2014 Top 10 Prospects: Cleveland Indians.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cleveland Indians have an intriguing system with some high-ceiling talent mixed in with some “safer” prospects. The system definitely boasts more depth on the hitting side than the pitching side. The front office has done a nice job of utilizing the draft, trade market and international free agency to build a solid farm system.
#1 Francisco Lindor | 65/AA (SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 464 122 22 2 49 46 25 .303 .380 .407 .366
The Year in Review: Just 20, Lindor spent time at both High-A and Double-A in 2013. A teenager at the time, he showed a strong approach at the plate and hit more than .300 with excellent contact rates (He walked more than he struck out) and 25 steals in 27 attempts. He also played eye-catching defense at shortstop.
The Scouting Report: In an era where Top 100 prospect lists are dominated by pitchers and shortstops, Lindor is one of the Top 5 middle infielders in the game. His strength is defense where he shines for his athleticism, range, arm, and hands. At the plate, he projects to develop into an above-average, if not plus, hitter capable of producing a high average because he uses the whole field and makes outstanding contact. He’s also a smart runner with good speed and can steal 20+ bases in a full season.
The Year Ahead: Lindor spent the majority of 2013 in High-A ball and appeared in just 21 games in Double-A. As a result, he’ll likely return to the level to begin the ’14 season but may not be there for long. He could see the Majors before the end of the year.
The Career Outlook: The slick-fielding shortstop has a chance to develop into a threat on both sides of the ball.
#2 Clint Frazier | 65/R (OF)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
18 196 51 11 5 17 61 3 .297 .362 .506 .396
The Year in Review: The fifth overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, Frazier had an outstanding pro debut in Rookie ball. He just missed hitting .300 and posted an OPS of .868. He showed good pop but struck out 61 times in 44 games. Frazier tired a bit late in the season after a long year.
The Scouting Report: Frazier has a chance to be a special player thanks to his bat. His above-average bat speed produces plus power and the ball jumps off his bat, but it remains to be seen how much contact he’ll make due to his aggressive approach. He also needs to improve his pitch recognition and handling of breaking balls. Defensively, he’s played center field but is expected to end up at an outfield corner unless he adds additional polish.
The Year Ahead: Frazier should move up to full-season ball in 2014 where he’ll look to continue to polish his rough edges — such as lowering his strikeout rate — to an already impressive package of skills.
The Career Outlook: The young player is brimming with talent and could develop into an impact player in the outfield with above-average power potential.
#3 Cody Anderson | 60/A+ (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
22 26 26 136.0 121 8 8.07 2.65 2.65 3.16
The Year in Review: A 14th round pick from 2011, Anderson spent his second season in A-ball last year and did an outstanding job of keeping runners off the bases. He allowed just 105 hits and 31 walks in 123.1 innings of work. He earned a late-season promotion to Double-A but uncharacteristically struggled with both his command and control.
The Scouting Report: A former reliever, Anderson has pretty much quieted any critics that opposed his future as a starter. The right-hander has above-average command and control, which helps his four-pitch repertoire play up. His fastball works in the low-to-mid 90s and his slider is his second-best offering. His curveball also has potential but his changeup is a distant third pitch.
The Year Ahead: Anderson will no doubt return to Double-A in 2014. He’ll look to produce consistent command at that level while also working down in the zone for improved ground-ball rates.
The Career Outlook: Anderson shows the potential to develop into a mid-rotation starter capable of chewing up innings.
#4 Trevor Bauer | 60/MLB (P)
Age IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP xFIP RA9-WAR WAR
22 17.0 5.82 8.47 35.3 % 5.29 7.05 6.60 -0.1 -0.3
The Year in Review: It was a disappointing year for Bauer — his first in the Indians system — and his prospect value diminish significantly. Considered nearly MLB ready coming into the year, he ended up making 22 starts in Triple-A and just four appearances in the Majors. Bauer’s command and control deserted him as he tinkered with his delivery and he walked 73 batters in 121.1 minor league innings.
The Scouting Report: Say what you will about his makeup/maturity but Bauer is a cerebral pitcher who sometimes over thinks things on the mound. He has solid stuff with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and an above-average changeup. He also mixes in the odd slider. Unfortunately, he struggles with his fastball command, which hinders the effectiveness of his secondary stuff. Bauer also needs to get back to inducing more ground ball outs by working down in the zone consistently.
The Year Ahead: Bauer has a shot at opening the season in the Indians’ starting rotation but he’ll have to come out strong with the likes of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco having a leg up on him.
The Career Outlook: Bauer’s career could go one of two ways at this point. He could either burn out as a perennially-disappointing hurler or he could stop tinkering and over-thinking things and let his natural ability guide him to success as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
#5 Jose Ramirez | 55/MLB (2B)
Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
20 14 14.3 % 14.3 % .333 .429 .500 .404 162 0.8 0.5 0.2
The Year in Review: Just 20 years old for most of 2013, Ramirez spent the entire year in the minors at the Double-A level and was a surprise addition to the big league roster late in the season. He also had a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League.
The Scouting Report: Ramirez is a pesky player. The switch-hitter is a high-energy athlete who squeezes out every ounce of talent. He rarely strikes out and makes excellent contact to all fields but he also rarely walks. He’ll never have more than fringe-average power for a second baseman but he also has above-average speed and should be capable of nabbing 20+ bases in the Majors.
The Year Ahead: Ramirez faces a tough task in unseating second base incumbent Jason Kipnis. As a result, he’ll likely spend most of 2014 in Triple-A unless an injury crops up or he settles in as a regularly-used back-up capable of playing both second base and shortstop.
The Career Outlook: Ramirez could develop into an average or better second baseman but he currently faces a significant roadblock in Cleveland. He could also end up as an above-average utility player.
#6 Tyler Naquin | 55/AA (OF)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
22 713 181 34 11 57 152 19 .281 .346 .407 .349
The Year in Review: Naquin opened 2013 in High-A ball and spent the majority of the year there. He posted a so-so .769 OPS in 108 games. It was enough to earn him a late promotion to Double-A where he struggled during his 18-game trial. He regained some momentum in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .339 with an .817 OPS.
The Scouting Report: Naquin continues to improve his defense in center field, which is key to his future development because he lacks the power for a corner outfield spot. He has good speed, solid range and a strong arm in the outfield. Offensively, he utilizes the whole field but strikes out too much for his modest power output and needs to improve his contact rate and pitch recognition. He has enough base running acumen to produce double-digit steal totals.
The Year Ahead: Naquin will return to Double-A in 2014 where he’ll look to post more impressive results. If he has a strong season he could see big league action by the end of the year given the lack of big league outfield depth.
The Career Outlook: With a lack of roadblocks in the Majors, Naquin is well positioned to eventually have a strong shot to settle in as a future regular for the Indians but he may never be more than an average offensive player.
#7 Tony Wolters | 55/A+ (SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
21 398 88 14 3 51 69 4 .263 .365 .332 .336
The Year in Review: Wolters’ conversion to catcher was a success in 2013 as he improved by leaps and bounds throughout the season. He didn’t produce much power (.353 slugging percentage) but he controlled the strike zone well with 41 walks and just 58 strikeouts. He also appeared in 14 games in the Arizona Fall League but struggled and may have been worn down after a long first full season behind the dish.
The Scouting Report: The move from middle infielder to catcher has reinvigorated Wolters’ career. He’s shown flashes of developing into an above-average backstop, although he still needs to add polish to his receiving, game calling and blocking. At the plate, he doesn’t possess much power, and likely never will, but he understands his strengths and weaknesses and makes good contact. Wolters could hit for a solid average as he continues to mature and gain consistency.
The Year Ahead: After two years in High-A ball, Wolters will move up to Double-A where he’ll need to continue to make adjustments to further his development path — both offensively and defensively.
The Career Outlook: Wolters has a chance to develop into a very good everyday catcher at the big league level and his left-handed stroke makes him all the more valuable.
#8 Francisco Mejia | 55/R (C)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
17 113 32 9 4 5 18 3 .305 .348 .524 .400
The Year in Review: Mejia, 18, had a strong debut season at the plate and hit more than .300 with good pop. He was a little too aggressive at the plate but kept the strikeouts to a minimum. He struggled on defense but is still young and learning the nuances of the position. Mejia was potent against southpaws from the right side of the plate with a 1.208 OPS (in a small sample size).
The Scouting Report: Tony Wolters has some competition for catcher-of-the-future in Cleveland. Mejia had a solid debut campaign in 2013 as a switch-hitting catcher in rookie ball. He hit more than .300 while showing the ability to make good contact with excellent pop. On the downside, he has an overly-aggressive approach that could get him into trouble as he moves up the ladder. Defensively, he’s like a young Carlos Santana in that he’s still very raw behind the plate and needs to focus on his receiving, blocking, game calling and throwing mechanics.
The Year Ahead: Spring training will likely determine whether Mejia opens the year in extended spring training or full-season ball. The key will be for him to continue improving behind the plate.
The Career Outlook: If he can play well enough to even be a fringe-average defender then Mejia could be a perennial all-star as a catcher. With that said, there are a lot of hurdles to clear with such little pro experience to date.
#9 Dorssys Paulino | 55/A- (SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
18 523 117 28 5 30 91 12 .246 .297 .349 .300
The Year in Review: Paulino struggled mightily in the first half of 2013 but began to turn things around in June — although even his second half numbers were far from eye-popping. Despite his struggles, he kept his strikeout rate at a reasonable level given his age and experience level.
The Scouting Report: Paulino, who just recently turned 19, has been pushed aggressively through the Indians system but showed the ability to make adjustments in 2013, which bodes well for his future development. He has good bat speed with solid gap pop but his aggressive nature hinders his ability to consistently hit for average. Defensively, he can handle shortstop with solid actions and an average arm, but he’ll likely be an above-average fielder at second base.
The Year Ahead: Unless he comes out completely flat in the spring, Paulino likely showed enough in 2013 to earn a bump up to High-A ball — although he may spend the entire season at that level.
The Career Outlook: Paulino is by no means a sure thing but he has the potential to develop into an average or better player in the middle infield.
#10 Ronny Rodriguez | 50/AA (2B/SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
21 498 124 25 5 16 76 12 .265 .291 .376 .301
The Year in Review: Playing as a 21 year old in Double-A, Rodriguez struggled with his aggressive approach (17 walks in 116 games) and posted a .667 OPS and a disappointing .291 on-base percentage. He later received some inconsistent playing time in the Dominican Winter League.
The Scouting Report: A raw but athletic infielder, Rodriguez plays all out in the field and at the plate, which leads to very low walk rates. He has average or better pop but needs to become more consistent in his approach if he’s going to hit for a solid average in the Majors. He’s been much more potent against left-handed pitchers than right-handers in his career. Rodriguez has played both shortstop and second base in the minors but moved to the keystone in deference to Lindor — but not because he couldn’t handle the challenging position.
The Year Ahead: Rodriguez could probably use a little more polish at the Double-A level but he’ll have to contend with Francisco Lindor for playing time at shortstop and Joe Wendle at second base. With a strong spring, though, he could end up in Triple-A.
The Career Outlook: Rodriguez’s future in the Indians system is looking murky at best due to the abundance of middle infield talent. His value isn’t that high right now, though, which could hinder his value on the trade market.
The Next Five:
11. Joe Wendle, 2B: Four of the club’s Top 15 prospects were acquired via the 2012 amateur draft and Wendle was the last of that group to be selected — in the sixth round. Signed for just $10,000 out of a small Division II school, the second baseman isn’t flashy but he has a solid approach on both sides of the ball. He makes above-average contact and actually showed surprising power in 2013 while spending time both in High-A ball and in the Arizona Fall League.
12. C.C. Lee, RHP: Taiwanese-born Lee rebounded well in 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing most of the 2012 season. The right-handed reliever made his MLB debut last year and has a good shot at spending much of the year in the big leagues in 2014. His fastball has good pop while sitting in the low 90s and his slider is a chase-pitch when he’s commanding it.
13. Mitch Brown, RHP: Brown’s first full season was a disappointment but not a huge surprise considering he comes from a cold weather state (Minnesota) and has limited pitching experienced compared to those from warmer states such as California, Arizona or Florida. When he’s on, the right-hander has a low-90s fastball and induces a high number of ground balls. He’ll likely give Low-A ball another shot in 2014 after posting an 11.49 ERA there during a five-start stint.
14. Dylan Baker, RHP: A starter in his first full season, Baker’s future likely lies in the bullpen due to the effort in his delivery, lack of reliable secondary offerings and so-so command. He walked 62 batters in 143.2 innings in Low-A ball last year but was extremely durable. When he’s going well, he shows a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a developing slider. He also does a nice job of inducing ground balls and allowed just three home runs in 2013.
15. Carlos Moncrief, OF: Moncrief began his pro career as a pitcher but his athleticism became too hard to ignore and he eventually shifted to an everyday player in the outfield. Understandably, he’s still raw but he’s moved methodically through the system and spent the 2013 season in Double-A where he showed an improved contact rate, good patience and developing power. His arm is a true weapon in the outfield.
What’s Really Available at First for the Pirates.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The other day, Buster Olney tweeted that some executives see regression in the Pirates’ immediate future. Projection systems seem to be in agreement, and Dave talked about this very thing as soon as the Pirates were eliminated from last year’s playoffs. Nobody thinks the Pirates are going to go back to being terrible — there’s way too much talent there — but people see them more as fringe contenders than NL Central favorites, and it’s not like they’ve had the most constructive offseason, with the biggest move to date being the loss of A.J. Burnett.
Of course, the offseason isn’t over. The Pirates might still be able to get Burnett re-signed, which would be a significant improvement. They’re another one of those teams in a high-leverage position on the win curve, so any kind of improvement should be pursued. And with that in mind, right now the situation at first base involves Gaby Sanchez and unknown others. You probably know that Gaby Sanchez is a real player, but he’s never done much to draw attention to himself, and he’s not a regular. It seems like the Pirates are ripe for a first-base upgrade. But then, what’s really available to them?
Someone asked me in a chat not long ago to identify a good first baseman the Pirates would be able to acquire. I didn’t have an answer, and it’s not because I was being deliberately unhelpful. Let’s run down the top projected first basemen for 2014, according to Steamer, and note why an acquisition would be unlikely or impossible:
Joey Votto — franchise player
Miguel Cabrera — franchise player
Paul Goldschmidt — franchise player
Albert Pujols — too expensive
Adrian Gonzalez — not going anywhere
Freddie Freeman — franchise player
Edwin Encarnacion — too good, on a potential contender himself
Prince Fielder — perceived franchise player
Anthony Rizzo — valued building block
Allen Craig — valued building block
Chris Davis — franchise player
Brandon Belt — developing franchise player
Nick Swisher — on a potential contender himself
Eric Hosmer — on a potential contender himself
Matt Adams — valued building block
Mark Teixeira — too expensive
Corey Hart — on a potential contender himself, just acquired
Mike Napoli — just re-signed, highly valued
Logan Morrison — on a potential contender himself, just acquired
Mark Trumbo — perceived franchise player
Adam Lind — starting DH on a potential contender
Everyone else is projected for 1.4 WAR or lower than that. Sanchez is one of the guys projected for 1.4 WAR. Not everyone above would be impossible to acquire, but they’d all be stretches. Maybe Morrison would be available, but his projection is also exceedingly optimistic. It’s pretty evident that if the Pirates want to get better at first base, they’re not in position to make a major splash. Anything they’d do would be a more minor transaction.
Now, Sanchez is a guy with a big career platoon split. Even after you regress it, he’s eminently playable against lefties. The Pirates, I’m sure, would love to have an everyday first baseman, but failing that, they could just platoon Sanchez with a left-handed bat. Andrew Lambo is in the system, working out at first base, and the Pirates recently added Chris McGuiness. But what are alternatives on the market?
There was recently a rumor that the Pirates are interested in Kendrys Morales. Morales is a proven good hitter, and he seems to have an almost non-existent market. In the past, he’s been a reasonable defender at first. But lately he’s also primarily been a DH, and he has that draft pick attached on account of the qualifying offer extended to him by Seattle. It’s hard to see the Pirates as an actual fit unless Morales’ price were to dip particularly low. Sanchez, in theory, would be able to give him days off, but Morales still seems like a better fit for a team like the Orioles.
The Pirates have sniffed around Mitch Moreland. Moreland is currently in line to bat quite often for a contending team in Texas, and he owns a career WAR of 2.1 over more than 1,500 plate appearances.
Morrison might be gettable, especially if the Mariners sign Nelson Cruz, but right now he’s in line to bat quite often, and he owns a career WAR of 1.0 over just about 1,500 plate appearances.
Justin Smoak might be gettable, especially if the Mariners sign Nelson Cruz, but right now he’s in line to bat quite often, and he owns a career WAR of -0.1 over almost 2,000 plate appearances.
The Mets have been dangling Ike Davis all offseason long. They weren’t able to find a match with the Brewers, because the Mets wanted more value than Milwaukee was willing to give up. Davis has been a below-average player since the start of 2011, and it’s meaningful that the Mets are so prepared to ship him off and give time to Lucas Duda.
Mike Carp isn’t in line for a lot of playing time in Boston, and rumors from a few months ago indicated that the Pirates expressed interest. Several teams, however, expressed interest, and the Red Sox reportedly wanted quite a bit in return. Carp is coming off a strong offensive season boosted by a .385 BABIP.
Somewhat interestingly, the Astros recently designated Brett Wallace for assignment. He’s 27 and he bats left-handed, and while he owns a negative career WAR, he’s also been slightly above-average against righties and especially so the last three years. Last season in Triple-A he posted a .952 OPS and he’s readily available at this very minute. He’s interesting, in large part because he wouldn’t cost talent in return.
But here’s the bigger point: there’s not a ton out there. There certainly aren’t many sure things, and while the Pirates could use this year’s version of last year’s Mike Carp, the Red Sox might want too much, and this year’s Carp isn’t likely to be as good as last year’s Carp. There’s no one worth giving up significant value for. And a guy the Pirates already have is more than a little interesting.
Andrew Lambo hasn’t played much first base, but he’s been working at it over the winter. The goal is for him to simply become passable, and then there’s real upside in his bat. We can skip over Lambo’s whole history. He’s 25 years old and left-handed. Last year he hit well in Double-A, then he posted the very highest isolated slugging percentage in Triple-A. His combined line was .282/.347/.574, and while his game basically comes down to power, he has a lot of it, and it can make up for a lot of deficiencies.
Yeah, he strikes out quite a bit. His contact rate in Triple-A was 0.8 standard deviations below the mean. But he’s not a free swinger — his swing rate in Triple-A was 0.6 standard deviations below the mean. He does have a sense of the strike zone, and when he hits the ball he hits the ball hard. The Pirates, in theory, would be able to protect Lambo from facing too many tough southpaws. If the Pirates are looking for a 2014 version of 2013 Mike Carp, they might already have it. When considering any acquisition, they have to wonder: is this new guy better than Andrew Lambo would be?
The Pirates don’t need to commit themselves to Sanchez and Lambo right away. Lambo doesn’t have to make the opening-day roster, so the team could put him in Triple-A to see if he can sustain his improvements, at the plate and in the field. But Lambo is sufficiently interesting and sufficiently talented that the Pirates shouldn’t need to give up much value for a part-time lefty bat. There’s only so much to be gained, and it isn’t hard to see how Lambo could hit for enough power to offset his various shortcomings. Maybe I’m too positive about a guy who hasn’t proven a thing outside of the high minors. But sometimes lower-budget teams have to take chances, and if the Pirates can’t find something for cheap, they seem to already be in position to go cheap.
A Hidden Problem with Bronson Arroyo.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Diamondbacks signed Bronson Arroyo to a two year, $23.5 million contract on Friday, and predictably, response from the statistical community wasn’t that positive, especially with Paul Maholm signing for just $1.5 million in guaranteed money with the Dodgers earlier in the afternoon. Jeff already wrote up the pros and cons of Bronson Arroyo’s deal this morning, which I’m essentially in agreement with, so feel free to read that if you’re just looking for a summary of the deal. However, there’s another aspect to Arroyo that I think is worth mentioning, especially considering that he’s changing divisions.
Arroyo has really large platoon splits; some of the largest in the game, in fact. Over the last three years, he’s held RHBs to a .290 wOBA, much better than the league average, but LHBs have put up a .374 wOBA against him, making him one of the worst regular starting pitchers in baseball against left-handed bats. Among right-handed pitchers who have faced least 1,500 total batters over the last three years, only Jason Marquis (.389 wOBA) has been worse against left-handed bats. Including LHPs (which brings in the disastrous Ricky Romero), Arroyo ranks 106th out of 108 starters in wOBA vs LHBs since the start of the 2011 season. It’s a pretty big flaw.
Now, it’s not that uncommon for a pitcher to strongly favor pitching to same-handed hitters, and he’s hardly the only starter with a big platoon split. Gavin Floyd and Justin Masterson actually have bigger ratios between their wOBAs against lefties and righties, and Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Lance Lynn aren’t far behind. These are all pretty solid pitchers — Scherzer obviously is more than just solid — and shows that a big platoon split doesn’t ruin a RHPs chance of sticking in the rotation. After all, you only have a big split as a Major Leaguer if you’re particularly good against same-handed hitters, so we’re selecting for pitchers who are strong against one side, giving them the ability to get some hitters out with a lot of frequency.
But this also leaves them vulnerable against teams who can stack the deck with lefties, and pitchers who run big splits tend to face a lower percentage of same-handed hitters than pitchers with a more even split. For reference, here are the five RHPs with the biggest platoon ratio over the last three years, with their batters faced totals included as well.
Player VsRHB VsLHB Total Platoon% RHBwOBA LHBwOBA Platoon Ratio
Gavin Floyd 722 910 1632 56% 0.274 0.356 1.30
Justin Masterson 1078 1539 2617 59% 0.259 0.335 1.29
Bronson Arroyo 1246 1267 2513 50% 0.290 0.374 1.29
Rick Porcello 1032 1271 2303 55% 0.291 0.369 1.27
Max Scherzer 1059 1397 2456 57% 0.264 0.334 1.27
Notice Arroyo’s Platoon%, relative to the other four? Masterson has faced nearly 60% lefties, and Floyd and the two Tigers are both over 55%. Arroyo, though, is at just 50%, as he’s faced an almost identical number of right-handed and left-handed bats since the start of the 2011 season.
A big part of that is that he’s the only National League starter in that group. An AL manager is never going to put a right-handed DH in the line-up against these guys if they can help it, so there’s basically an extra left-handed bat in the line-up against the AL platoon guys every single time out. It’s simply easier for AL managers to exploit platoon splits than it is for NL managers, which is one of the reasons why pitchers like Arroyo have more success in the NL than the AL.
But it’s not just the National League factor pushing Arroyo’s ratio of left-handed hitters down. It’s also the National League Central factor, and maybe even more specifically, a Cincinnati Reds factor. The Reds themselves had a decent amount of left-handed hitting last year, ranking 3rd in the NL in PAs from LHBs, but of course, Arroyo didn’t have to pitch against his own team, and the rest of the NL Central teams simply didn’t have much in the way of left-handed hitting.
The Cubs and Cardinals ranked 6th and 7th in the NL in PAs from LHBs, while the Pirates ranked 13th and the Brewers ranked 15th. The Brewers, in fact, were on an island to themselves in terms of right-handed slant, as every other NL team had at least 2,000 PAs from LHBs in 2013, while the Brewers had just 1,690. The Phillies and Giants sent nearly twice as many left-handed hitters to the plate last year as the Brewers did.
This wasn’t just a one year fluke, either. The non-Reds NL Central teams ranked 6th/9th/10th/11th/15th in LHB PAs in 2012, and 7th/9th/12th/13th/16th in 2011. For whatever reason, the NL Central has just not had many left-handed hitters over the last few years, with nearly every team skewing to the right side of the plate. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that other high Platoon Ratio/Low Platoon% pitchers happen to pitch for NL Central teams as well. Charlie Morton (PIT) has had a whopping 1.44 Platoon Ratio, but just 46% of his batters faced have been LHBs. Lance Lynn (STL) posted a 1.26 Platoon Ratio, but only faced 46% LHBs over the last three years. Shaun Marcum (MIL, mostly) put up a 1.24 Platoon Ratio, but faced just 49% LHBs from 2011-2013. Jeff Samardzija (CHC): 1.14 Platoon Ratio, 47% Platoon%.
Outside of NL Central hurlers, we just don’t really see examples of righties who struggle against lefties getting to face more righties than lefties. Especially in the AL, these pitchers end up facing 55-60% LHBs, and even in the NL West and East, the number is more regularly in the 52-53% range. And unfortunately for Bronson Arroyo, he doesn’t get to take the NL Central’s distribution of hitters with him to Arizona.
How big a deal is a few percentage points in platoon distribution? Well, let’s use Arroyo as an example. If you just take his three year wOBA against numbers (.290/.372), here’s what his total wOBA allowed would look like based on different platoon ratio distributions.
50/50 PA wOBA
RHB 425 0.290
LHB 425 0.374
Total 50% 0.332
—- —- —-
45/55 PA wOBA
RHB 380 0.290
LHB 470 0.374
Total 55% 0.336
—- —- —-
40/60 PA wOBA
RHB 340 0.290
LHB 510 0.374
Total 60% 0.340
You take the same pitcher with the same skills and move him from a 50/50 to a 40/60 distribution, and his wOBA allowed goes up eight points just from the additional number of left-handers he’d have to face. Eight points of wOBA might not seem like a big deal, but over 850 batters faced, that adds up to about an extra six runs allowed per year. Over 200 innings, that’s roughly equivalent to 20 points of ERA.
Now, Arroyo almost certainly won’t face 60% left-handed hitters in Arizona, since it’s still an NL team and he won’t have to face DH-filled line-ups too often, but this is one of those subtle things that suggests that Arroyo’s change of location might make him a little worse off than even the modest projections already suggest, and perhaps more importantly, this flaw significantly limits Arroyo’s usefulness in October. While there’s an argument to be made that regular season totals understate the importance of frontline pitchers and ace relievers in the playoffs — which is likely one one the reasons why teams pay premiums to acquire these types of players — starters with big platoon splits are less valuable in October than they are in the regular season.
If Arizona happens to make the postseason, any team facing them in the NLDS or NLCS will have the ability to stack its roster in such a way as to force Arroyo to face a bunch of left-handed bats, and if Arizona makes it to the World Series, starting him in an AL park is basically a no-go, because otherwise he’d be tasked with facing yet another left-handed bat in the form of the DH. In other words, the Diamondbacks paid Arroyo $23.5 million to help them make the playoffs in the next two years, but if they get there, he probably won’t be able to actually help them much in the postseason, given that his success is pretty dependent on facing line-ups filled with right-handed hitters.
This isn’t just a warning for the Diamondbacks. This is relevant for any team trading for Samardzija, Lynn, or any other right-handed pitcher in the NL Central. It’s not a huge factor and shouldn’t be the reason why you don’t complete a trade for a hurler from that division, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the RHPs in the NL Central are probably not quite as good as they look.
The Marlins and the Coming Giancarlo Stanton Reality.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Marlins lost 100 games last year, and there’s no way around it: that’s a terrible season. It’s the low point to date of a slide that started after an 87-75 2009, dropping to 82, 90, and 93 losses before hitting the century mark last year, and that’s embarrassing even if we’re just sticking to the on-the-field miscues, rather than also including the continued tragicomedy that is the ownership of Jeffrey Loria. Were it not for the teardown of the Houston Astros, the Marlins would be the worst team in baseball.
But even then, it was easy to argue that it wasn’t entirely a lost season. The atrocious optics of last winter’s massive deal with Toronto gave way to a quiet appreciation that the move actually made a good amount of baseball sense, and of course they saw Jose Fernandez go from “highly touted prospect” to “Rookie of the Year and arguable Cy Young winner in a world without Clayton Kershaw.” I tried to make the case at ESPN last summer that the considerable amount of young talent the organization was accumulating could have them poised to make one of their once-a-decade runs, and my pal Marc Normandin did much the same at Sports on Earth in September.
So if in October, you’d have heard that the Marlins were going to sign six major league free agents, add two more via trade, and almost entirely blow up their under-performing infield, you might have thought that Miami was working to reinforce their young core. You might not have expected this collection of assorted parts from the island of misfit veterans:
Jeff Baker, 2/$3.7m
Brian Bogusevic, traded from Cubs for Justin Ruggiano
Carter Capps, traded from Mariners for Logan Morrison
Rafael Furcal, 1/$3m
Garrett Jones, 2/$7.75m
Carlos Marmol, 1/$1.25m
Casey McGehee, 1/$1.1m
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 3/$21m
Right. That’s two guys in their thirties who didn’t play in the bigs last year (Furcal & McGehee), and one who was outrighted off the 40-man roster by the Astros just last winter (Bogusevic). The two-year deals went to a pair of 32-year-olds, one of whom was a non-roster invite last season (Baker), the other below replacement-level (Jones). One was, is, and continues to be Carlos Marmol.
While Saltalamacchia’s deal looks nice considering the money thrown around this winter, and Capps is an intriguing bullpen piece, there’s a reason Miami ranks last — by a lot — in our 2014 projections. An infield of mediocre veterans on the back nine — don’t forget that Greg Dobbs has a contract, and Ty Wigginton is in camp on a minor-league deal — around the unplayable offense of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Last year’s Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre are this year’s Furcal and Jones; wash, rinse, repeat.
So while the Marlins appear content to run out a zombified infield rather than give Donovan Solano (26) another chance or let Derek Dietrich (25) attempt to apply his minor league success in the bigs or try to make a move to acquire a young infielder, 2014 looks like another year in transition. It’ll be a time to let Christian Yelich, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Marisnick and friends attempt to prove themselves as big league players, and that’s fine, but to even get to 70 wins for the first time in three seasons would count as a success. Safe to say, there’s no hope for October baseball in Miami this year.
That’s not really news, but it is particularly relevant because it means we need to talk about Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract status, which is pretty much the only non-Fernandez or Loria or nightmare home run feature reason anyone talks about the Marlins these days. Stanton is eligible to be a free agent following the 2016 season, which means Miami controls him for three more years. 2014 is almost certainly not going to be a playoff season. It’s excessively difficult to see 2015 being any different. 2016, well, maybe, if the young core progresses well, but by then it’s nearly too late, because the Freddie Freeman extension from last week has shed a bit of light on to Stanton’s value, and if there was any doubt Miami couldn’t retain him before, it should be clear as day now.
Because they were born less than two months apart from each other in the fall of 1989 and both debuted in the bigs in 2010 at age 20, these two make for a nice comparison:
2010-13 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Stanton 2002 .265 .354 .535 .379 138 13.5
Freeman 1908 .285 .358 .466 .357 127 7.1
In essentially the same amount of playing time to date, Stanton has been a superior offensive performer to Freeman in every way, though perhaps the reality isn’t by as much as WAR indicates, since Stanton’s multiple aches and pains on such a large frame have to be taken into account. Still, barring a major injury, power still gets paid, and there’s arguably no one in the game who can match Stanton’s raw power.
Now Freeman has been valued at $28.5 million (including signing bonus) for his remaining three arbitration years, and $106.5 million for the five free agent years Atlanta is purchasing after that. As Dave Cameron has written about extensively over the last week, as shocking as those numbers seem, they’re almost a discount, since teams increasingly are willing to pay for youth, as long as that youth has shown the ability to produce. Freeman easily showed that, and now he’s massively wealthy. Stanton has shown that too, arguably to a greater extent than Freeman, and if he stays healthy, he’ll be rich beyond his wildest dreams as well.
That number is only going to increase the longer Stanton goes without a deal, and the Marlins reportedly haven’t even approached him about a contract as of last month. That’s partially because of the annual inflation of salaries, but also because each year that goes by means that the team has one fewer season of artificially-depressed team control salary they can buy out. If Freeman signed for 8/$135m with three years of control remaining, it’s not at all difficult to see Stanton going for $150m or more next year, a realistic number (assuming, again, a healthy 2014) considering that the similarly-aged Elvis Andrus picked up 8/$120m from Texas last year with two years left of team control. Andrus, obviously, contributes better defense at a much more valuable position, but the market still loves to pay for power, which we’ll soon see when someone actually gives Nelson Cruz a multiyear deal.
Do remember that it’s not only on the team to sign a contract, because the player has to want to strike a deal as well, and no one has forgotten Stanton’s vocal displeasure with the team after the Toronto trade. We haven’t heard much that indicates that his position has changed, and the Freeman deal now puts his price to a level that Miami almost certainly can’t — or more likely, won’t — reach.
Where this leaves the Marlins is in a position that’s entirely full of risk. They can’t compete in 2014 even with Stanton, and his presence may merely help them get to 71 wins rather than 66. They almost certainly can’t keep him long-term, and they risk his value evaporating if his next leg injury is a serious one. Sure, a Stanton trade risks angering their fan base, but at this point it barely matters, since no one bothers to come see this team even with him. Further than that, the way their young talent is set up — heavy on pitching, heavy on outfielders with Yelich, Marisnick, and Marcell Ozuna, but extremely light on infielders outside of third baseman Colin Moran — means that dealing from a position of strength to try to fix a likely problem on the next good Marlins team makes all the sense in the world.
The Marlins likely won’t trade Stanton this year, because they’ve been adamant they plan to “build around him.” Yet with the team very unlikely to contend for at least two of his three remaining years, and the idea of him signing an extension even less likely, there’s no upside for the Marlins here. Freeman’s extension has set a baseline for what Stanton can expect, and for the sake of the potentially-competitive 2016-18 Marlins, Stanton has to go — sooner than later.
Diamondbacks Take a Two-Year Chance on ERA.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Kevin Towers is a confident, talkative man. He’ll tell you what he’s thinking about, and he’ll tell you what he’s doing. There aren’t many anonymous leaks that come out of the Diamondbacks organization because Towers doesn’t exactly keep many secrets — even when he’s actively negotiating. Towers has spent much of this offseason talking about how badly he wanted to acquire a No. 1-type starting pitcher. He was in on Masahiro Tanaka; he’s been in on David Price. He admitted he wanted to make a significant splash. Just the other day Arizona signed Bronson Arroyo for two years and $23.5 million. Or three years and $30 million. The bigger point is that Arizona signed Bronson Arroyo, and now they’re finished.
Arroyo, of course, is no one’s idea of an ace. Most simply, the best pitchers get strikeouts, limit walks and limit dingers. Arroyo does one of those things. He’s 37 in a couple of weeks, meaning he’s basically 37 now. There’s little sexiness with this acquisition, and Towers would tell you he knows he didn’t get a No. 1. Still, Arroyo does have something going in his favor. It’s just a matter of how much you believe in it.
Well, I suppose Arroyo has two things going in his favor. One is that, so far, he’s been extraordinarily durable. In nine straight years, he’s made at least 32 starts. He’s drawn not-inaccurate comparisons to Livan Hernandez. His injury history is enough to make you chuckle: There’s a bit of back soreness, there’s a bit of leg soreness, there’s carpal tunnel, there’s mono and there are four contusions from batted balls. Arroyo’s been the image of dependability, and people credit his work ethic and his smooth, controlled pitching style.
Now, that’s meaningful. But it’s only so meaningful. Hernandez never got hurt. Dan Haren has begun to have a few problems. Jon Garland went straight from reliable to shoulder surgery. You can even point to Roy Halladay. There’s no such thing as an automatic 200 innings. Absolutely, Arroyo has a lower injury risk than Erik Bedard. But he still has some kind of injury risk because he’s still throwing 3,000 pitches a season, and then some.
The other thing Arroyo has going for him are his actual results. The past five seasons, 141 starters have thrown at least 400 innings. Right there, you know this pool is selective for starters decent enough to stick around. In WAR/200 innings, Arroyo ranks in the bottom 10, at 0.9. He’s in the company of guys like Barry Zito and Nick Blackburn and Kevin Correia. In RA9-WAR/200 innings, however, Arroyo ranks 68th — middle of the pack — at 2.6. The difference between those two numbers is 1.7, and that difference is third-greatest over the span, behind Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson. In short, Arroyo’s been beating his peripherals.
On our leaderboards, FDP-Wins is the difference between RA9-WAR and WAR. Between 2009 and 2013, Arroyo led baseball in FDP-Wins, and he led by almost two over Jered Weaver. Arroyo even beat his own peripherals in his disastrous 2011 campaign. That year, he was worth -0.3 RA9-wins, but he was worth -1.5 FIP-wins. If you look only at Arroyo’s walks, strikeouts and dingers, you see a guy who might be worth a few million on a one-year contract. If you look at the rest, you see a guy who’s better than that.
This is always such a nervous, uncomfortable thing because we never know quite how much stock to put in a guy’s ability to beat his FIP. Arroyo routinely posts better-than-average BABIP marks. He also pitches around the edges, and this implies worse-than-average quality of contact. But then, there are all of the home runs, which Arroyo allows, and which he will forever allow. It’s easy to see how Arroyo could be more deceptive than most, but again, the homers, and the overall contact rate. The true Bronson Arroyo almost has to be somewhere in the middle.
Between 2008 and 2012, the big-league leaders in FDP-Wins were Tim Hudson, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Cain, Bronson Arroyo and Jered Weaver. In 2013, Hudson undershot his peripherals. Hellickson did, too, by quite a lot. Cain was right around even. Arroyo was Arroyo. Weaver posted an FDP of 0.9. There’s some ability here, but it’s hard to separate from all that noise, and this is why the Diamondbacks are taking a gamble. The contract comes with limited upside, and while it’s not bad, there are more ways for it to go wrong than right.
Towers did well in addressing the need for depth. He recognized the Diamondbacks would probably need more than five starters, especially given their rotation includes Brandon McCarthy, and that Archie Bradley is the only helpful guy on the horizon. Granted, this was an issue partly of Towers’ own making. But while there might not be an enormous difference between Randall Delgado and Arroyo, Arizona’s probably going to need them both. Delgado will open out of the bullpen, but he’ll start some games unless the team gets a whole lot of good luck.
Arroyo probably makes the Diamondbacks better. It depends on how much you believe in his runs-results. And while pitching in Arizona won’t do him many favors, given his style, he is coming from Cincinnati. The contract, also, isn’t potentially devastating in any way, and you can at least count on Arroyo to pound the zone and get plenty of called strikes. Yet what one has to wonder is whether Towers could’ve spent better than this. Arroyo got two years, guaranteed, at $23.5 million. Paul Maholm got a guaranteed one year for $1.5 million, plus incentives. Maholm knows he might end up pitching out of the bullpen. The past three years, Maholm has Arroyo beat easily in WAR, and they’re even in RA9-WAR. Jason Hammel wound up with a cheap one-year contract. Dan Haren got half of Arroyo’s contract. Scott Baker got a minor-league contract. Shaun Marcum got a minor-league contract. Arroyo got Tim Hudson money, but Hudson seems like the safer gamble.
Arroyo’s deal looks like a contract with significant downside. Arroyo seems like he could come apart at any moment. He seems like he’s pitching with just about the narrowest margin of error. He’s also allowed 174 runs in his last 404 innings, pitching half the time in a hitter-friendly ballpark with utterly underwhelming stuff. In the end, this is a two-year bet on continuity of a very particular and unreliable kind.
Dodgers Make a Low Risk Investment in Rotation Depth.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Dodgers rotation from a fantasy perspective for RotoGraphs. At that time, the Dodgers had a pool of starters than went 10 deep. Now they have 11 potential starters. Most teams would be satisfied with 10 starters. They might look to add some minor league depth, like a Rodrigo Lopez type, but they probably wouldn’t give out any more major league contracts.
However, the Dodgers have reason to worry about their depth. Chad Billingsley is currently rehabbing from injury. Prospects Zach Lee and Ross Stripling might not be ready in 2014, or the Dodgers may prefer not to rush either pitcher. Stephen Fife is a decent swing man, but the Dodgers would probably prefer to avoid turning to Matt Magill. Josh Beckett and Dan Haren are penciled into the rotation, although both pitchers were less than stable in recent seasons. Beckett in particular is coming off a nerve impingement surgery that limited him to eight starts last season.
So what have the Dodgers done to combat the flakiness of their rotation depth? Why they’ve hired yet another pitcher who fits into the back of the rotation and comes with health concerns.
On Saturday, the Dodgers signed 32-year-old lefty Paul Maholm to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The deal reportedly includes another $5.5 million in incentives – ostensibly based on innings pitched and/or total starts. The details have yet to be fully disclosed. Maholm dealt with a wrist injury and a sore pitching elbow last season, which is probably why he had to sign an incentive-based contract.
When healthy, Maholm is a solid pitcher who could give the Dodgers an alternative to Beckett at the back of the rotation. Maholm is a soft-tossing lefty who gets the job done by generating ground balls about half the time and limiting walks. His FIP usually weighs in around 4.00, which is better than a typical fifth starter.
Beckett still projects to be the better pitcher in 2014 by a thin margin. Of course, Steamer and Oliver don’t “know” about the nerve impingement surgery. Until the Dodgers get a closer look at him this spring, they simply don’t know if they can count on Beckett to be a major league pitcher. With that in mind, it makes sense for the Dodgers to bring in Maholm. At worst, they’re out $1.5 million plus a tax payment and at best they get a full season of production at slightly below market rate.
Under the new ownership group, it appears that starting pitching depth is a highly valued asset. After the 2012 season, the club was looking at a rotation that included Clayton Kershaw, Beckett, Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly. They also had lesser options like Fife available. Rather than stand pat or trade their depth, the club proceeded to hire Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to improve the overall quality of the rotation. That left the team with five veterans competing for two spots.
They hung onto their options as long as possible. Harang was eventually traded for catcher Ramon Hernandez and salary relief, Billingsley required Tommy John surgery after all, Lilly was a bust in his return from injury, and Beckett also spent most of the season on the disabled. Despite an apparent wealth of depth last February, the Dodgers found it necessary to trade for Ricky Nolasco and pick up Edinson Volquez mid-season in order to reach the playoffs.
That 2013 squad shared many of the same concerns as the current group. There was plenty of veteran depth, but they had half a dozen health issues between them. As we saw in 2012, those health concerns can pile up suddenly, especially when previously healthy pitchers join the walking wounded. All starting pitchers come with a risk of hitting the disabled list during a given season – usually around 30 percent – and many injuries require more than 15 days to heal. As such, there’s a plausible scenario where the Dodgers stockpile of arms makes the difference in the NL West division race.
Multiple layers of redundancy will probably open doors for the Dodgers. In event that they don’t need the depth early in the season, they could make a trade to cover an injury at another position or improve the roster. Recently, there have been concerns that Alexander Guerrero might not be ready to contribute at the start of the season, so the team brought in Justin Turner and Chone Figgins as insurance. It might be possible to parlay Beckett into somebody a little more desirable. Maybe a Daniel Murphy becomes available if the Dodgers are comfortable enough to float Lee in trade talks. And with Matt Kemp likely to start the season on the disabled list, a reliable fourth outfielder might be desirable too. That’s all speculation, but for a franchise that isn’t worried about cash, additional player assets can only be a good thing.
The new leadership in Dodgerland has shown an admirable commitment to a fan base that was tortured under the previous ownership. They’ve produced a product that combines a high payroll, elite talent, and excellent roster redundancy in order to survive the unexpected. When you look around the league, only one other team really combines all three of those features – the Red Sox. It’s become fashionable to point out that the link between spending and winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After all, only three of the top 10 payrolls reached the postseason last year (and we know that one data point is an excellent basis for analysis). I think it’s safe to say that a team with deep pockets has a big advantage, especially when they fastidiously address even the minor holes on the roster.