anything to add?”

Brogna – and Eckstein earlier in the year – added an important element of scouting-meets-data to the Angels’ game-planning. Other organizations are employing a Quality Control Coach as well, and while the title differs team-to-team, there’s a universal constant.

“You need to use all of the information the right way,” said Brogna. “The data and your eyes have to work together.”

What Happens When You Pitch in Texas.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The most obvious park-effect variable in baseball is Colorado’s altitude. Okay, nothing to be done about that. No way to pitch around it. The second-most obvious park-effect variable would have to be the Green Monster in Fenway. Boston’s got something no other place has, and it’s right there in left field looming over everything, and last week I took a look at how pitchers attempt to compensate for having that thing in play right behind them. In short, righties get pitched away more often, and lefties get pitched inside more often. It was all very intuitive, but toward the end, I threw in a note about an opposite effect I observed in Texas. Now seemed like as good an opportunity as any to turn that into a post of its own.

Globe Life Park doesn’t have a Green Monster. It doesn’t have any kind of monster, but it does have a justified reputation of being hitter-friendly. There are many culprits, but among them is a frequent gust that’s caused some fly balls to continue to carry out to right and right-center. It’s been referred to as the jetstream effect, and just as Boston is particularly hitter-friendly to left, Texas has historically been more hitter-friendly to right. How have pitchers dealt with that? Well, I guess I already told you.

When I did the Fenway research, I figured that, if I’d be able to find anything, I’d be able to find it in Boston. There’s no denying the existence of the Green Monster, and there’s no denying it has a dramatic effect on a lot of balls in play. The shifts in pitch frequencies observed are somewhat small, but pitch patterns can’t bounce around dramatically, not if pitchers want to remain unpredictable. In Fenway, you can’t exclusively throw righties outside. You just throw outside a little more often, to balance out the ball-in-play distribution.

In Texas, we see opposite changes of similar magnitude. Research was made possible by Baseball Savant, and I decided to look at data from the past three years. This time I just split home plate down the middle. So any given pitch is considered either inside or outside. Sticking with the same format as the post before, let’s look at data, beginning with right-handed hitters:

Rangers home games: 47.9% pitches over inner half
Rangers road games: 43.5%
Difference: +4.4%
MLB rank: 1st
The numbers should explain themselves — in Texas, right-handed hitters have seen more pitches inside. So they’ve seen fewer pitches outside, and those are the pitches that are easier to drive the other way. As with Boston, the difference might seem small, but it’s also the biggest difference in the game. Now, repeating, this time with left-handed hitters:

Rangers home games: 67.7% pitches over outer half
Rangers road games: 63.1%
Difference: +4.6%
MLB rank: 1st
You understand. It’s the same explanation. In Texas, lefties have seen more pitches away than they have on the road, because in Texas, those are the pitches more likely to be hit up the middle or toward right. There’s no good part of the ballpark in Texas for pitchers to pitch to, but there’s relative good and relative bad. The shift mirrors the shift we see with righties, more or less.

There’s no real meaningful difference in fastball rates in Texas and in not-Texas. Yet the fastball locations mirror what we see above, which I guess isn’t a surprise at all since fastballs make up the bulk of all pitches thrown. With righties at the plate:

Rangers home games: 51.7% fastballs over inner half
Rangers road games: 47.2%
And, with lefties at the plate:

Rangers home games: 66.1% fastballs over outer half
Rangers road games: 62.2%
In the Fenway post, I looked at David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, individually. Here, let’s consider Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish. Below, Beltre at home and on the road in 2014. This past season, at home, he saw almost 54% of pitches over the inner half. On the road, the rate dropped to almost 45%. His three-year numbers are about 51% and 45%, respectively.

Beltre is particularly strong, and he’s able to drive pitches over the outer half deep the other way, in the air. It makes sense, then, that in Texas, he’d have fewer opportunities to do that. Now let’s check out Yu Darvish, also in 2014, and only against left-handed hitters so as to make the heat map less confusing. At home against lefties, Darvish threw 71% of pitches away. On the road against lefties, the rate was 57%.

It’s a fairly pronounced shift. In his own ballpark, Darvish didn’t want lefties to get out ahead of his pitches and yank them. This was less of a fear elsewhere. For Darvish’s career, his splits are 68% and 60%, at home and on the road. He also shows a split against righties, although it’s smaller.

A consideration of mine I can’t do anything about: there could be a park effect in the PITCHf/x data itself. If the results in Texas are consistently a little off in one direction, it could make nothing look like something. That’s why I can’t declare anything with 100% certainty, but what I do have on my side is reason; it’s reasonable to think pitchers would try to pitch away from things like this happening:
Yet, one last note about the jetstream: it might no longer be a thing. At least, not to the same extent. Ballpark modifications prior to 2013 might’ve had an effect on the usual wind patterns, and it seems like Texas has been a little less hitter-friendly since. A few people have gone on record noting that certain fly balls haven’t carried as much as expected, so maybe this is an investigation of something that’s not so much of a factor anymore. But, interestingly, the pitch-location shifts have only become larger over time. In 2012, we observe differences of about 2% of pitches. That is, in Rangers home games, righties saw more pitches inside by two percentage points, and lefties saw more pitches outside by two percentage points. The last two years, covering the span since the ballpark was altered, we observe differences of about 6% of pitches, for both righties and lefties. The data would suggest that even if balls don’t carry as well to right anymore, pitchers still pitch like it’s a danger zone. So either they’re wrong, or the jetstream is still present.

If it’s all an irritating PITCHf/x park effect, where the data is erroneous, welp, that’s too bad. And a little embarrassing! But at least, if this is all true, it makes sense why it would be true. It makes sense why pitchers would pitch away from the Green Monster, and it makes sense why pitchers would pitch away from Globe Life’s right and right-center fields. No, the differences aren’t dramatic. No, the differences will never be dramatic. But, park effects can have park effects. It’s pretty swell to see how pitchers respond to the environment around them.

Balancing Information and Bias in Prospect Reporting.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I’ve done plenty of rankings over the years for various outlets, but this new venture at FanGraphs is the first time I’ve gone through all 30 organizations to rank each team’s best talents. I’ve done some team prospect rankings in the past and the thing I experienced then — and heard about from people all over the industry — are the biases you have to wade through when club officials and scouts talk about their own players.

This is an obvious thing that even the most casual reader of prospect analysis would understand. The team wants to have the profile of their prospects boosted, both for their job security and for trade value. Nearly every source I talk to for these lists will reference a player from an earlier list in the series and ask a question about them, ask where I think their system stacks up so far in my research or ask my feelings about teams I haven’t written up yet. Most teams take the rankings from trusted publications and add them to their internal metrics, and they’re always checked for discrepancies or useful nuggets of information before trades are consummated. This isn’t just some fanboy nerd thing on the Internet. Well, it is that, but it isn’t only that.

There were instances in past years where a team executive would push a guy on me, but when I’d call a couple scouts from other organizations and I’d find “the truth”; normally between an overzealous exec and a pessimistic scout, landing around where the average scout would be. There was one instance this year when one scout, who was credited with signing the player in question, suggested I move a player (not at the top of a list) up one spot. Multiple rival execs said I had the player in the right spot, and I learned there were rumors the team was trying to trade the player in question.

That said, it was one spot and in the middle of the list; not exactly the hard sell. In every other instance of a surprising piece of info from a club source (more than 14 organizations so far), it’s been confirmed by multiple outside sources, to the point that if I wrote the lists purely from info from the team itself — which I’d never do — I’d have almost the same order as I would after talking to multiple rival scouts.

Why is this the case? I have a couple theories, but I think the larger phenomenon here is the commoditization of prospect rankings. Billy Beane essentially said as much a few months back: “I think you’re undervaluing the value of the present, particularly in sports.” Scouting reports on big league players essentially don’t exist on the Internet, thus there aren’t rankings and there isn’t hype created about which team has the highest-ranked major-league this or that. Instead, we focus on the teenager who hasn’t even played in single-A yet. We’re so focused on trying to peg the future that we’re overlooking the present, at least in the scouting wing of baseball media.

Multiple publications rank these players via talking to scouts and execs, along with numerous other outlets parroting these rankings when news warrants it. We’re all talking about mostly the same players in mostly the same areas on these lists. There’s plenty of room to differentiate, innovate and become the industry standard, but the casual reader won’t necessarily pick up on these cues.

If a team coordinated a couple sources to spread propaganda, there’s a good shot I’d figure it out before I put up the list. If I didn’t, at least one of the other publications would. At some point, those execs would lose credibility — and while that isn’t the end of the world for them — they like having an open line of communication and don’t want to make enemies. In fact, ownership groups read these lists, and the public perception of a team’s farm system can have an impact on the careers of those involved in player development.

In one instance, I was talking to a general manager about one of his players who’d been known to have character issues. I wanted to hear how he would present this player to me. I mentioned the name, gave a sentence or two about the player and then said, “But some scouts aren’t really on board,” as a vague way of referencing the makeup concerns. The GM stepped in and volunteered to list some of the specific character issues in the past and said the organization hadn’t had any problems with the player this year and they think it’s a maturity issue that he’s mostly past. Still, the general manager conceded his player was still probably not quite up to a major league level in the mental department.

There was another instance with a player who had a lengthy suspension for off-the-field issues and I only referenced his on-field strengths when I brought him up in conversation. In response, every source I talked to with that club proceeded to give me additional information I didn’t have about why the player was suspended, what he needs to work on and that they hope he can get his situation straightened out. In both cases, I moved the player down on my list.

I also commonly hear references, even by scouting directors, about how that pick or that whole draft (which he presided over) was a dud, or execs talking about how their system is below average, etc. There’s an understanding that these comments are off-the-record, but it’s still more honesty than you’d expect to hear in many cases. There’s some rhetorical value to being honest. I could trust your evaluations more on other players since you were upfront when you didn’t have to be, and an executive could use that for some other self-serving purpose in the future. That said, I know which people are tied to which players and who stands to gain something from a player’s rating being bumped, so even that may not yield an advantage.

I used to assume, until proven otherwise, that every exec read The Art of War and treated these conversations as a battle. Very few seem to have taken that approach with me, though. It could be due to something specific to me. I have a past working for clubs, and many of these guys regularly see me at games or have known me for years prior to my work here at FanGraphs. Or maybe they want to be on my next future GM list, and are simply buttering me up for the cause.

In addition, I’ve shifted a bit from mostly amateur (draft and July 2nd) rankings to more minor league-focused rankings. The amateur markets are inherently secretive since misdirection or generic reports may make clubs more likely to get the player they want. With development of minor league prospects, being deceptive is just delaying the inevitable. An exec could tell me a player who hasn’t performed in years looked great in instructs when there weren’t many scouts, but if he’s struggling the same way halfway through the next season, I can essentially disregard that information.

Some combination of all these things likely factor into the changing way that I talk to sources, but I think there is a bigger truth driving it, something Beane hinted at. Prospect rankings have been commoditized and may even be overrated in regards to their real-world impact on the big league standings, so execs don’t see talking to people like me as a way to get an advantage, but rather a way to feed the beast of people online caring about what they do.

Indirectly, that could help send more people to the ballpark, which would give them the power to get more/better players, which would eventually be manifested on a prospect list and in their job security and pay. Of course they aren’t thinking all of these things consciously, but a conversation that used to be standoffish with people who used to be unavailable are now returning my calls and being more honest. Maybe I shouldn’t be jinxing it.

Investigating Steve Cishek on Behalf of Adam Ottavino.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the Rockies came to town this year, there was a tap on my shoulder. Adam Ottavino wanted to talk pitching. For some reason, I didn’t turn on my recorder. That’s fine, I guess, sometimes you just lose yourself in the conversation and want to kick yourself later when you look down. We had a good time talking, is what I remember. I even got some grips pics from him.

But anyway, I don’t have the exact quotes and so I can’t provide you a break down of Ottavino’s season peppered with the interesting things that Ottavino said about his craft. Just know that, yes, he thinks about platoon splits. And the primarily fastball/slider righty thinks about changeups. But a changeup hasn’t worked for him yet, and the strategies he’s had to deal with platoon splits have had varying success.

What stuck with me since that conversation was a pitcher he was interested in: Steve Cishek. Really, Ottavino was interested in how a primarily fastball/slider pitcher could avoid platoon splits. So, Adam, if you’re out there, let’s take a look at Steve Cishek for a bit. The rest of you that are still here, come along for the ride!

Cishek has faced 1075 batters and thrown 4314 pitches. Only 150 of those pitches have been changeups, and this year he threw less than ten. He only threw 418 four-seamers over that time period, too, so he’s mostly a sinker/slider pitcher. Sinkers and sliders have among the worst platoon splits in the pantheon of pitches. Steve Cishek has a 2.58 FIP against lefties and a 2.59 against righties over his career. So he has, indeed, managed to avoid platoon splits somehow.

The first thing you might think is that Cishek throws two different kinds of sliders. That was how Luke Gregerson solved his platoon splits, and others have used the same approach. Ottavino himself has two sliders — one more of a slow, big, looping slider, and one more of a snapping, sharp, fast slider. He admitted that he was actually there when the light went off for Gregerson in the Cardinals’ farm system. You can see the two grips below.

ishek’s sliders are more clustered than Gregerson’s in movement and velocity. If he does get a little more movement with less velocity, it’s horizontal movement, not the vertical movement that can differentiate it from the faster slider. Cishek’s sliders are also more tightly clustered than Ottavino’s sliders. Maybe we can say that it’s not multiple sliders that have helped Cishek evade platoon splits.

The next thing that jumps out at you is that Cishek’s sinker and slider are a little different than the average bear. Let’s compare the average movement and velocity on Cishek’s sinker and slider to the league’s averages.

Velocity Horizontal Vertical
Steve Cishek SI 91.7 -10.6 0.6
League RHP SI 91.5 -4.9 6.2
Steve Cishek SL 81.4 3.5 -1.6
League RHP SL 84.3 2.8 1.2
Huh. You might call those pitches sliders and sinkers because that’s how he grips them, or they fit some general movement patterns, but they’re very different from the league’s average versions of those pitches. Considering the league average righty throws his curveball 78 mph with six inches of drop, you could say that, by movement, Cishek’s slider is somewhere between a slider and a curveball. It has three inches more drop than an average slider, at least, and two more inches of horizontal movement.

One of Cishek’s secrets is his release angle. It’s why his sinker has six inches more drop than your average sinker.
When you throw from that angle, you change the physics of the pitch. That’s because the spin he puts on the ball has more in common with a traditional three-quarter curveball than a traditional three-quarter slot sinker — something you might notice when we you look at Brad Ziegler.

It’s possible, from that analysis, that Cishek’s slider functions more like a traditional slurve — and that makes sense from the movement numbers above — but we still don’t know how he’s escaped platoon splits.

Except that his sinker moves basically like a changeup. Remove the velocity from the equation, and Cishek’s sinker has almost change-like movement:

Velocity Horizontal Vertical
Steve Cishek SI 91.7 -10.6 0.6
League RHP CH 83.1 -6.5 4.3
It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting to put those average movements next to each other. And look at the results on Cishek’s sinker, and you’ll identify the source of his platoon-neutral magic. Against righties, the sinker has had a 4.2% whiff rate and a 68% ground-ball rate. Against lefties, the sinker has had a 9.8% whiff rate and a 45% ground-ball rate. Like a change-up, it’s had a reverse platoon split.

So, all of this work ends with an apology to Adam Ottavino. We might know better why Cishek has avoided platoon splits — his funky delivery has turned his sinker into a platoon-buster with drop and fade and velocity — but we can’t necessarily turn this into a road map. Unless Ottavino can drop his arm slot down for his sinker, he’s better off working on a changeup or refining his two breaking balls.

Nelson Cruz: Meet Safeco Field.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Monday, one of the more anticipated transactions of the past two off-seasons finally came to pass: Nelson Cruz finally signed with the Mariners. Seattle’s interest in him dates back to at least last winter, but for various reasons, he ended up settling for a one year, $8 million deal with the Orioles for 2014 in order to re-establish his value. 40 home runs later, and Cruz is finally cashing in, landing a $58 million deal that will carry him through his age-37 season.

Now, however, his movable force will meet the irresistible object that is Safeco Field, the most pitcher-friendly park — especially for right-handed hitters — in the game. How might his new home treat him over the duration of his contract?
As a caveat, I should note that I spent five years as a member of the Seattle Mariners’ front office, so I have some experience in trying to to build teams to play in this particular environment. An extreme home park — like Safeco, Fenway or Coors Field — not only presents challenges, but it can present opportunities as well. These extreme tendencies can be exploited. the Red Sox, therefore, can get much more mileage out of a fly ball hitter, the Rockies can get more out of a ground ball pitcher, and the Mariners can get more out of an extreme fly ball hurler such as Chris Young.

Prior to the 2013 season, the decision was made to move in the fences at Safeco by varying amounts from the left field line all the way around to right-center field. They were moved in by as much as 17 feet in deepest left-center field. The best case for making this move? To make Safeco more attractive to free agent hitters, particularly righties, who had made their aversion to Safeco well known. Now, the fences have been set at their new dimensions for two full seasons, and guess what? Safeco is still extremely pitcher-friendly, though slightly less than it used to be.

Each year, I calculate my own park factors, based on granular batted-ball data. Basically, I compare the actual results of each batted ball hit in each park to what each batted ball of that approximate speed and angle would have produced in a neutral environment. Give each actual and projected event a run value, and divide the actual average run value per 27 outs to the projected average run value per 27 outs, and voila, you have your park factors, adjusted for batted ball quality.

Below you will see the single-season overall and fly ball park factors for each field sector of Safeco for 2012-14. Also listed are the single, double, triple and homer park factors (to all fields combined) for those three seasons:

2014 92.7 60.7 78.3 93.5 86.0 82.8
2013 87.0 78.8 85.2 104.2 91.5 88.2
2012 76.5 58.9 77.4 69.8 76.4 69.9
—————- ———- ———– ———- ———- ———- ———-
2014 72.7 36.1 72.9 57.4 101.1 66.2
2013 62.9 60.8 49.7 90.2 118.1 71.8
2012 53.3 32.1 35.0 46.8 59.9 41.5
—————- ———- ———– ———- ———- ———- ———-
2014 99 84 56 84
2013 98 104 67 80
2012 98 75 66 61
The table shows that even after the fences were moved in, Safeco remained an extreme pitchers’ park. In 2012, its overall park factor of 69.9 means that Safeco reduced offense by 30.1%, while in 2013 and 2014 (overall park factors of 88.2 and 82.glasses.gif, it did so by 11.8% and 17.2%, respectively.

Narrowing down the focus to fly balls only, the 2012 park factor of 41.5 – reduction of offense on fly balls by 58.5% – has moderated to 71.8 and 66.2 in 2013 and 2014, for offensive reductions of 28.2% and 33.8% in those seasons. The fence move has changed Safeco from cavernous to slightly less so; it still ranked as the most pitcher-friendly park overall and specifically with respect to fly balls in 2014, narrowly edging out AT&T Park on both counts. You know, that place where three recent vintage World Series flags now fly? An extreme park is not necessarily a bad thing.

Safeco remains a very difficult place in which to hit a home run, though its homer park factor has increased from 61 in 2012 to 80 and 84 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Many parks that yield plenty of homers are stingy with doubles, and vice versa. Yankee Stadium hemorrhages homers (155 homer park factor in 2014), but allows relatively few doubles (85). Miller Park (131, 95), Minute Maid Park (111, 98), and Tropicana Field (109, 94) all fit similar molds.

Fenway Park is the most double-friendly park in the game — 131 overall doubles park factor in 2014 — but its homer park factor was just 91 last season. Target Field (113, 95), Kauffman Stadium (103, 85) and Busch Stadium (107, 78) all followed a similar pattern. Safeco? It’s that outlier, way over there; the only park to have single, double, triple and homer park factors all below 100 last season. Only Safeco and Turner Field had double and homer park factors below 90; Turner’s singles park factor of 108, the highest in the game, was a mitigating factor in Atlanta’s park effects. Unlike every other park in baseball, there is simply no area of vulnerability at Safeco, though RF/RCF seems like one in contrast to the rest of the field.

Enough about Safeco, for now, however. Let’s talk a little bit about Nelson Cruz. He took a fairly unique path to the 2014 AL homer title. He didn’t earn his first major league at bat until more than two months past his 24th birthday; the list of position players earning $50M+ free agent guarantees meeting that criterion must be pretty short. He wasn’t an everyday MLB player until age 28. His pros and cons have been the same since the beginning; he hits the ball really hard, swings and misses quite a bit, doesn’t walk as much as you’d like for a power hitter, and he adds very little complementary value besides his power hitting. As time has gone on, those complementary skills have gone from merely adequate to well below average. Though his arm strength remains decent, he is now a station-to-station baserunner who threatens to offset most or all of his offensive value if allowed to play the field for any length of time.

Let’s focus in on that power bat of his, to see how it might play in his new home. To do so, let’s take a look at his 2014 plate-appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data. First, the frequency info:

FREQ – 2014
N.Cruz % REL PCT
K 20.6% 101 58
BB 8.1% 107 56
POP 9.1% 118 67
FLY 28.0% 100 48
LD 20.7% 99 42
GB 42.2% 97 56
First of all, there is some pretty positive stuff here. On one hand, we’re examining what might be described as his career year (though 2010 was pretty good as well, in many fewer plate appearances), so that might be expected. Still, his K rate percentile rank of 58 is the best of his career, nosing out his 2010 62 mark. He had posted K rate percentile ranks of 84 or higher in two of the previous three seasons, so this is a major breakthrough. More contact is always a good thing, especially when it’s of the authoritative variety. His BB rate percentile rank of 56 was his best since 2009 (59), and marks his third consecutive increase since bottoming out at 27 in 2011.

It’s also a positive that there are no extremes in his batted-ball frequency profile. His popup rate is high (67 percentile rank), but is right in line with career norms and is not out of whack for a power hitter. His liner percentile rank (42) is below MLB average, but it’s way above his 2013 mark of 15, and just short of his career best of 45.

The only somewhat concerning aspect of his frequency profile isn’t visible in the above table. While his fly ball percentile rank of 48 is perfectly acceptable standing alone, it is by far a career low. Players decline in different ways – some hit more fly balls as they age, going for more power, while others simply lose the ability to put the ball in the air frequently. It’s still too early to determine what will eventually do Cruz in, but there are presently no glaring red flags in his frequency profile.

One can only learn so much about a player’s true talent level by examining his frequency data; batted-ball authority drives production, especially for power hitters:

PROD – 2014
FLY 0.317 1.111 199 235 197
LD 0.720 1.161 143 124 126
GB 0.300 0.347 157 132 117
ALL BIP 0.349 0.676 148 143 130
ALL PA 0.269 0.329 0.523 138 135 124
Cruz’s actual production on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure then is adjusted for context, such as home park, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation. Also for the purposes of this exercise, another column, SEA PRD, is included which estimates his true talent 2014 production if half of his games were played in Safeco Field.

Cruz obviously did substantial damage on fly balls in 2014, batting .317 AVG-1.111 SLG for an actual REL PRD of 199. He actually was a bit unlucky on fly balls, only notching three singles and five doubles, suppressing his average in the air. His neutral park ADJ PRD of 235 undoes that bad luck, and his SEA PRD (197) on fly balls is almost identical to his actual production. Safeco would not have materially sapped his 2014 fly ball production.

Cruz did massive damage on liners in 2014 – he hit an unnaturally high 7 line drive homers – good for 143 REL PRD. That number needs to be deflated somewhat for context, to 124 ADJ PRD and 126 SEA PRD. Similarly, Cruz had some good fortune on grounders, posting a 157 REL PRD, adjusted down to 132 ADJ PRD and 117 SEA PRD for context. Interestingly, he takes a bigger hit on liners and grounders than he does on fly balls when normalizing his 2014 performance. With regard to all BIP, Cruz’ 148 REL PRD is adjusted down to 130 to adjust for the impact of Safeco. Add back the K’s and BB’s, and his 138 REL PRD is adjusted downward to 135 ADJ PRD and 124 SEA PRD for context.

So what does this tell us, on balance? First of all, we must remember that we are looking at Cruz’ career year, at age 33, while performing this analysis. We’re taking those career year parameters, and at the end of the day, adjusting them to something along the lines of a .259-.320-.481 season if half of the games were played at Safeco Field. I would project those numbers as a near best-case scenario for Cruz in 2015; he has about a 5% chance of reaching them. Normal aging trends should negatively affect the vast majority of his rate statistics, and his batted ball authority should also be expected to gradually fade.

Then there’s his increasing pull tendency. Cruz has already mastered the art of selectively pulling the ball in the air. Most thirty-something power hitters who remain highly effective have done so; they are able to increase their pull rate in the air without their grounder pull rate exploding to a level that invites overshifting, thereby depleting their grounder production. Cruz is standing on a precipice in this regard. His fly ball pull rate — flies to (LF + LCF)/(RCF + RF) — of 2.35 is extremely high, as the MLB average is below 1.0.

His grounder pull rate is 4.48, above MLB average, but just a bit short of the automatic over-shifting zone. He currently stands at a very delicate equilibrium here, with a declining fly ball rate, an increasing pull tendency, and really nowhere to go but down production-wise. If and when Cruz becomes an infield over-shift guy, he’s more likely to be a .200 rather a .300 hitter on the ground; now you’re talking a .220-something hitter adjusted for the Safeco effect. That’s a problem.

Interestingly, the massive traditional Safeco effect — the one that reins in fly balls that would be homers almost anywhere else — isn’t going to be the primary factor to drain Cruz’ production from its 2014 level. Most of his fly ball homers, presently, will get out of any yard, including his new one. I wouldn’t be shocked, in fact, to see him post nearly the same AVG-SLG on fly balls in 2015 as he did in 2014.

What Safeco does do is take away the potential for over-performance on any BIP type. Seven line drive homers? Not in 2015. 2014 represented the high water mark for a fairly one-dimensional power hitter who has likely maxed out all of his areas for potential improvement, leaving only downside as we move forward.

Can Cruz provide enough offensive value to justify the first half of his contract? Sure, if he’s not allowed to play the field. The back end of the contract is a no-win situation, however; both the quality and quantity of his production will be under extreme pressure by then. He won’t hit 40 homers again, obviously, and I’ll go out on a limb and say he won’t again reach 30. As a player who derives most of his value from homers, this leaves him with a very narrow band of net positive outcomes moving forward.

Another Way the A’s Might Be Shifting Gears.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Nothing’s ever really settled in Oakland. They can’t afford to settle, not if they want to be able to keep up despite their budget constraints. The A’s always have to be trying to think one step ahead, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but Billy Beane, if nothing else, is doubtlessly bold. And he made a bold move the other day, exchanging a very excellent Josh Donaldson for a package of less excellent players. It remains to be seen how Oakland will build out the rest of its roster, but it’s obviously a team in transition. Beane stated as much in saying he wanted to stay away from having a roster in decline.

In terms of just looking at the depth chart, the A’s are shifting gears by bringing in new personnel. But there might also be something else going on, underneath. It’s nothing we can know, and it’s probably nothing we can ask Beane about while he’s still trying to work, but the recent A’s had a particularly distinctive characteristic, and one wonders whether Beane might be moving away from the philosophy. We can observe what might be interpreted as points within a pattern.

At the end of September, I wrote about what I thought to be the three most distinctive team philosophies. Among them, I talked about Oakland’s building a roster of fly-ball hitters to counter the league-wide trend toward pitching lower and lower. I wasn’t by any means the first person to talk about it, but there was little sign of things slowing down. It had been noted in The Book that fly-ball hitters do better against groundball pitchers than groundball hitters, and here are the year-to-year differences between Oakland’s FB% and the average FB%:

2010: 1.0%
2011: 2.2%
2012: 5.6%
2013: 7.4%
2014: 6.5%

You can see a three-year spike. Between 2012 – 2014, the A’s hit 41% fly balls. Second place was about 36%. The average was about 34%. In this subtle way the A’s stood out from the pack, and you can see the effects elsewhere. Over the three years, the A’s ranked third in baseball in OPS against groundball pitchers, according to Baseball-Reference. Against fly-ball pitchers, they ranked 22nd. They ranked fifth in baseball in slugging percentage against pitches in the lower third of the zone, and 27th against pitches in the upper third of the zone. Just last year, they ranked sixth and 28th. The A’s were built to hit the low pitch, and they hit the low pitch, while struggling higher. It didn’t apply to every single player, but it applied to many of them.

That’s what happened. That’s history. Now the A’s are trying to build for the future. The process is currently incomplete, but if I may, let’s try something. Back during the season, the A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes. Maybe that was the only way for them to get Jon Lester, but Cespedes, as it happens, is among baseball’s very most extreme fly-ball hitters. He’s not part of the picture anymore.

Neither will Jed Lowrie be, most likely. Lowrie is also a fairly extreme fly-ball hitter. Free-agent acquisition Billy Butler? He’s a groundball hitter. Eno wrote a little about this at the time. Josh Donaldson is out, and Brett Lawrie is in, and Donaldson is more of a fly-ball hitter than Lawrie is. And then there’s the non-roster element: the A’s lost hitting coach Chili Davis to the Red Sox. Davis was the coach in Oakland for three years, during which the team he coached put the ball in the air with relatively extreme frequency.

On average, hitters are a little bit more productive against fly-ball pitchers than groundball pitchers. Donaldson’s career split is 41 OPS points better against groundball pitchers. Butler’s been 132 points better against fly-ball pitchers. Lawrie’s been 129 points better against fly-ball pitchers. Individually, these don’t mean much of anything, but if they are part of a pattern, it’s interesting. Oakland was doing one thing more than any other team, and coincidentally or not coincidentally, they’ve moved away from that thing, some. And they’ve taken calls on Josh Reddick, and Brandon Moss. We’ll see what else they elect to do with the infield.

As things stand, the A’s, as a team, are projected to hit about 37% fly balls. The roster still isn’t finished. That would still be a higher-than-average rate, but it would be less high than what they’ve posted lately, and it would be hard to turn things around all at once. It also remains to be seen what might happen under the watch of a different hitting instructor. These same players might end up with slightly different swings. I’m not declaring anything to be true. I’m just checking for a possible pattern, given that a different pattern previously existed.

Let’s say that Beane is moving away from fly-ball hitters. Why might that be? Could be, he understands that other teams have come to understand his team. There was that article where the Astros told Collin McHugh to pitch more up in the zone to counter a lineup like Oakland’s. Several pitchers have noted that they’re trying to fold in more high fastballs, as the league has increasingly geared up for pitches down. Alternatively or additionally, there’s the observation that something happened to raise the strike zone around the middle of the year. For a while, the zone had been steadily sinking. If baseball is trying to do something about that, pitchers would pitch down there less, so there would be less to be gained from building a lineup to attack them.

That’s making an awful lot of an awful little. That’s taking an acorn of an idea and storing it away to be the whole winter’s feast. There are little theories and big theories, and while I do expect the league to at some point do something about the sinking zone, there’s no proof that Beane is making these moves for any reason other than they seem like they’re okay to him. In isolation, he’s lost some guys, and he’s brought in some different guys with talent. It’s a hard job that he’s got. You can never see a pattern looking at one move at a time. Usually, there aren’t patterns to see. Yet the A’s are run anything but usually.

Mariners Reward Nelson Cruz’s Overconfidence.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The winner’s curse can often be used to describe the free-agent market. Generally speaking, a free agent will sign with the team that offers the most, and the team that offers the most will generally be the team that most overrates the given free agent. After Pablo Sandoval signed with the Red Sox, I found myself wondering whether the winner’s curse would apply, since according to reports, the Giants and Padres more or less made the same offer. Sandoval didn’t necessarily go to the high bidder. Nelson Cruz? Nelson Cruz went to the high bidder.

That high bidder being the Seattle Mariners, who are giving Cruz four years and $57 million. The Orioles wanted Cruz back, but they weren’t willing to match the Mariners’ aggressiveness. The Orioles didn’t want to go from three to four years, and the Orioles are reportedly interested in giving four years to Nick Markakis. It’s the Mariners who most highly valued Cruz, making for a pretty significant immediate overpay. It’s never really fun to analyze contract terms, but that’s the natural starting point, as Cruz has landed the contract he’s wanted for more than a year.

Fifty-seven million dollars, four years. For the time being, let’s ignore the draft pick. (The Mariners are giving up the No. 19 draft pick.) What sort of overpay does that look like? We can’t, of course, know exactly how the future is going to play out, but we can make some assumptions to try to get in the ballpark. Let’s say an average win costs something like $6.5 million. Increase 5% a year. Steamer projects Cruz to be worth 1.5 wins. Decrease by half a win a year, because Cruz is 34 and five more months. Following those inputs, a four-year contract would be expected to be worth about $20 million.

How about ZiPS, instead of Steamer? ZiPS is a little more optimistic, at least in terms of overall WAR. Going through the same math, a four-year contract would be expected to be worth about $29 million.

What if we start at 2.5 WAR, instead of 2? That gets us up to $48 million. And if we change the cost of a win to $7 million flat, that gets us up to $52 million. If we start all the way up at 3 WAR, that gets us to $67 million, which is the rough equivalent of Cruz’s actual contract when you then factor in the cost of giving up the draft pick. You could say, then, that the Mariners are paying Cruz as if he’s an above-average player today. It’s not an unreasonable belief, given that Cruz just led baseball in dingers, but it’s a belief others clearly don’t share. Cruz, most simply, has one skill. He’s coming off by far his best season since 2010, and he’ll turn 35 before the next All-Star break. By generous estimates, the Mariners are paying Cruz fairly. By another objective estimate, the Mariners are paying Cruz twice as much as they should.

If you consider all the estimates and put them together, the Mariners are paying too much for this, by some millions of dollars. Even the Mariners, probably, would say the same thing, but they’d argue they needed a right-handed hitter, and there aren’t many good ones available. The Mariners tried to sign Victor Martinez before he stayed with Detroit. That contract is thought to be an overpay, with Martinez getting $68 million. But then, Martinez is projected for a 139 wRC+; Cruz, 119. Billy Butler is also projected for 119, and he signed a smaller contract. Yasmany Tomas signed for similar money, despite being a decade younger.

There were alternatives. There are always alternatives, and there are always alternatives who aren’t, say, Justin Upton or Evan Gattis or Matt Kemp, who would cost real, actual young talent. The Mariners don’t want to trade Taijuan Walker and that’s fine, but if all they needed was to get more right-handed, there are ways to do that, lower-tier ways to do that, that wouldn’t come at a long-term cost. If they figure they have trouble convincing free-agent righties to come to Seattle, then you look at trades for role players. I can’t speak to specifics without more inside information, but the general point here is it was never Nelson Cruz or bust. Or, it never should’ve been. Focusing on one player is precisely what causes teams to overpay.

All that, though — that’s worrying about millions of dollars down the road. And while the Mariners are technically giving away a prospect in making this move, it’s easier to stomach prospect disposal before they have names and statistics. Cruz should at least be worth the money he’s getting paid in 2015. So we should talk about what he brings to the Mariners.

Word is, he’s mostly going to DH. Before Cruz signed on, I had to fill the Mariners’ DH slot in the depth charts with Stefen Romero and Jesus Montero. There was no real internal option. Not for a team that’s supposed to be good. Cruz represents a massive upgrade over what the Mariners already had, and he represents an even more massive upgrade over what the Mariners used last season. You’ll see here the Mariners are projected as the best team in their division. It’s one projection, based off one set of depth charts and one projection system, but you can understand why the Mariners are prioritizing the immediate. Right now, they’re in that delicate win-curve position, where every improvement is worth more than your average given improvement. The Mariners just missed the playoffs by a game; they don’t want to repeat.

While Cruz is a single-skill player, it’s a good skill that he possesses. Over the last three years, he ranks in the top 10% in slugging percentage on contact, at .655. Last season, he finished at .680, and the season before, he finished at .687. There’s a belief that Cruz just spiked in Baltimore. In terms of value, it’s true, but he didn’t exactly do more damage when he hit the ball. Compared to 2013, Cruz’s power was the same. His BABIP was the same. His batted balls were the same. His walks were the same. What Cruz did was strike out less. We’re talking one fewer strikeout ever 30 plate appearances or so, but that was one more opportunity for Cruz to hit the ball fair, and that’s where he excels.

Between the last two years, 237 different players batted at least 250 times in both. Cruz saw the 29th-biggest improvement in strikeout rate, or if you prefer, in 2011, Cruz struck out 25% more often than the league average. The next year, 13%, and the next year, 21%. Last year, 5%. Cruz performed better because he hit the ball more often. It’s a simple explanation.

It’s also a tricky thing to bet on, because Cruz also significantly trimmed his strikeouts in 2010. Then they came right back, and his wRC+ dropped 31 points. So, it’s good that Cruz just struck out less often, but he’s done that before, and it reversed itself, so the safest assumption is that Cruz will look like his longer-term self. He wasn’t pitched any differently, indicating there wasn’t a change in Cruz’s scouting report. Once you adjust for ballpark, Cruz faced basically the same pitching patterns, and he simply did a little more damage.

How does this age? Let’s do something really simple. I examined the last 40 years, looking for players worth 3+ WAR, with an ISO of .200+. Here are the number of players meeting the criteria, by age:

31: 103 players
32: 72
33: 52
34: 41
35: 33
36: 21
37: 14
Cruz just finished his age-33 season. Above, you see that there were a quarter as many good 37-year-olds as good 33-year-olds, by the specific filters. And the steroid era changes this a little bit, since those players lasted unnaturally too long, so it should be clear the Mariners aren’t signing Cruz with 2017 and 2018 in mind. As powerful as he is today, things slow down. A little bit of slow-down makes a lot of difference.

It’s all about the next season or two, and the Mariners will just live with some dead money toward the back end. It’s possible they’ll be paying Cruz $15 million or so in 2018 to do nothing, and that’ll be at least, say, 10% of the payroll, but when you’re trying to win right away, it’s easier to tolerate losing money over players, and this is evidence of going for it. The Mariners see an opportunity, and while they’re surely smart enough to see the Cruz downside, they also understand that playoff revenue can cure a lot of budgetary ills. Forgive them, for it’s been a while.

One last thing: there’s a certain belief that Cruz is fragile. He’s been fragile in the past, but in 2012 and in 2014, he played in 159 games. In 2013, he was on pace for a full season until getting slapped with a suspension. The Mariners can be encouraged that Cruz might bat another 650 times in the season ahead. Especially if he spends most of his time at DH.

And the season ahead is the season we understand best. In the seasons beyond that, Cruz is probably going to be bad for the payroll. What I want is a word somewhere in between “probably” and “certainly”. This is an almost definite overpay. But to determine the extent, you need to figure out all the right conditions, including how much the Mariners ought to prioritize the immediate future over the more distant future. There were alternatives to this, but this also didn’t cost a young major-leaguer. It’s the young major-leaguers the Mariners need to be careful with, because their low salaries help to offset salaries guaranteed to players like Nelson Cruz.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Late this past season, Padres righty Andrew Cashner came back from a shoulder injury with a new twist on his repertoire -- again. This time, he featured a few more high fastballs and big curves than he had in the past. You'd think those two pitches are often linked across baseball, but the numbers aren't as clear.

The last time Cashner came back from injury, he focused on throwing more two-seamers to get quicker outs, altered his changeup grip, and changed his grip on his breaking pitch. These changes were made with his health in mind, but they also served to make him a more complete pitcher.

This year, when he came back from shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for two months, Cashner again came back with a wrinkle. "I started throwing the four-seamer more in order to establish the high strike," Cashner said before a game against the Giants in late September. Of course, the pitcher knows best about his approach, but it's worth noticing that he threw an average of only three more four-seam fastballs per game when he returned compared to the same timeframe before his injury. And that his heat maps before and after his injury aren't conclusive on the subject of high four-seamers.

He pointed out that he threw more curveballs when he came back, too. He'd thrown nine in his first 12 starts before he got hurt. He threw 18 curves in the seven starts that came after his stint on the DL. This September was the month in which Cashner showed the best whiff rate on his curveball in his career.

The second part of the plan was paired with the first, he admitted. That high fastball is "on the same plane" as the curveball. That makes all sorts of intuitive sense, considering the idea of a 94-mph high fastball coming in the same general area as a big, dropping slow curve. It's the kind of thing that seems to work for other pitchers.

September 15th against the Phillies, Cashner threw a good number of high four-seamers and low curves (though you can see he missed a few spots). Looks like the plan in action:

In Jon Roegele's great work on pitch sequencing, he found that that pitches that look the same at first but don't end up in the same place at the plate have good outcomes. And that the four-seamer is the pitch most often connected to the curve when it comes to these "in-band" pitches.

What's also interesting about these pitch tunnels is how relative they are. Average four-seam fastball height at the plate doesn't really have a statistical relationship with the shape, frequency or success of your curveball usage at least.

Four-seam fastball height is not at all correlated significantly with curveball vertical movement, usage rates, swinging strikes, called strikes or groundball rates within a decent sample of 113 regular curveball users. It doesn't get any better in the bigger sample of 250 who threw 50 or more yakkers last season, or even if you add more years of data.

Curveball users don't generally throw more high fastballs than the rest of the population, even if last season the curveball set had a slightly higher average fastball height than the league average (by .43 of an inch, in a world where pitchers might be missing their spots by more than a foot on average). You're not more likely to use your high fastball more if you use your curveball more.

So "high fastball" is maybe a term that's relative to each hitter and each pitcher and each umpire. And maybe there's just too much of a difference between curves and even high fastballs at 21 feet away. After all, curveballs have the lowest swing rate in baseball -- batters often see them coming and decline to offer.

Or maybe these things are constantly being adjusted on a small scale by each pitcher -- an extra curve per game over six weeks, Cashner might say -- and so it's just a little hard to be all that prescriptive about pitching.

Torii Hunter Returns to Minnesota.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
2015 is likely going to be the final year of Torii Hunter‘s Major League career, and as a free agent, he had a choice to make; he could join a contender to try and make one final run at a World Series title, or he could go back to Minnesota and finish his career where it started. According to Ken Rosenthal, he chose the latter.

Source: Torii Hunter signing with #Twins.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 3, 2014

Source: Hunter deal with #Twins is one year, $10.5M.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 3, 2014

Hunter’s deal is basically an exact match for the crowdsourced expectation, so kudos to you guys for nailing this one on the nose. As something like a +1 WAR outfielder, Hunter isn’t exactly a great use of funds for a Twins team that won’t be contending, but this is the kind of deal where measuring payroll efficiency misses the point the most.

The Twins very likely know that signing Hunter isn’t going to push the team into the postseason, and they probably know that there are better ways to spend $10 million this winter too. But Hunter is probably still a $7 or $8 million player, and so they’re paying a slight premium for the chance to let him have a victory lap in the town where he turned into a big leaguer. It’s a gesture of good will, and the kind of attraction that can add some enjoyment for the fans in a season that will probably be another stinker.

Hunter has had a very nice career, and now should get a chance to retire in the uniform he wore when he broke into the big leagues. He clearly placed a very high value on that opportunity, and while this move probably doesn’t push the Twins rebuild forward, it’s the kind of move that can create goodwill between the organization and their players and fans. And measuring that is probably out of our reach.

Hunter wanted to retire a Twin and the Twins gave him the chance to do so. It’s the part of baseball that we don’t specialize in, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Good for the Twins and good for Torii Hunter.

2015 ZiPS Projections – Tampa Bay Rays.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Tampa Bay Rays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Ben Zobrist remains the very quietest superstar, probably, in baseball. Since 2009 — which is to say, over the last six years — only Miguel Cabrera (37.9) has produced a higher WAR than Zobrist (35.4). Just behind him: Robinson Cano (34.6), Evan Longoria (34.0), and Andrew McCutchen (33.9). Were he compensated according to this his actual value, Ben Zobrist wouldn’t be a Tampa Bay Ray. ZiPS calls for the Zobrist’s lowest WAR since 2008, but that’s unsurprising considering where he is on the age curve.

The club’s other underpaid — but probably more famous — star, Evan Longoria, had a difficult 2014 season by his standards, producing a batting line just above league average and a 3.4 WAR overall in a full complement of plate appearances. His WAR projection in this iteration of ZiPS is a win-and-a-half lower than last year’s.

Per ZiPS’ computer math, the Rays feature a strong triumvirate at the top of their rotation in Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Drew Smyly, the last of whom was acquired this previous season in the deal that sent David Price to Detroit. Should Smyly produce the three wins for which ZiPS calls at the league minimum, that would be a marginal value of something like $17 million. Important, that sort of thing, for a club with as little fiscal might as the Rays have.

Just after left-hander and relief ace Jake McGee, one finds Brad Boxberger, who’s emerged from anonymity with a relatively pedestrian fastball — for a reliever, at least — to become one of the league’s most dominant relief pitchers. In 2014, Boxberger recorded the third-highest strikeout rate (42.1%) among all pitchers with 50-plus innings — just ahead of the much harder throwing Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, and Craig Kimbrel.

Two of Tampa Bay’s six most productive players according to ZiPS — outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and infielder Nick Franklin — actually don’t appear on the depth chart below. That’s not to say that they won’t record a significant number of plate appearances between them. What it is to say is that the Rays have customarily employed a number of platoons and other manner of timesharing situations and that attempting to account for their usage patterns in a traditional depth chart is difficult. It doesn’t alter the fact that Kiermaier and Franklin are useful pieces, of course. Elsewhere, one finds that ZiPS’ projection of infielder Ryan Brett (1.4 WAR in 457 PA) is encouraging. Brett spent all of 2014 at Double-A Montgomery.

Depth Chart
Below is a rough depth chart for the present incarnation of the Rays, with rounded projected WAR totals for each player. For caveats regarding WAR values see disclaimer at bottom of post. Click to embiggen image.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site and author’s own haphazard reasoning.

Batters, Counting Stats
Player B Age PO PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
Ben Zobrist B 34 2B 633 81 143 32 3 14 59 11 5
Evan Longoria R 29 3B 609 76 137 27 2 23 80 3 1
Desmond Jennings R 28 CF 591 81 127 27 4 13 45 20 6
Kevin Kiermaier L 25 CF 497 53 115 18 9 9 41 15 7
Wil Myers R 24 RF 546 65 125 25 1 19 59 9 2
Nick Franklin B 24 2B 565 64 118 23 3 11 53 10 3
Ryan Hanigan R 34 C 286 20 58 9 0 4 27 0 0
Matt Joyce L 30 LF 473 56 98 21 2 14 52 5 4
Ryan Brett B 23 2B 457 50 109 18 4 7 36 20 7
Yunel Escobar R 32 SS 552 48 126 21 1 8 42 3 2
Justin O’Conner R 23 C 444 41 89 19 1 10 39 2 0
Curt Casali R 26 C 360 38 67 15 0 5 27 1 0
David DeJesus L 35 LF 391 44 81 18 3 7 29 4 4
James Loney L 31 1B 584 52 148 26 0 9 60 3 1
Brandon Guyer R 29 LF 336 43 77 15 3 4 28 9 2
Cole Figueroa L 28 3B 458 49 104 16 3 3 36 5 2
Logan Forsythe R 28 2B 357 41 71 12 2 7 30 6 1
Mikie Mahtook R 25 CF 568 57 124 24 5 7 47 16 5
Hak-Ju Lee L 24 SS 343 34 68 8 2 4 22 14 6
Tim Beckham R 25 2B 346 38 76 12 2 4 25 7 3
Jose Molina R 40 C 251 11 46 6 0 1 12 2 1
Andrew Toles L 23 CF 420 41 100 17 3 2 28 30 16
Richie Shaffer R 24 3B 443 43 81 19 2 10 39 3 0
Jake Hager R 22 SS 534 45 112 19 3 2 32 6 6
Justin Christian R 35 LF 449 49 96 19 3 5 30 14 4
Allan Dykstra L 28 1B 423 48 69 13 1 11 41 1 0
Mike Fontenot L 35 2B 359 31 75 14 1 2 23 3 1
Ali Solis R 27 C 253 20 47 9 1 3 18 1 1
Jerry Sands R 27 RF 393 42 71 13 1 11 39 1 1
Vince Belnome L 27 1B 460 51 91 19 1 7 38 1 1
Ray Olmedo B 34 3B 383 33 75 10 2 0 20 6 3
Jeremy Moore L 28 LF 369 38 67 11 3 10 34 6 4
Wilson Betemit B 33 1B 317 30 59 11 0 7 25 1 0

Batters, Rates and Averages
Ben Zobrist 633 11.4% 15.0% .145 .289 .260 .345 .405 .330
Evan Longoria 609 9.5% 20.0% .186 .285 .255 .330 .441 .330
Desmond Jennings 591 9.1% 20.8% .142 .294 .243 .320 .385 .314
Kevin Kiermaier 497 6.0% 20.7% .139 .308 .253 .305 .392 .305
Wil Myers 546 9.0% 26.6% .172 .320 .255 .322 .427 .328
Nick Franklin 565 9.0% 23.7% .123 .295 .234 .305 .357 .294
Ryan Hanigan 286 11.2% 13.3% .085 .262 .236 .331 .321 .286
Matt Joyce 473 11.8% 21.8% .164 .284 .241 .334 .405 .324
Ryan Brett 457 3.9% 19.5% .110 .304 .253 .289 .363 .289
Yunel Escobar 552 7.8% 12.0% .094 .277 .254 .316 .348 .294
Justin O’Conner 444 3.6% 31.8% .121 .289 .211 .245 .332 .257
Curt Casali 360 8.9% 24.2% .094 .272 .210 .293 .304 .273
David DeJesus 391 9.5% 18.4% .131 .277 .235 .321 .366 .305
James Loney 584 6.5% 12.5% .098 .302 .275 .322 .373 .304
Brandon Guyer 336 5.4% 17.9% .109 .305 .255 .317 .364 .305
Cole Figueroa 458 7.4% 9.2% .076 .272 .252 .309 .328 .284
Logan Forsythe 357 8.7% 23.0% .117 .277 .224 .301 .341 .289
Mikie Mahtook 568 5.6% 25.7% .105 .312 .237 .289 .342 .282
Hak-Ju Lee 343 7.6% 25.7% .077 .290 .217 .279 .294 .261
Tim Beckham 346 5.8% 23.7% .088 .308 .240 .287 .328 .273
Jose Molina 251 6.0% 22.7% .039 .260 .201 .254 .240 .225
Andrew Toles 420 2.9% 23.1% .073 .323 .250 .278 .323 .266
Richie Shaffer 443 6.8% 31.8% .131 .276 .200 .260 .331 .264
Jake Hager 534 4.7% 23.0% .062 .292 .225 .263 .287 .242
Justin Christian 449 5.1% 15.1% .096 .264 .231 .278 .327 .272
Allan Dykstra 423 13.5% 35.7% .135 .293 .193 .312 .328 .294
Mike Fontenot 359 6.1% 20.6% .067 .286 .228 .281 .295 .258
Ali Solis 253 2.4% 33.2% .083 .282 .194 .219 .277 .219
Jerry Sands 393 9.2% 31.0% .136 .270 .202 .277 .338 .277
Vince Belnome 460 11.1% 27.6% .103 .307 .225 .311 .328 .289
Ray Olmedo 383 5.2% 19.3% .040 .268 .212 .256 .252 .227
Jeremy Moore 369 4.9% 35.5% .135 .275 .194 .236 .329 .250
Wilson Betemit 317 7.3% 33.1% .111 .286 .203 .259 .314 .255

Batters, Assorted Other
Player PA RC/27 OPS+ Def zWAR No.1 Comp
Ben Zobrist 633 5.1 113 4 3.8 Ray Durham
Evan Longoria 609 5.3 117 3 3.7 Ken McMullen
Desmond Jennings 591 4.6 100 0 2.5 Eric Byrnes
Kevin Kiermaier 497 4.4 97 6 2.3 Steve Finley
Wil Myers 546 5.1 111 -2 1.6 Ron Swoboda
Nick Franklin 565 3.9 88 2 1.6 Glenn Hubbard
Ryan Hanigan 286 3.8 87 3 1.4 Gene Desautels
Matt Joyce 473 4.7 109 0 1.4 Josh Willingham
Ryan Brett 457 3.9 84 5 1.4 Tony Abreu
Yunel Escobar 552 4.0 89 -6 1.2 Chico Carrasquel
Justin O’Conner 444 2.8 62 6 1.1 Joe Ayrault
Curt Casali 360 3.1 70 0 0.8 Matt Treanor
David DeJesus 391 4.0 95 2 0.7 Bud Stewart
James Loney 584 4.5 97 2 0.6 Sean Casey
Brandon Guyer 336 4.4 93 0 0.6 Alex Ochoa
Cole Figueroa 458 3.7 81 -2 0.5 Alex Cora
Logan Forsythe 357 3.7 82 -3 0.3 Dave Edler
Mikie Mahtook 568 3.6 79 -4 0.3 Xavier Paul
Hak-Ju Lee 343 2.9 63 1 0.2 Edwin Rodriguez
Tim Beckham 346 3.4 74 0 0.2 Vance Law
Jose Molina 251 2.1 42 4 0.1 Tony Pena
Andrew Toles 420 3.2 70 1 0.0 Leo Garcia
Richie Shaffer 443 3.0 67 -1 -0.2 Greg Jelks
Jake Hager 534 2.5 56 3 -0.3 Yamaico Navarro
Justin Christian 449 3.3 71 3 -0.3 Gerald Williams
Allan Dykstra 423 3.5 82 -2 -0.4 Josh Whitesell
Mike Fontenot 359 2.9 64 -1 -0.4 Ron Oester
Ali Solis 253 2.0 40 1 -0.4 Pascual Matos
Jerry Sands 393 3.1 74 0 -0.5 Paul Torres
Vince Belnome 460 3.5 82 -1 -0.5 Todd Self
Ray Olmedo 383 2.2 45 -1 -1.3 Willy Miranda
Jeremy Moore 369 2.6 59 -1 -1.3 Jason Ross
Wilson Betemit 317 2.8 62 -4 -1.7 Alan Cockrell

Pitchers, Counting Stats
Player T Age G GS IP SO BB HR H R ER
Alex Cobb R 27 29 29 171.7 152 54 13 153 65 61
Chris Archer R 26 31 30 170.0 150 65 14 154 71 66
Drew Smyly L 26 27 26 145.7 139 40 16 125 57 53
Matt Moore L 26 23 23 126.3 117 64 14 113 60 56
Jake McGee L 28 71 0 63.7 81 17 5 47 18 17
Brad Boxberger R 27 65 0 74.7 103 32 8 53 25 23
Jake Odorizzi R 25 28 27 147.3 130 59 18 140 74 69
Nate Karns R 27 26 24 133.0 125 59 18 124 67 63
Matt Andriese R 25 26 24 138.3 93 44 16 142 72 67
Alex Colome R 26 20 19 101.7 69 50 8 100 51 48
Merrill Kelly R 26 28 16 111.0 79 46 11 112 58 54
Erik Bedard L 36 20 18 97.7 85 44 12 96 51 48
Grant Balfour R 37 60 0 56.7 58 28 5 46 24 22
Jeff Beliveau L 28 55 0 56.3 60 28 5 48 24 22
Grayson Garvin L 25 18 18 61.7 41 22 6 64 32 30
Jose Dominguez R 24 38 0 41.0 46 22 3 34 17 16
Kirby Yates R 28 54 0 59.3 63 33 6 51 27 25
Bryce Stowell R 28 35 0 43.0 43 20 4 38 19 18
Enny Romero L 24 25 25 123.7 93 62 16 126 71 66
Ernesto Frieri R 29 61 0 58.3 75 25 9 48 27 25
Steve Geltz R 27 44 0 55.0 56 28 7 49 27 25
Brandon Gomes R 30 50 0 59.0 52 21 8 56 30 28
Mike Montgomery L 25 24 23 119.7 71 55 15 126 71 66
Josh Lueke R 30 54 0 69.3 54 23 8 71 35 33
Michael Kohn R 29 61 0 55.0 54 37 7 48 29 27
C.J. Riefenhauser L 25 51 0 64.3 48 30 7 64 34 32
Jake Thompson R 25 49 0 61.3 40 27 6 63 33 31
Blake Snell L 22 24 24 101.0 82 75 13 100 63 59
Doug Mathis R 32 23 11 81.3 47 48 11 89 52 49

Pitchers, Rates and Averages
Alex Cobb 171.7 722 21.0% 7.5% .283 3.20 3.25 86 87
Chris Archer 170.0 729 20.6% 8.9% .285 3.49 3.56 93 95
Drew Smyly 145.7 602 23.1% 6.6% .269 3.27 3.31 88 89
Matt Moore 126.3 556 21.0% 11.5% .277 3.99 4.13 107 111
Jake McGee 63.7 255 31.8% 6.7% .278 2.40 2.15 64 58
Brad Boxberger 74.7 309 33.3% 10.4% .278 2.77 3.01 74 81
Jake Odorizzi 147.3 641 20.3% 9.2% .286 4.21 4.14 113 111
Nate Karns 133.0 582 21.5% 10.1% .285 4.26 4.36 114 117
Matt Andriese 138.3 601 15.5% 7.3% .286 4.36 4.24 117 113
Alex Colome 101.7 455 15.2% 11.0% .286 4.25 4.29 114 115
Merrill Kelly 111.0 491 16.1% 9.4% .290 4.38 4.27 117 114
Erik Bedard 97.7 433 19.6% 10.2% .291 4.42 4.27 118 114
Grant Balfour 56.7 244 23.8% 11.5% .270 3.49 3.50 93 94
Jeff Beliveau 56.3 245 24.5% 11.4% .291 3.51 3.64 94 98
Grayson Garvin 61.7 271 15.1% 8.1% .293 4.38 4.12 117 110
Jose Dominguez 41.0 179 25.7% 12.3% .295 3.51 3.51 94 94
Kirby Yates 59.3 262 24.1% 12.6% .289 3.79 3.93 102 105
Bryce Stowell 43.0 187 23.0% 10.7% .288 3.77 3.64 101 98
Enny Romero 123.7 559 16.6% 11.1% .289 4.80 4.82 129 129
Ernesto Frieri 58.3 248 30.3% 10.1% .287 3.86 3.74 103 100
Steve Geltz 55.0 242 23.1% 11.6% .286 4.09 4.33 110 116
Brandon Gomes 59.0 254 20.5% 8.3% .282 4.27 4.04 114 108
Mike Montgomery 119.7 540 13.1% 10.2% .283 4.96 4.97 133 133
Josh Lueke 69.3 302 17.9% 7.6% .296 4.28 4.04 115 108
Michael Kohn 55.0 250 21.6% 14.8% .277 4.42 4.79 118 128
C.J. Riefenhauser 64.3 287 16.7% 10.5% .288 4.48 4.43 120 119
Jake Thompson 61.3 274 14.6% 9.9% .289 4.55 4.41 122 118
Blake Snell 101.0 478 17.2% 15.7% .288 5.26 5.43 141 145
Doug Mathis 81.3 381 12.3% 12.6% .289 5.42 5.45 145 146

Pitchers, Assorted Other
Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA+ zWAR No. 1 Comp
Alex Cobb 171.7 7.97 2.83 0.68 119 3.7 Bob Walk
Chris Archer 170.0 7.94 3.44 0.74 108 3.0 Jason Jennings
Drew Smyly 145.7 8.59 2.47 0.99 116 3.0 Ted Lilly
Matt Moore 126.3 8.34 4.56 1.00 95 1.4 Tim Birtsas
Jake McGee 63.7 11.44 2.40 0.71 158 1.3 Rob Murphy
Brad Boxberger 74.7 12.41 3.86 0.96 137 1.2 Brad Lidge
Jake Odorizzi 147.3 7.94 3.60 1.10 90 1.2 Blake Stein
Nate Karns 133.0 8.46 3.99 1.22 89 1.0 Eric Hetzel
Matt Andriese 138.3 6.05 2.86 1.04 87 0.8 Greg Field
Alex Colome 101.7 6.11 4.42 0.71 89 0.8 Mike Torrez
Merrill Kelly 111.0 6.41 3.73 0.89 87 0.5 Sean White
Erik Bedard 97.7 7.83 4.05 1.11 86 0.5 Mark Langston
Grant Balfour 56.7 9.21 4.44 0.79 108 0.4 Ryne Duren
Jeff Beliveau 56.3 9.59 4.48 0.80 108 0.4 Armando Almanza
Grayson Garvin 61.7 5.98 3.21 0.88 87 0.4 Danny Borrell
Jose Dominguez 41.0 10.10 4.83 0.66 108 0.3 Santiago Casilla
Kirby Yates 59.3 9.56 5.01 0.91 100 0.2 Calvin Jones
Bryce Stowell 43.0 9.00 4.19 0.84 101 0.1 Franklyn German
Enny Romero 123.7 6.77 4.51 1.16 79 0.1 Mike Matthews
Ernesto Frieri 58.3 11.58 3.86 1.39 98 0.1 Mike Armstrong
Steve Geltz 55.0 9.16 4.58 1.15 93 0.0 Brian Mallette
Brandon Gomes 59.0 7.93 3.20 1.22 89 -0.2 Tom Niedenfuer
Mike Montgomery 119.7 5.34 4.14 1.13 76 -0.2 Chad Zerbe
Josh Lueke 69.3 7.01 2.99 1.04 88 -0.2 Rob Marquez
Michael Kohn 55.0 8.84 6.05 1.15 86 -0.3 Archie Corbin
C.J. Riefenhauser 64.3 6.72 4.20 0.98 85 -0.4 Anthony Rawson
Jake Thompson 61.3 5.87 3.96 0.88 83 -0.4 Joe Davenport
Blake Snell 101.0 7.31 6.68 1.16 72 -0.5 Nate Cromwell
Doug Mathis 81.3 5.20 5.31 1.22 70 -0.7 Ken Ray

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2014. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams unless Dan has made a mistake. This is very possible as a lot of minor-league signings are generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS is projecting based on the AL having a 3.93 ERA and the NL having a 3.75 ERA.

Players that are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information and a computer isn’t what should be projecting the injury status of, for example, a pitcher with Tommy John surgery.

Regarding ERA+ vs. ERA- (and FIP+ vs. FIP-) and the differences therein: as Patriot notes here, they are not simply mirror images of each other. Writes Patriot: “ERA+ does not tell you that a pitcher’s ERA was X% less or more than the league’s ERA. It tells you that the league’s ERA was X% less or more than the pitcher’s ERA.”

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, Szymborski will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on depth chart to produce projected team WAR.

The Thing About Josh Donaldson’s Defense.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As you by now are well aware, Josh Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in a blockbuster deal that sent Brett Lawrie back to Oakland. The Blue Jays gave up Lawrie and a few prospects to immediately get better, because Josh Donaldson is a guy that immediately makes any team better. Over the last two years, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen have a higher WAR than Donaldson, and Donaldson’s been three wins better than the next-best third baseman. Donaldson can hit, he runs pretty well for a third baseman, and he’s good with the glove. Add those up and you’ve got a hell of a player.

But there’s something to that last point — that he’s good with the glove — that’s been on my mind for awhile. It’s something I was going to write about when the Gold Glove winners were announced, but then Donaldson didn’t win, so I saved it for another day. Now that Donaldson is back in the news, today is that day.

Donaldson, by almost all accounts, appears to be elite with the glove. Since the beginning of 2012, only Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado and Juan Uribe have more Defensive Runs Saved at third base. Only Machado, Arenado and Chase Headley have a higher UZR. Only Machado, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria have scored higher on the Fans Scouting Report. It’s not a stretch to call Donaldson a top-three defensive third baseman, by the numbers we have. It’s safe to call him top-five.

The reason Donaldson grades so well in the field is his range. He can do this:

And he can do this:

Despite the range, despite the numbers, and despite his main competition in Machado missing most of the season, Donaldson didn’t win a Gold Glove in 2014. When the MLB Network crew were discussing potential Gold Glove winners on September 10, Harold Reynolds said he “would throw up if Josh Donaldson won a Gold Glove.” The reasoning behind these two items are the same: errors.

Donaldson committed 23 errors in 2014, topped by only Ian Desmond and Pedro Alvarez. Errors aren’t something we typically think about because we have far better methods to evaluate defense in this day and age. But 23 is a lot and it’s hard to ignore. And what’s more is how Donaldson racked up these errors.

In 2002, errors began being separated into two buckets: fielding errors and throwing errors. Fielding errors are what many of people take issue with. They’re subjective and they’re circumstantial. Guys with great range are sometimes penalized for almost getting to balls that others wouldn’t get to, while guys with poor range sometimes avoid errors by getting nowhere near potentially playable balls. Throwing errors feel like they hold more weight. They’re less subjective, and arm accuracy is an undeniable skill.

In 2014, Donaldson was right in the middle of the pack with six fielding errors. That leaves 17 of his 23 errors to be of the throwing variety. Only two other third baseman had more than eight. Dating back to 2002, Donaldson’s 17 throwing errors are the third-most in a single season by any player.

With Donaldson, you saw throws like this:

Some like this:

And some like this:

This isn’t an issue that’s new to Donaldson, either. He had 10 throwing errors in a full season’s work in 2013. He had six in just half a season’s work the year prior. It was an issue his first couple years, and this year it was elevated to a full-blown problem. Committing 17 throwing errors in one season is a ton, and it’s a cause for concern. In order to get a sense of what that level of concern is, let’s revisit our leaderboard of single-season throwing errors since 2001. For the guys who had seasons as egregious as Donaldon’s: was there a previous issue? Did it continue? What was their future at third base?

We’ll start with Mark Reynolds, who had 18 in 2008. He was bad as a rookie in 2007, committing eight in just 100 games, but things got really bad the next year. It never got that bad again, but he also never got over his throwing issues. He committed 27 more throwing errors in his next three seasons and was eventually moved off third base, becoming primarily a first baseman.
Next we’ve got Chad Tracy. He committed 16 in his rookie year, which led the Diamondbacks to move him off third base. He played primarily first base the next season and even got some time in the outfield before returning to the hot corner for his third season. He committed 13 more throwing errors that year and was primarily a first baseman after that.
Edwin Encarnacion appears on the list twice, as he committed 16 throwing errors in both 2006 and 2008. His double-inclusion in the top six is evidence enough that he never got over his throwing issues, as are his 11 throwing errors in limited action in 2010 that got him moved off the hot corner permanently.
Pedro Alvarez is the most extreme case. He committed 16 in 2012, his first full season at third base, followed by 12 the next year and the unbelievable 24 from this most recent season that got him moved off third and onto first base.
Ryan Braun is the other member of the 16-and-up club, a feat he committed in his rookie year. He was promptly moved to left field and hasn’t played the infield since then.
Ryan Zimmerman is another guy who finds himself in the top 10 more than once, and another guy who didn’t last at third. His throwing issues have lasted his entire career, beginning with a 15-throwing error season back in 2007. He’ll be primarily a first baseman this year and moving forward.
Donaldon’s company is concerning. History has shown that racking up 17 throwing errors in a season isn’t just a blip. It’s an identifiable problem. And every third baseman who has had throwing issues as prevalent as Donaldson’s hasn’t lasted much longer at the position.

To be fair, there is a key difference between Donaldson and those guys, and that’s that Donaldson is otherwise an excellent defender. Of the 10 third baseman who have committed more than 15 throwing errors in a single season since 2002, Donaldson is one of just three to have a positive DRS or UZR, and he’s head and shoulders above the rest. Donaldson’s range alone will allow him to remain a plus defender, so long as his throwing problems don’t reach Pedro Alvarez heights. At the same time, his throwing problems aren’t something we can just ignore, and they seem like something that might not be accurately captured by advanced metrics. I think Zimmerman is perhaps Donaldson’s best comp, as Zimmerman had pretty good range in his prime years. But Donaldson is already pushing 30, and if age or injuries impact his range like they did Zimmerman, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that he could face a similar fate and be moved off the hot corner before too long.

But here’s the thing about Josh Donaldson: even without the defense, he’s still a great player. Even without the defense, he’s probably still the best third baseman in the league. Even if you strip away all of the defensive value that advanced metrics have given him the past two seasons, making him just a league average defender, he’s still tied with Beltre atop the WAR leaderboard at third base. Josh Donaldson doesn’t need his defense to be an great player. He’d have been a +5 WAR player the last two years without it. But the defense is what puts him in an elite class above his peers, and the defense comes with a blemish.

2015 ZiPS Projections – Atlanta Braves.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Atlanta Braves. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Although it hasn’t been published here yet, one assumes that Jason Heyward‘s projection (when it is available) will be one of the best among Atlanta’s collection of field players. Heyward, of course, won’t be playing for the club in 2015, having recently been traded to St. Louis in exchange for Shelby Miller et al. What that means, immediately, for the Atlantans is a more playing time for Evan Gattis in left field, at which position he made zero appearances in 2014 after starting there 47 times in 2013.

Expected to inherent Gattis’s catching role from 2014 is Christian Bethancourt, who enters just his age-23 season. Despite having recorded just a 54 wRC+ and -0.2 WAR over 117 plate appearances last year in what was effectively his debut (he appeared in a single game in 2013), Bethancourt is expected to produce enough offensively to render himself a league-average player.

Atlanta very possibly hasn’t finished purging its roster of outfielders with expiring contracts: Justin Upton has also been invoked as a potential trade candidate. Barring the unexpected, however, the club likely won’t be altering its starting rotation much. With regard to that rotation, it appears to offer a strong combination of youth and talent, featuring four pitchers of 27 or younger projected to record about a 3.0 WAR or better. As for the fifth spot, logic would appear to suggest that David Hale is the favorite to claim it; ZiPS suggests that Cody Martin is a better option.

With regard to Atlanta’s bullpen, one finds that Craig Kimbrel is projected to post a 48 FIP- — a figure which itself would have been the sixth best among the 330 pitchers to record at least 50 innings in 2014. Not included in the depth-chart image below, but of some interest nonetheless, is right-hander Shae Simmons, whose projected 78 ERA- is the lowest such figure after Kimbrel. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training after missing the last two months of 2014 with shoulder trouble.

The departure of Tommy La Stella via trade to the Chicago Cubs makes it even more likely that second-base prospect Jose Peraza will make his major-league debut before the end of the season. His projected 0.9 WAR in 538 plate appearances is the best figure among Atlanta’s rookie-eligible players who also aren’t Christian Bethancourt. In the meantime, Atlanta have a collection of low-profile options on the 40-man roster, of whom Elmer Reyes (0.6 WAR in 476 PA) is the best option according to ZiPS. Omitted from below due to having been signed so recently but also probably relevant to Atlanta’s second-base hole, Corban Joseph is projected to slash .241/.305/.373 (86 OPS+) and record a 0.3 WAR (with -4 defensive runs at second base) in 349 plate appearances.

Depth Chart
Below is a rough depth chart for the present incarnation of the Atlanta Braves, with rounded projected WAR totals for each player. For caveats regarding WAR values see disclaimer at bottom of post. Click to embiggen image.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site and author’s own haphazard reasoning.

Batters, Counting Stats
Player B Age PO PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS
Freddie Freeman L 25 1B 669 97 166 36 3 22 91 3 2
Andrelton Simmons R 25 SS 590 60 141 24 5 9 53 7 6
Justin Upton R 27 LF 646 94 148 30 3 26 85 12 5
Christian Bethancourt R 23 C 473 49 118 22 1 10 51 10 4
Evan Gattis R 28 C 411 46 94 20 1 19 55 1 1
B.J. Upton R 30 CF 553 67 109 22 4 17 47 20 7
Todd Cunningham B 26 CF 530 60 122 21 4 5 42 15 6
Jose Peraza R 21 2B 538 59 131 18 8 3 43 43 14
Emilio Bonifacio B 30 CF 449 53 106 16 4 3 26 28 8
Cedric Hunter L 27 LF 432 52 98 24 3 10 49 7 4
Chris Johnson R 30 3B 577 50 147 28 2 12 68 4 0
Daniel Castro R 22 SS 491 54 120 21 5 6 46 8 5
Elmer Reyes R 24 SS 476 47 106 25 4 6 43 4 3
Ernesto Mejia R 29 1B 549 62 122 24 1 25 68 4 2
Pedro Ciriaco R 29 2B 363 36 88 16 3 3 27 14 4
Tyler Pastornicky R 25 2B 359 39 86 12 3 3 27 8 4
Phil Gosselin R 26 2B 546 58 126 23 4 5 41 6 2
Kyle Wren L 24 CF 472 49 106 18 6 1 33 30 11
Gerald Laird R 35 C 151 14 31 7 0 1 11 0 0
Eli Whiteside R 35 C 232 21 42 10 1 4 19 1 0
Ramiro Pena B 29 2B 220 18 47 8 1 3 14 1 1
Donnie Murphy R 32 2B 304 34 59 13 1 10 35 2 2
Mycal Jones R 28 CF 459 45 88 20 1 4 32 16 8
Sean Kazmar R 30 3B 306 30 65 16 2 3 26 3 3
Kyle Kubitza L 24 3B 532 59 98 23 7 9 47 10 10
Ryan Doumit B 34 LF 335 31 74 16 1 9 40 1 0
Steven Lerud L 30 C 202 20 35 7 1 2 14 1 0
Joey Terdoslavich B 26 RF 553 62 125 26 2 13 56 3 3
Zoilo Almonte B 26 LF 480 52 106 18 2 14 55 8 3
Rich Poythress R 27 1B 383 42 85 17 1 8 37 2 1
Jose Constanza L 31 LF 466 49 110 8 3 1 27 18 9
Derrick Mitchell R 28 RF 289 31 56 12 1 7 27 7 4
Andy Simunic R 29 RF 237 23 49 5 0 1 13 5 2
Mark Hamilton L 30 1B 337 37 65 15 0 7 31 0 0
Brandon Boggs B 32 RF 398 39 73 16 3 6 32 3 3

Batters, Rates and Averages
Freddie Freeman 669 11.4% 20.6% .186 .339 .286 .374 .472 .367
Andrelton Simmons 590 5.8% 10.0% .112 .274 .258 .302 .370 .292
Justin Upton 646 10.4% 24.8% .202 .316 .261 .344 .463 .353
Christian Bethancourt 473 3.0% 19.9% .120 .309 .263 .287 .383 .295
Evan Gattis 411 5.4% 22.1% .208 .276 .247 .299 .455 .326
B.J. Upton 553 9.0% 28.8% .164 .286 .221 .293 .385 .299
Todd Cunningham 530 5.5% 16.6% .091 .298 .253 .305 .344 .287
Jose Peraza 538 3.5% 15.1% .085 .300 .259 .289 .344 .283
Emilio Bonifacio 449 6.7% 19.6% .080 .321 .258 .309 .338 .291
Cedric Hunter 432 7.2% 15.0% .153 .274 .250 .309 .403 .311
Chris Johnson 577 4.5% 23.7% .125 .339 .270 .306 .395 .307
Daniel Castro 491 2.9% 12.8% .106 .288 .259 .281 .365 .278
Elmer Reyes 476 2.5% 23.7% .113 .300 .237 .267 .350 .270
Ernesto Mejia 549 6.2% 34.4% .200 .329 .241 .295 .441 .323
Pedro Ciriaco 363 2.5% 16.5% .090 .298 .254 .276 .344 .273
Tyler Pastornicky 359 5.8% 15.6% .081 .304 .261 .305 .342 .286
Phil Gosselin 546 4.2% 19.2% .091 .302 .248 .286 .339 .274
Kyle Wren 472 5.3% 18.2% .076 .299 .244 .286 .320 .271
Gerald Laird 151 7.9% 16.6% .073 .270 .228 .293 .301 .264
Eli Whiteside 232 5.2% 26.7% .112 .252 .195 .246 .307 .246
Ramiro Pena 220 6.8% 19.5% .095 .284 .235 .290 .330 .271
Donnie Murphy 304 6.3% 27.6% .163 .266 .215 .277 .378 .287
Mycal Jones 459 6.3% 23.5% .082 .275 .212 .272 .294 .254
Sean Kazmar 306 4.6% 15.7% .102 .263 .229 .267 .331 .261
Kyle Kubitza 532 9.8% 35.7% .136 .324 .208 .292 .344 .279
Ryan Doumit 335 6.9% 20.3% .147 .279 .241 .296 .388 .299
Steven Lerud 202 8.9% 31.2% .084 .292 .197 .285 .281 .257
Joey Terdoslavich 553 6.9% 24.4% .135 .307 .245 .298 .380 .298
Zoilo Almonte 480 5.4% 23.8% .143 .284 .236 .279 .379 .291
Rich Poythress 383 7.3% 18.0% .123 .279 .241 .300 .364 .296
Jose Constanza 466 5.4% 14.4% .039 .298 .255 .296 .294 .262
Derrick Mitchell 289 7.3% 26.3% .133 .269 .214 .274 .347 .274
Andy Simunic 237 6.3% 22.8% .037 .293 .226 .277 .263 .246
Mark Hamilton 337 9.8% 29.7% .121 .297 .217 .297 .338 .285
Brandon Boggs 398 8.0% 30.2% .112 .286 .204 .275 .316 .263

Batters, Assorted Other
Player PA RC/27 OPS+ Def zWAR No.1 Comp
Freddie Freeman 669 6.7 131 -1 3.5 Kent Hrbek
Andrelton Simmons 590 4.0 84 18 3.4 Jack Wilson
Justin Upton 646 5.9 120 -1 2.9 Derrek Lee
Christian Bethancourt 473 4.1 82 3 2.0 Jorge Pedre
Evan Gattis 411 4.9 104 -6 1.9 Hector Villanueva
B.J. Upton 553 4.0 85 -2 1.0 Ruben Rivera
Todd Cunningham 530 3.9 78 2 1.0 Skip Schumaker
Jose Peraza 538 3.9 73 3 0.9 Tony Abreu
Emilio Bonifacio 449 4.1 78 0 0.8 Tony Scott
Cedric Hunter 432 4.5 94 1 0.7 Dan Masteller
Chris Johnson 577 4.6 91 -9 0.7 Bobby Knoop
Daniel Castro 491 3.7 76 -1 0.6 Gary DiSarcina
Elmer Reyes 476 3.3 68 3 0.6 Angel Salazar
Ernesto Mejia 549 4.6 99 -2 0.4 Chris Cron
Pedro Ciriaco 363 3.6 69 2 0.2 Casey Smith
Tyler Pastornicky 359 3.8 78 -2 0.2 Ronny Cedeno
Phil Gosselin 546 3.5 71 1 0.2 Juan Melo
Kyle Wren 472 3.5 67 0 0.0 Javon Moran
Gerald Laird 151 3.1 64 -2 0.0 Rick Cerone
Eli Whiteside 232 2.6 51 1 0.0 Frank Charles
Ramiro Pena 220 3.3 70 0 0.0 Keith Kessinger
Donnie Murphy 304 3.5 78 -4 -0.1 Dave Matranga
Mycal Jones 459 2.7 56 5 -0.1 Juan Piniella
Sean Kazmar 306 3.0 64 1 -0.2 Stu Cole
Kyle Kubitza 532 3.2 74 -4 -0.2 Dallas McPherson
Ryan Doumit 335 4.1 86 -4 -0.3 Mark Smith
Steven Lerud 202 2.8 57 -4 -0.3 Jayhawk Owens
Joey Terdoslavich 553 4.0 85 -4 -0.4 Guillermo Velasquez
Zoilo Almonte 480 3.8 79 -3 -0.5 Matthew Cepicky
Rich Poythress 383 3.9 82 -2 -0.6 Jim Deschaine
Jose Constanza 466 3.2 63 5 -0.7 Jason Tyner
Derrick Mitchell 289 3.2 70 -2 -0.7 Dave Elliott
Andy Simunic 237 2.6 50 0 -0.9 Keith Smith
Mark Hamilton 337 3.5 74 -5 -1.1 Todd Mensik
Brandon Boggs 398 2.9 62 -2 -1.2 Kevin Koslofski

Pitchers, Counting Stats
Player T Age G GS IP SO BB HR H R ER
Julio Teheran R 24 32 32 204.0 181 48 21 183 78 73
Alex Wood L 24 40 25 165.3 154 50 13 148 63 59
Shelby Miller R 24 30 30 172.0 157 63 21 151 73 68
Mike Minor L 27 30 30 178.3 153 51 23 160 78 73
Kris Medlen R 29 23 22 142.3 109 34 14 142 60 56
Ervin Santana R 32 28 28 175.7 145 54 20 167 81 76
Craig Kimbrel R 27 66 0 63.3 101 22 4 37 12 11
Aaron Harang R 37 25 25 149.7 108 54 15 152 74 69
Cody Martin R 25 26 22 130.0 119 57 15 124 64 60
Gavin Floyd R 32 15 15 86.7 71 28 10 84 41 38
Aaron Northcraft R 25 25 25 133.0 103 59 12 133 67 63
Williams Perez R 24 25 24 123.3 83 42 13 127 63 59
Shae Simmons R 24 52 0 50.0 57 23 3 39 17 16
J.R. Graham R 25 25 20 88.3 55 30 7 92 44 41
Chasen Shreve L 24 58 0 70.0 73 25 6 61 28 26
Jason Hursh R 23 22 21 104.0 58 35 10 111 55 51
Gus Schlosser R 26 31 20 122.3 81 50 11 126 64 60
David D. Carpenter R 29 61 0 66.7 67 21 6 60 27 25
Brandon Beachy R 28 11 11 58.0 45 25 7 54 29 27
Yean Carlos Gil L 24 22 18 97.3 62 34 9 103 51 48
Anthony Varvaro R 30 60 0 59.3 47 18 5 55 25 23
James Russell L 29 70 0 57.0 45 19 5 52 25 23
David Bromberg R 27 15 9 53.0 47 25 6 51 28 26
Juan Jaime R 27 49 0 49.7 65 40 4 38 22 21
Chien-Ming Wang R 35 22 21 124.0 52 40 11 142 71 66
Brandon Cunniff R 26 35 0 52.7 51 27 5 47 25 23
Lucas Sims R 21 27 23 130.7 93 63 16 133 75 70
Ian Thomas L 28 32 6 54.0 54 26 8 51 29 27
David Hale R 27 33 15 102.7 61 50 11 109 58 54
Arodys Vizcaino R 24 39 4 53.0 45 25 6 52 28 26
Luis Avilan L 25 74 0 61.3 41 30 5 59 30 28
Donnie Veal L 30 53 0 56.7 49 32 5 53 28 26
Mauricio Cabrera R 21 24 13 69.3 50 52 6 69 41 38
Kanekoa Texeira R 29 19 6 52.3 30 27 6 55 31 29
Zach Stewart R 28 25 18 116.7 62 37 16 133 71 66
Ryan Buchter L 28 49 0 56.3 63 48 6 48 31 29
Jorge Reyes R 27 48 0 73.0 66 39 9 69 40 37
Jake Brigham R 27 24 18 107.7 74 52 16 115 66 62
Tyrell Jenkins R 22 14 14 67.3 38 32 10 75 44 41
Pedro Beato R 28 45 0 53.3 43 26 8 54 31 29
Mitch Atkins R 29 23 19 111.3 75 41 19 123 70 65
Greg Smith L 31 25 22 131.3 66 38 20 151 82 77
Sugar Ray Marimon R 26 24 22 116.3 68 53 21 131 79 74

Pitchers, Rates and Averages
Julio Teheran 204.0 843 21.5% 5.7% .276 3.22 3.37 87 91
Alex Wood 165.3 694 22.2% 7.2% .287 3.21 3.21 86 86
Shelby Miller 172.0 730 21.5% 8.6% .267 3.56 3.93 96 106
Mike Minor 178.3 746 20.5% 6.8% .266 3.68 3.85 99 104
Kris Medlen 142.3 603 18.1% 5.6% .289 3.54 3.58 95 96
Ervin Santana 175.7 748 19.4% 7.2% .280 3.89 3.84 105 103
Craig Kimbrel 63.3 249 40.6% 8.8% .275 1.56 1.77 42 48
Aaron Harang 149.7 655 16.5% 8.2% .288 4.15 3.97 112 107
Cody Martin 130.0 571 20.8% 10.0% .292 4.15 4.20 112 113
Gavin Floyd 86.7 372 19.1% 7.5% .287 3.95 4.02 106 108
Aaron Northcraft 133.0 591 17.4% 10.0% .296 4.26 4.19 115 113
Williams Perez 123.3 539 15.4% 7.8% .289 4.31 4.27 116 115
Shae Simmons 50.0 212 26.9% 10.8% .283 2.88 2.99 78 81
J.R. Graham 88.3 387 14.2% 7.8% .293 4.18 4.03 113 108
Chasen Shreve 70.0 296 24.7% 8.4% .291 3.34 3.20 90 86
Jason Hursh 104.0 458 12.7% 7.6% .289 4.41 4.37 119 118
Gus Schlosser 122.3 543 14.9% 9.2% .293 4.41 4.30 119 116
David D. Carpenter 66.7 281 23.8% 7.5% .293 3.37 3.25 91 87
Brandon Beachy 58.0 253 17.8% 9.9% .269 4.19 4.41 113 119
Yean Carlos Gil 97.3 429 14.5% 7.9% .296 4.44 4.21 120 114
Anthony Varvaro 59.3 251 18.7% 7.2% .276 3.49 3.37 94 91
James Russell 57.0 242 18.6% 7.9% .273 3.63 3.40 98 92
David Bromberg 53.0 235 20.0% 10.6% .292 4.42 4.34 119 117
Juan Jaime 49.7 227 28.6% 17.6% .295 3.81 4.02 103 108
Chien-Ming Wang 124.0 554 9.4% 7.2% .295 4.79 4.48 129 121
Brandon Cunniff 52.7 232 22.0% 11.6% .287 3.93 3.89 106 105
Lucas Sims 130.7 588 15.8% 10.7% .287 4.82 4.85 130 131
Ian Thomas 54.0 239 22.6% 10.9% .291 4.50 4.53 121 122
David Hale 102.7 467 13.1% 10.7% .289 4.73 4.75 127 128
Arodys Vizcaino 53.0 236 19.1% 10.6% .293 4.42 4.35 119 117
Luis Avilan 61.3 273 15.0% 11.0% .280 4.11 4.19 111 113
Donnie Veal 56.7 255 19.2% 12.5% .289 4.13 4.22 111 114
Mauricio Cabrera 69.3 329 15.2% 15.8% .292 4.93 5.20 133 140
Kanekoa Texeira 52.3 239 12.6% 11.3% .283 4.99 5.06 134 136
Zach Stewart 116.7 520 11.9% 7.1% .293 5.09 4.88 137 131
Ryan Buchter 56.3 265 23.8% 18.1% .292 4.63 4.86 125 131
Jorge Reyes 73.0 327 20.2% 11.9% .287 4.56 4.49 123 121
Jake Brigham 107.7 490 15.1% 10.6% .289 5.18 5.20 140 140
Tyrell Jenkins 67.3 309 12.3% 10.4% .289 5.48 5.46 148 147
Pedro Beato 53.3 240 17.9% 10.8% .288 4.89 4.97 132 134
Mitch Atkins 111.3 498 15.1% 8.2% .292 5.25 5.22 141 141
Greg Smith 131.3 583 11.3% 6.5% .291 5.28 5.06 142 136
Sugar Ray Marimon 116.3 533 12.8% 9.9% .287 5.72 5.78 154 156

Pitchers, Assorted Other
Player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA+ zWAR No. 1 Comp
Julio Teheran 204.0 7.99 2.12 0.93 118 4.3 Kyle Lohse
Alex Wood 165.3 8.38 2.72 0.71 118 3.4 Dave LaPoint
Shelby Miller 172.0 8.22 3.30 1.10 107 2.9 Jimmy Haynes
Mike Minor 178.3 7.72 2.57 1.16 103 2.7 Lance Painter
Kris Medlen 142.3 6.89 2.15 0.89 107 2.4 Mike Morgan
Ervin Santana 175.7 7.43 2.77 1.02 98 2.2 Ron Darling
Craig Kimbrel 63.3 14.36 3.13 0.57 243 2.0 Scott Williamson
Aaron Harang 149.7 6.49 3.25 0.90 92 1.4 Rick Sutcliffe
Cody Martin 130.0 8.24 3.95 1.04 92 1.1 Bill Melvin
Gavin Floyd 86.7 7.37 2.91 1.04 96 1.0 Scott Kamieniecki
Aaron Northcraft 133.0 6.97 3.99 0.81 89 1.0 Jeff Fulchino
Williams Perez 123.3 6.06 3.07 0.95 88 0.9 Jake Joseph
Shae Simmons 50.0 10.26 4.14 0.54 132 0.8 Ryan Bukvich
J.R. Graham 88.3 5.61 3.06 0.71 91 0.7 Joe Coleman
Chasen Shreve 70.0 9.39 3.21 0.77 114 0.6 Felix Heredia
Jason Hursh 104.0 5.02 3.03 0.87 86 0.6 Preston Larrison
Gus Schlosser 122.3 5.96 3.68 0.81 86 0.6 Tim Byron
David D. Carpenter 66.7 9.04 2.83 0.81 113 0.6 Brian Falkenborg
Brandon Beachy 58.0 6.98 3.88 1.09 91 0.5 Bryan Kelly
Yean Carlos Gil 97.3 5.73 3.14 0.83 86 0.5 Ryan Spille
Anthony Varvaro 59.3 7.13 2.73 0.76 109 0.4 Todd Erdos
James Russell 57.0 7.11 3.00 0.79 105 0.3 Javier Lopez
David Bromberg 53.0 7.98 4.25 1.02 86 0.2 Jamie Brewington
Juan Jaime 49.7 11.77 7.24 0.72 100 0.1 Dwayne Henry
Chien-Ming Wang 124.0 3.77 2.90 0.80 79 0.1 Aaron Sele
Brandon Cunniff 52.7 8.71 4.61 0.85 97 0.1 Bob Gibson
Lucas Sims 130.7 6.40 4.34 1.10 79 0.0 Ryan Glynn
Ian Thomas 54.0 9.00 4.33 1.33 84 0.0 Billy Brewer
David Hale 102.7 5.35 4.38 0.96 80 0.0 Jose Segura
Arodys Vizcaino 53.0 7.64 4.25 1.02 86 0.0 Brandon Puffer
Luis Avilan 61.3 6.02 4.40 0.73 93 -0.1 Anthony Rawson
Donnie Veal 56.7 7.78 5.08 0.79 92 -0.1 Kevin Tolar
Mauricio Cabrera 69.3 6.49 6.75 0.78 77 -0.2 Blue Moon Odom
Kanekoa Texeira 52.3 5.16 4.65 1.03 76 -0.2 Jarod Juelsgaard
Zach Stewart 116.7 4.78 2.85 1.23 75 -0.4 Jim Magrane
Ryan Buchter 56.3 10.07 7.67 0.96 82 -0.4 Tim Fortugno
Jorge Reyes 73.0 8.14 4.81 1.11 83 -0.5 Adalberto Mendez
Jake Brigham 107.7 6.18 4.35 1.34 73 -0.5 Mike Heathcott
Tyrell Jenkins 67.3 5.08 4.28 1.34 69 -0.5 Chris Clemons
Pedro Beato 53.3 7.26 4.39 1.35 78 -0.6 Brad Tweedlie
Mitch Atkins 111.3 6.06 3.32 1.54 72 -0.6 Mike Heathcott
Greg Smith 131.3 4.52 2.60 1.37 72 -0.7 Andrew Lorraine
Sugar Ray Marimon 116.3 5.26 4.10 1.63 66 -1.3 Mike Romano

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2014. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams unless Dan has made a mistake. This is very possible as a lot of minor-league signings are generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS is projecting based on the AL having a 3.93 ERA and the NL having a 3.75 ERA.

Players that are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information and a computer isn’t what should be projecting the injury status of, for example, a pitcher with Tommy John surgery.

Regarding ERA+ vs. ERA- (and FIP+ vs. FIP-) and the differences therein: as Patriot notes here, they are not simply mirror images of each other. Writes Patriot: “ERA+ does not tell you that a pitcher’s ERA was X% less or more than the league’s ERA. It tells you that the league’s ERA was X% less or more than the pitcher’s ERA.”

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, Szymborski will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on depth chart to produce projected team WAR.

It Might Be Time For The Braves To Deal Craig Kimbrel.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As November turns into December, we have a pretty good idea of what most teams are attempting to do with their short-term futures. The Red Sox are going for it, obviously, and so are the Blue Jays. The White Sox seem like they’re trying to improve for 2015; the Phillies might finally be ready to accept that they need to start over. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees haven’t yet made much noise, but their intentions are clear. Other than whatever it is the A’s are trying to pull, where most teams are on the success cycle is more or less an open secret.

Other than the Braves, that is. The trade that sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins was largely unpopular in Atlanta, but it made a considerable amount of sense for both sides, because the Cardinals got one year of the best player involved and the Braves got 10 years of two pitchers with upside. For the long term, assuming they had decided that extending Heyward was just not going to happen, it’s a smart move. For the short term, it almost unquestionably made their 2015 team worse, and there’s been at least one recent media report that indicates that “it sounds as if the Braves will make moves aimed toward competing for titles in 2017 rather than the next two seasons.”

If so, that makes sense. There’s obvious appeal in having a winner ready for the new ballpark the club will move into in 2017, and this current Braves team, as constructed, isn’t likely to be particularly good. There’s constant rumors that Justin Upton could be traded, too, and Evan Gattis might follow him out the door as well — or worse, start every day in left field. There’s not currently a second baseman, or realistic hope for B.J. Upton, and the rotation is full of question marks. This was a bad offense last year, and without Heyward, now it looks worse.

With that reality, here’s the question: Why not trade Craig Kimbrel? Like, now?
Before we delve into Kimbrel, let’s qualify the “this team isn’t likely to be particularly good” statement. That’s not just an idea pulled out of thin air. It’s an acknowledgment that a franchise that has won exactly two playoff games in the nine seasons since their endless run atop the NL East came to a close in 2005 just lost more games than they have since 2008, and that their projected WAR position on our 2015 Depth Charts is pretty dire:

Perhaps you think Miller’s projection underrates him (certainly, his inconsistency plays a role here) or that Julio Teheran or Mike Minor are going to be better than Steamer thinks. That’s fine. There’s certainly room to quibble around the small edges of a WAR projection. But the point is that there’s no amount of squinting that’s going to move the Braves from the far right end of this chart to the left end, unless the team somehow manages to fill replacement-level holes at second base (Phil Gosselin), third base (Chris Johnson), left field (Gattis), center field (B.J. Upton), and at the bottom of the rotation. If they trade Justin Upton, add another problem area to the list, dependent of course on what they get back.

It’s not impossible that the Braves pull it all together for a surprise run in 2015, but the facts of the situation and their own move to weaken the offense make it seem unlikely. This isn’t a full-scale teardown either, not with Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons around and Miller joining a relatively young rotation. But it is a situation where you have to ask yourself which scenario is preferable, in regards to Kimbrel:

1) Keep him for a potentially down season or two where a closer — even an elite one — is more a luxury than a necessity and pray that he’s still a valuable piece in 2017, his eighth season, when he’ll be owed $13.25 million, and the relaunch is hopefully ready;

2) Trade him now, add a boost to a limited farm system to aid that relaunch, and pass off the risk on someone else.

And there is risk, of course. This isn’t a piece about how Kimbrel has some warning sign of impending doom or that his velocity is about to implode or anything like that. If you wanted to try really, really hard to do that, you could note that his K%-BB% has dropped from 44.2 to 30.2 to 28.3 over the last three years, but that’s just the difference between “unfathomably, unspeakably great” and “really, truly outstanding.” He’s one of the two best closers in the game along with Aroldis Chapman. It’s not my intention to convince you that he isn’t.

It is, however, worth noting that in order for what the Braves appear to be attempting to work, to build around their closer and hope that he’s still fantastic and worth a high salary three seasons from now and eight seasons in, we’re not just talking about Kimbrel’s place among his contemporaries. The bet would then have to be that Kimbrel isn’t just something special, but that he’s historic in a way that few others have ever been.

In the last 30 years of baseball, or roughly the era where the modern bullpen has been in use, there have been 176 qualified closer seasons (defined as “10 saves,” and while I despise saves as much as you do, it’s an easy way to define Kimbrel’s closer brethren) worth at least 2 WAR. Four of those belong to Kimbrel. Other than the incomparable Mariano Rivera, no one has topped six:

10 Mariano Rivera
6 Billy Wagner
6 Joe Nathan
5 Jonathan Papelbon
5 Trevor Hoffman
5 Robb Nen

But Rivera, Nathan and Hoffman all took a few years into their careers before they were handed the ninth inning, so let’s look at this another way. Kimbrel just completed his age-26 season, and the chart below shows the top 20 relievers (not closers, this time) by career WAR over the same 30-year span.

Relievers through age 26, 1985-2014
Francisco Rodriguez 2.35 2.84 12.5
Craig Kimbrel 1.43 1.52 11.4
Huston Street 3.00 2.97 9.2
Gregg Olson 2.26 2.61 8.9
Rob Dibble 1.90 1.78 8.9
Jonathan Broxton 3.11 2.62 8.8
Aroldis Chapman 2.32 1.97 8.6
Kenley Jansen 2.25 200 8.3
Joakim Soria 2.01 2.76 7.5
Dan Plesac 2.71 2.64 7.1
Byung-Hyun Kim 3.46 3.47 6.7
Mark Wohlers 3.28 2.84 6.6
Ugueth Urbina 2.94 2.93 6.2
Mark Eichhorn 2.37 3.14 6.0
Juan Rincon 3.23 3.06 5.9
Jonathan Papelbon 1.56 2.46 5.9
Duane Ward 3.63 3.17 5.8
John Wetteland 2.09 2.41 5.7
Armando Benitez 3.15 3.55 5.3
There’s a few success stories for post-26 careers here, notably Papelbon and Street, and some contemporaries in Jansen and Chapman who haven’t written their futures yet. Rodriguez never completely collapsed, but nor has he been anything like what he was as a young Angel, either. Dibble, Olson, Wohlers and Urbina were all basically done by 30. Overall, this isn’t a fantastically exciting group as far as young closers who have succeeded to become old closers.

Obviously, the experiences of others don’t guarantee anything about Kimbrel, and his peak has been higher than most of the other names listed here — and hey, maybe he really is the once-in-a-generation guy he’s looked like, the one who breaks all of the rules we’ve learned to live by. You can’t just cover your eyes and expect that his dominance is going to continue indefinitely. It very rarely works that way, and if it doesn’t, the Braves might find themselves wishing they had sold when his value was its highest. (As for what they could get, coming up with speculative trade ideas is often folly, but it’s fair to note that win-now contenders like the Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Blue Jays, etc., could all stand to benefit from an elite arm, even if they already have a closer.)

If the Braves were positioned to be a strong contender in 2015, this isn’t a conversation we’re even thinking about. If 2016 was the goal, this isn’t a thought either. But now we’re talking about 2017, three seasons out, and that’s a date that’s fueled more by a ballpark than by a particular group of players all being ready, like you might say with the 2016 Cubs. The question is less about finding reasons why the Braves should trade Kimbrel, and more about finding reasons why they shouldn’t. Otherwise, the plan seems to be cross your fingers and pray that this all works out in three years. That might be the biggest risk of all.
post #30213 of 73514
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

Imagine In 10 years? sick.gif

Another reason why MLB needs a salary cap

You would rather the owners have the money?
post #30214 of 73514
Originally Posted by frankbink5 View Post

Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

Imagine In 10 years? sick.gif

Another reason why MLB needs a salary cap

You would rather the owners have the money?
Id rather have cheaper tix
post #30215 of 73514
Thread Starter 
I doubt ticket prices would go down any.

As long as cable companies keep doubling down on live sports, these contracts are going nowhere.

But, to complain about the Stanton and Seager contracts baffle me. Those were two good contracts.
post #30216 of 73514
Why complain at all? I love that the MLB has no salary cap. Let these dudes get paid. pimp.gif
post #30217 of 73514

I don't see ticket prices going down but I can see more variable ticket prices. On opening day, when you're team is playing the Red Sox, Yankees, etc you pay more for tickets. You're playing the Astros, Twins, etc you can get tickets for cheaper. 


But after a while I think big contracts like the one Stanton, ARod, Cano, etc got are gonna go away. Owners aren't gonna keep getting burned by these contracts. They didn't become billionaires and millionaires by being stupid. After they get burned by a few 7-10 year contracts they won't give them out anymore. Wasn't that the reason the Yankees wouldn't give Cano 10 years? Cause they learned their lesson from ARod's contract.

post #30218 of 73514
No salary cap also gives big market teams a huge advantage
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post #30219 of 73514
Originally Posted by a55a5in11 View Post

No salary cap also gives big market teams a huge advantage

People say that, but it has been proven to not be true.
post #30220 of 73514
Originally Posted by Jewbacca2 View Post

Originally Posted by a55a5in11 View Post

No salary cap also gives big market teams a huge advantage

People say that, but it has been proven to not be true.

How is it not true? laugh.gif
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post #30221 of 73514
The Royals were 19th in payroll.

Just cause you spend money doesn't mean you're going to be good.

There are articles discussing this, but I'm not searching for them right now lol

But I guess I do agree it does give big market teams an advantage, but not a guarantee.
post #30222 of 73514
Thread Starter 
Unless the cable money goes away, I really don't see contracts going anywhere but up.
post #30223 of 73514

Source confirms trade: Saunders from #Mariners to #BlueJays for J.A. Happy. First reported: @jaysonst.

post #30224 of 73514
Originally Posted by Jewbacca2 View Post

Originally Posted by a55a5in11 View Post

No salary cap also gives big market teams a huge advantage

People say that, but it has been proven to not be true.

Yeah, it's just people complaining. Dodgers had stupid payrolls lately and haven't been close to the WS. Royals have a small *** payroll and were at the WS.

Small payroll teams get that luxury tax money too.
post #30225 of 73514
Giants win every two years with mediocre payrolls. I'm fine with no cap. Yankees haven't done **** since 09 despite having a ton of money on the books.
post #30226 of 73514

Markakis to the Braves for 4 years approx $44M. 

post #30227 of 73514
Braves aren't fireselling I guess.
post #30228 of 73514
That's a bargain deal compared to other crap lol
post #30229 of 73514
Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

Giants win every two years with mediocre payrolls. I'm fine with no cap. Yankees haven't done **** since 09 despite having a ton of money on the books.

Eh....our payroll is pretty high every year.  Always top ten.  The problem with our payroll is that a big chunk of our payroll goes to useless players that dont contribute.


Granted, this is partly injury related, but last year, we were paying:


$17M for Tim Lincecum

$20M for Matt Cain

$9M for Angel Pagan

$6M for Marco Scutaro


Thats $52M (well over 25% of our entire payroll) that were wrapped up in useless players. 

post #30230 of 73514

Am I the only one who thinks Markakis sucks?  :lol

post #30231 of 73514
Thread Starter 
^ You think? You're pretty much sending him from the best division for LHH to possibly the worst. The only saving grace is 9 games in Philly. I'm not a fan of giving that guy $11mm.
post #30232 of 73514
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Am I the only one who thinks Markakis sucks?  laugh.gif

I would rather re-sign Michael Morse
post #30233 of 73514
NM is basically an average major leaguer.
post #30234 of 73514
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

Giants win every two years with mediocre payrolls. I'm fine with no cap. Yankees haven't done **** since 09 despite having a ton of money on the books.
Eh....our payroll is pretty high every year.  Always top ten.  The problem with our payroll is that a big chunk of our payroll goes to useless players that dont contribute.

Granted, this is partly injury related, but last year, we were paying:

$17M for Tim Lincecum
$20M for Matt Cain
$9M for Angel Pagan
$6M for Marco Scutaro

Thats $52M (well over 25% of our entire payroll) that were wrapped up in useless players. 
Good point. Either way it's impressive what the Giants have done this past decade, piecing together a contender despite its high payroll guys not doing anything. I miss Timmy being dominant. Was one of my favorite pitchers to watch in his prime.
post #30235 of 73514
Well speaking of NM he agreed wirh ATL 4/44
post #30236 of 73514
Originally Posted by Jewbacca2 View Post

The Royals were 19th in payroll.

Just cause you spend money doesn't mean you're going to be good.

There are articles discussing this, but I'm not searching for them right now lol

But I guess I do agree it does give big market teams an advantage, but not a guarantee.

The Royals were a Cinderella story. Idk how u can say bigger pay teams don't have an advantage when they can spend more money on free agents
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post #30237 of 73514
Look at the Yankees since 09. Look at the Dodgers. It doesn't always work when you spend like crazy. Baseball is a wild sport.
post #30238 of 73514
Michael Saunders to the Jays.
Lakers | Blue Jays
Lakers | Blue Jays
post #30239 of 73514
Joel Sherman

It’s come to this for 2015: Yankees as Royals copycats
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Yankees are trying to navigate this difficult terrain: They want to position themselves to contend for a championship in 2015 without taking on onerous long-term contracts at a time when their roster is, at minimum, problematic.

This is why they are involved so deeply with Andrew Miller.

Let’s try an explanation:

The Royals showed last season that an indomitable late-game bullpen could be the key element in a team getting to the World Series. In conjunction with an elite defense, Kansas City used its powerhouse late-game trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera to cover up for blemishes, namely, a good but not championship rotation and a middle-of-the-road offense.

The strategy is to win a disproportionate amount of toss-up games due to the strength of the pen, hope that is enough to push toward 90 wins or more and — should you get into the playoffs — have a proven October formula for success by reducing games to six innings.

After spending $458 million on four long-term contracts last offseason and having a bunch of dead-weight deals on what should be a $220 million-plus payroll already, the Yankees are tentative about doing more mega-deals. Translation: No Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.

Nevertheless, the Yankees’ current roster construction leaves them without a clear area of strength. But if the Yankees were to purchase Miller and either retain David Robertson or sign another closer type to team with Dellin Betances, they could have a formidable back-end pen. Particularly if recently obtained Justin Wilson and last year’s top pick, Jacob Lindgren, can give the Yankees high-end lefty pen work.

The Yankees outperformed their run differential in each of the past two seasons, to some large degree because of how well manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild maneuvered relievers to their strengths. The Yankees’ 100-67 record in 2013-14 in games decided by two or fewer runs was by far the majors’ best.

A pen with Miller, Robertson and Betances would be better than what the club had the last two seasons.

It would support a rotation with tons of questions and then if, say, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova did not succumb to worrisome health concerns, the Yankees would have a strong rotation and pen. And/or if Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann perform better in Yankees Year 2, then the team’s lineup also would be stronger.

Obviously, there are a lot of ifs here and that usually bodes poorly. But, at the least, the pen almost certainly would be a strength with a chance for other areas to fall positively, providing a road map to contention.

Still, it will be difficult to build that pen. The Yankees tolerance for Miller or Robertson seems to be three years in the $30 million to $39 million range. Both players are striving for four-year pacts in the area of Jonathan Papelbon’s $52 million deal. The Yankees are currently saying they will not go to that level. So if the Astros, Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, Red Sox or any other organization interested in one or the other differentiates itself by going to four years that franchise likely will get the relievers. If not and the Yankees are willing to make a fourth-year option that triggers, then maybe they win.

Would they sign both relievers? Perhaps. But if they do, I wonder if that taps out their budget and they have to shut down multi-year pursuits of players such as Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley and rely on either one-year options or internal alternatives for rotation depth and either second or third base.

Perhaps, the Yankees would be willing to ink just Miller and have a lefty-righty dynamic duo with Betances that could get three-to-six outs from the sixth inning on a few times a week, and then sign a traditional closer who will cost considerably less than Robertson, such as Jason Grilli or Sergio Romo. I do think the Yankees would like to be more aggressive with their pen — not have hard-and-fast sixth-, seventh- and eighth-inning roles and, instead, attack winnable games with their best relievers as often and for as many outs that are reasonable without courting injury.

Could you make a case that even if Miller and Robertson cost a combined $80 million to $90 million on three- or four-year deals that they would impact at least as many games — if not more — than, say, Scherzer on a pact that would be double that or more and a riskier seven or eight years?

This is where, I believe, the Yankees thinking is now: Trying to enhance a long-shot title quest by following a Royals path without overly exposing themselves to long-term risk.

If the Yankees refuse to go after Scherzer or Lester.. This is by far the smartest move they could make.

So what if you have to pay 4 years at top dollar for Robertson & Miller. Dellin Betances, Adam Warren & Jacob Lindgren will be pre-arbitration and arbitration in that entire span. You wouldn't have to commit any more money to it. After 4 years, you then can go a different route. But if you're not going to try to get a top starter, you need to invest in the bullpen.

As many guys as Dellin K'd with nasty stuff, Robertson K'd just as many per 9. Lindgren is a strikeout machine.

There could be games Yankees could lead after 5, turn to the bullpen and it would be lights out.
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post #30240 of 73514
Originally Posted by JohnnyRedStorm View Post

Look at the Yankees since 09. Look at the Dodgers. It doesn't always work when you spend like crazy. Baseball is a wild sport.

Yeah if you spend like a tard it won't. But when your that one piece away from playoffs. It's a lot harder when your small market
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