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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 667

post #19981 of 77292
Damn Mark...it was obviously a long shot but sad to see it end that way...
post #19982 of 77292

Some news this morning.

 

-Dempster says he won't pitch in 2014.

-Kimbrel and Braves agree to 4 year, $42 million deal. Incentives can push it to $45.5 and the option year can make it $58.5.

 

With the money that the Braves are spending this offseason, wonder if they have enough for Heyward, Simmons, and Minor. And do the Sox do anything with the $13 million they're saving on Dempster. 

post #19983 of 77292
^ Braves already signed Heyward 2 year deal.

Simmons and Minor are next. Apparently the Braves have more money with the new stadium they will be getting.

I'm beyond shocked that we signed Kimbrel to an extension.
post #19984 of 77292
I thought the Braves just bought out his arbitration years? I think Heyward is gone once those two years are up, cause he's gonna want more than Freddie.
post #19985 of 77292
Orioles To Sign Ubaldo Jimenez
post #19986 of 77292

^ Yeah all they did was buy out his arbitration years. My question was more about what are they going to do with Heyward when he's a free agent. Everyone talked about how ATL didn't have a lot of money so how are they gonna afford him?

 

And per Ken Rosenthal and others, the O's and Ubaldo agree on a deal. Sources are saying 4 years, $48 million. Deal is still pending a physical. Knowing the O's thats a toss up.

post #19987 of 77292
Thank you Baltimore Orioles for paying Ubaldo! Thanks for solidifying your place in the cellar of the AL East.

Signed,
Happy Rays fan.

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post #19988 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by mfreshm View Post

Love the Teheran deal didn't see that coming.

LOVE that for ATL.
WHITE AND NAVY JOINT, LET'S WATCH THE YANKEESSSSSSSS!
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post #19989 of 77292
Who's trying to go half on the MLB package?
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post #19990 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

Orioles To Sign Ubaldo Jimenez

Quote:
Originally Posted by exnihilo View Post

Thank you Baltimore Orioles for paying Ubaldo! Thanks for solidifying your place in the cellar of the AL East.

Signed,
Happy Rays fan.


agreed. don't expect him to do that great in the AL east
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post #19991 of 77292
Detroit gonna rock him in his 1st start of the season
post #19992 of 77292
Thread Starter 
The cost of not extending Trout.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Back in the innocent days of 2000, before Biogenesis, centaurs and slaps, a young Alex Rodriguez signed what was then by far the biggest deal in baseball history, a 10-year contract worth $252 million. Unless the Los Angeles Angels take quick action -- and maybe even if they do -- their megastar in center field, Mike Trout, is set to repeat history after the 2017 season, with his own free agent deal of mouth-gaping figures.

It's conventional wisdom in some circles that A-Rod's deal with the Texas Rangers represented utter lunacy on the part of team owner Tom Hicks. In reality, the giant contract simply reflected the perfect storm of traits that caused A-Rod to be so incredibly valuable at the time. Not only did Rodriguez have a strong case for being the best player in baseball on an inner circle Hall of Fame trajectory, but he hit the market at a point in his career when his new team would get most of that value.

Typically, a superstar hits free agency is in his late 20s or even early 30s. A-Rod hit the market after his age-24 season, so his next employer didn't have to worry about his decline years like it would with most free agents.

Trout shares these traits, so when he hits the open market it will likely result in another big step forward in the record annual salary. He had a good case as American League MVP in each of the past two seasons, and didn't turn 22 until this past Aug. 7. Like A-Rod, Trout is set to hit the market at a younger than usual age, potentially becoming a free agent after the 2017 season, his age-25 campaign.

The Angels know that a long-term contract for Trout is going to be pricey, and although they can pay him close to the league minimum as a pre-arbitration player in 2014, he will start to get a lot more expensive via arbitration in 2015. Word on the street is that they are discussing a long-term deal with their young star.

They had better make a deal soon, because Trout's price will only go up with each year, and we have the tools to calculate exactly how much more they will have to pay if they don't make a deal this season.

What's Trout worth?
Trout's 10-year projection
While his WAR declines to 6.3 by 2023, remember that just 12 hitters topped that mark in 2013. In other words, he'll still be elite in 10 years.

Year WAR
2014 9.5
2015 8.9
2016 8.1
2017 7.9
2018 7.5
2019 7.2
2020 7.1
2021 7.0
2022 6.6
2023 6.3
The first thing to do is get a long-term projection for Trout and estimate his arbitration salaries and what he could eventually get on the free-agent market. While the ZiPS projection system projects Trout for nearly 10 wins above a replacement player (WAR) in 2014 (9.5) -- a ZiPS record by a healthy margin -- the risk for a player like Trout in the long-term is quite one-sided.


Long-term expectations for superstars aren't pretty bell curves around their established level of play, simply because there's a lot more room to fall than to improve. Think of it this way: There are a lot more baseball things that could happen to turn Trout into a five-WAR player than into a 15-WAR player. As we get to free agency, these risks lead ZiPS to estimate that Trout should be considered a seven- to eight-WAR player for the purpose of pricing his future free-agent contracts this far in advance.

Assuming Trout receives league-minimum salary for 2014 and arbitration awards of roughly 25 percent, 45 percent and 70 percent of his open market value from 2015-17 (superstars tend not to do as well on a percentage basis in arbitration as typical players do), ZiPS estimates $69 million as a fair offer to get Trout through his arbitration years. Then the fun begins.

Even at 7.7 WAR (his 2018 projection as of now), if the value of one WAR increases at 5 percent from the $5.45 million I estimate that teams are paying for this in 2014, that's enough to get Trout past the $50 million mark per season. So if we are estimating a 10-year deal, that gives us $69 million for his next four years, plus $312 million for the following six seasons (2018-23), for a total of $381 million over 10 years. (Remember in December when Buster Olney said Trout could crack the $400 million barrier? Doesn't sound so crazy now, does it?)

That sounds pricey, but we're also talking about dollar figures after another five to 10 years of salary growth in baseball, and one of the most valuable players to ever reach free agency. That $381 million is factoring in all the downside risk that even Trout possesses. Now, what happens if he actually hits his 2014 projection and free agency becomes even closer before the Angels deal?

The cost of waiting
As we know, the closer a player gets to free agency, the more expensive he becomes. That helps explain why Clayton Kershaw was able to get a seven-year, $215 million deal a year before hitting free agency, while Felix Hernandez got $175 million over seven years two years from free agency.

If Trout plays up to his elite level this season, the cost of signing him for 2018 through 2023 goes up substantially. While we originally calculated that time period to cost $312 million, it goes up to $335 million if he meets his 2014 projection.

If he hits his new 2015 projection, that goes up again to $362 million before 2016. And if he continues to hit his mean projection for the 2017 season, that goes up to $395 million. In other words, if the Angels continued to go year-to-year with Trout and nothing terrible happens in the interim, the price to sign him just for 2018-2023 pops up by more than $80 million.

When and if to agree on a long-term contract extension with Trout is likely the biggest decisions that the Angels -- or maybe any team -- will have to face in the next few seasons. Trout is a franchise player, one of the rare players for whom it's not ludicrous to start daydreaming about his plaque in Cooperstown.

If Angels owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto are smart, the sooner they make the decision that would ensure there'd be a haloed-A on Trout's plaque, the better.

Jimenez signing keeps O's in contention.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The concern within the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, as the negotiations with Ubaldo Jimenez began percolating over the last 48 hours, was that the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays would snag the right-hander.

The Red Sox, after all, had known in recent weeks that Ryan Dempster would probably walk away from the last year of his contract, surrendering his $13.25 million salary for the upcoming season. Boston seemingly had the rotation spot open for Dempster, as well as the newfound financial flexibility.

The Blue Jays have had a quiet offseason, generally, and are positioned to take a starting pitcher … at the right price. The Orioles had at least some reason to guess that the Blue Jays or the Red Sox could jump in, so in order to land Jimenez -- to separate themselves from what they believed to be the pack -- Baltimore increased its offer from three years to four for Jimenez, and this is how the Orioles reached the agreement on Monday.

But behind the curtain, there is this: Sources say that neither the Red Sox nor the Blue Jays actually made any offer for Jimenez, and that the dialogue was not a matter of either team pursing the player, but of Jimenez’s representative pursuing the team.

No matter how we got here, however, the fact is that the Orioles felt they needed to do something. Their window of opportunity with a core of Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones is right now. Hardy and Markakis could be eligible for free agency after the upcoming season, and Davis and Wieters -- both represented by agent Scott Boras, whose clients typically test free agency -- are eligible to hit the market after the 2015 season.

Even if the Orioles re-signed Davis and Hardy out of that group, the essential truth is that in a division that includes the behemoth Yankees and Red Sox and the always competitive Rays, Baltimore can’t assume that chances to win will come along annually. The Orioles have some developing pitchers on the rise, like Kevin Gausman, who could be a candidate to take a big step forward, but they needed rotation help, somebody to take the pressure off Chris Tillman.

Jimenez comes with some risk, for sure, given his inconsistency, and the Orioles surrender their first-round pick to sign him. But Jimenez’s medical reports were regarded as relatively clean within the industry -- which is not the case with Ervin Santana -- and he made necessary adjustments last season, learning to work with his diminished velocity. He pitched extremely well for the Indians in the second half of last season, albeit against a bottom tier of competition. He had a 1.85 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break -- two starts against the Twins, two against the White Sox, and one start against Seattle, Houston, Miami, Texas, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland, Atlanta and Baltimore.

AL East lineups are annually stacked with hitters who work counts and get on base, and Jimenez has never been pitch-efficient. Among the 81 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season, Jimenez ranked 78th in pitches per inning, at 17.3.

No. 81: Edinson Volquez, 17.7

No. 80: Felix Doubront 17.5

No. 79: Ryan Dempster 17.5

No. 78: Jimenez 17.3

No. 77: C.J. Wilson 17.2


AP Photo/John Minchillo
Jacoby Ellsbury, who recently signed with the Yankees, stole 58 bases last season.
Another thing to consider: The Orioles’ division rivals tend to be aggressive on the bases -- the AL East includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner andJose Reyes, and the division had three of the top nine base-stealing teams in MLB in 2013 -- and Jimenez, with his complicated delivery, struggles to slow base runners (although he was better last year).

But Jimenez’s annual average salary of $12.5 million, diminished by deferred money in this deal, is in line with second-tier and third-tier starters. Matt Garza -- who is more accomplished and not tied to draft-pick compensation, but perhaps with greater perceived risk for injury -- signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers.

Now that the Orioles are invested in Jimenez and have sacrificed that first-round pick, they might as well consider some of the other unsigned big names: Nelson Cruz, who split time at DH and in left field, could help balance out a lineup. Kendrys Morales could be their primary DH against right-handed pitching and share DH time against lefties with Wieters. Maybe even Stephen Drew, who could provide some protection at second base and third base. If Drew signs a two-year deal, he would give the Orioles a safety net at shortstop in the event Hardy walked away after this season.

Was the Jimenez deal expensive? Yes. Could you make a case that the Orioles could’ve avoided the long-term deal and instead used their 2014 payroll space to retain closer Jim Johnson? Yes. Could Jimenez really struggle against the other AL East teams? Perhaps.

But the Orioles are at least taking a shot and trying to get better, at the end of what has been a difficult winter for them.

• Keith Law likes this deal for the O’s.

• This shows they’re willing to make a move, writes Peter Schmuck.

• The Jays stood pat.

• Deep down, the Indians didn’t want the inconsistent Jimenez back, writes Paul Hoynes.

From his story:
Last year’s 13-9 performance was not enough to convince the Indians that he was worth a multi-year deal even though they knew Mickey Callaway would be back this year as pitching coach. Jimenez credited Callaway with smoothing his complicated delivery to a point where he could repeat it on a consistent basis.

The Indians never had a problem with Jimenez’s effort and personality. He worked tirelessly to correct his flaws on the mound and caused none of the clubhouse tension that swirled around him in Colorado.

It just seemed that compared to what it would take to keep Jimenez, the Indians didn’t think he was worth the ulcers caused from watching him pitch. Was it a mistake if Jimenez has really turned a corner? Yes, because the Indians desperately need another quality starter.

Yet at this moment, no team knows Jimenez better than the Indians. They’ve lived with him for the last 2.5 years. They sent four players, including No.1 picks Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, to Colorado in the deal. They sent trainers to the Dominican Republic to work with him in the offseason. Callaway made two trips to the Dominican last winter to establish a relationship with Jimenez.

If this turns out to be a miscalculation, it won’t be because of a rash decision by the Indians. Rather, it will be because of the hard work of Jimenez.

Around the league

• On our first daily Baseball Tonight podcast for 2014, Tim Kurkjian addresses the stance of Matt Kemp, the Red Sox's issues, and the Craig Kimbrel signing.

• Scott Boras says Kendrys Morales fits the Pirates.

• Sandy Koufax likes watching Yasiel Puig.

• Joba Chamberlain won the rag ball competition.

• Brad Ausmus is ready for his first address to the whole team, as John Lowe writes.

• The Rangers’ rotation is a jumble, writes Jerry Crasnick.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Indians are prepared to go to arbitration with Justin Masterson.

2. Homer Bailey says he’s really close to an extension.

3. Travis Wood says it’s all quiet in regards to an extension.

4. Big contracts are costing the Phillies depth, writes David Murphy.

I mentioned here yesterday how the Phillies dole out more money in their contractual options and buyouts than other teams. Rival executives believe these buyouts also significantly chop at the trade value of the players.

5. Joe Savery was claimed on waivers.

Dings and dents

1. Tyler Chatwood is feeling good.

The fight for jobs

1. Some Washington pitchers are scrapping for precious spots, writes Adam Kilgore.

2. Joe Blanton is no lock for the Angels’ rotation. A couple of young pitchers are trying to make the Angels’ rotation, writes J.P. Hoornstra.

3. Jason Heyward will likely hit leadoff for the Braves, writes David O’Brien.

4. Evan Gattis is the Braves’ starting catcher.

AL East

• Dioner Navarro is catching on with the Jays, writes Ken Fidlin.

• Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts have joined the Yankees.

• Michael Pineda eyes a big role.

• Will Middlebrooks has rediscovered his edge.

• A happy and healthy Evan Longoria is ready for spring training.

• James Loney sees unfinished business.

• Jake McGee is working on different pitches, writes Marc Topkin.

• CC Sabathia intends to use the Andy Pettitte blueprint if his velocity doesn’t come back.

• Jon Lester is ready to show again that he’s an ace, writes Steve Buckley.

AL Central

• Bruce Rondon is feeling much better, writes Lynn Henning.

• Mike Sweeney is settling into his new role with the Royals.

• The White Sox are likely to go with 12 pitchers, says Robin Ventura.

• Kurt Suzuki is looking to make pitchers feel comfortable.

AL West

• Oakland’s pitching defense is getting attention.

• Taijuan Walker and James Paxton look like they’re ready for the big league rotation.

• Lloyd McClendon says the Mariners are more than just Robinson Cano.

• The Astros’ Carlos Correa arrived in major league camp.

NL East

• Jonathan Papelbon says he’s going to be more positive.

• Ryan Howard is working hard on his defense.

• The Marlins’ new hitting coach brings a work ethic, as Clark Spencer writes.

• Jarrod Saltalamacchia is happy to be home.

• Noah Syndergaard put on a show at Mets’ camp.

NL Central

• Andrew McCutchen vows to get better.

• Pete Kozma hopes to make his mark again.

• Robert Stephenson is one of the key guys in the Reds’ camp.

• Ryan Ludwick is feeling good.

• The Cubs’ Javier Baez is in no rush.

• Matt Garza has bolstered the Brewers’ rotation.

NL West

• Arizona is preparing for the trip to Sydney.

• David Hernandez wants to get back to what he was in the past, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Michael Morse is in good humor.

• Chase Headley hopes to play for the Padres for a long time, writes Corey Brock.

Matt Williams brings new order to Nats.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
VIERA, Fla. -- Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and some of the other Washington pitchers waited on bullpen mounds here Sunday morning, and somewhere else on the field, the hands of a clock reached the prescribed moment and an air horn sounded -- and the pitchers went to work, like horses coming through the gates.

Not long after, at another work station, a pitcher began to gather his equipment and prepare for a move to another field, but before he could leave a coach said to him, “Wait here until you hear the horn.”

The horn sounded a few seconds later, and the coach shooed the pitcher along.

This is the structure built under new Nationals manager Matt Williams, and before you get the wrong impression and think of the place as humorless and sterile, please understand that just about everybody else here pokes fun at his need for order, including Williams.

This is about commitment, the players understand, about being purposeful in work, and not about Williams counting seconds and identifying loiterers. In his first meeting with the pitchers and catchers here the other day, the players say that Williams was direct and positive and all about helping them get better.

“He hasn’t forgotten about how hard the game is,” one veteran said. “He played, and he gets it.”

Williams was so highly regarded by a core of the players in Arizona, where he has coached in recent seasons, that if Kirk Gibson had been let go, Williams would’ve had a lot of support in the Diamondbacks clubhouse to be the replacement. They responded to him, because of how direct and businesslike he is, and the Nationals are doing the same in his first days on the job, with his schedules and air horns and all.

He is well spoken, succinct and thoughtful, and he absorbed their work Sunday. “I just want to see their commitment level,” he said. “It’s a team that has a lot of talent, and there’s a lot being said about this club, but we have to fully commit if we’re going to win. So that’s what I’m looking for -- I’m looking for their enthusiasm and attention to detail, and we’ll go from there.”

What Williams noticed in Sunday’s workout was how Strasburg expended a lot of effort in working on his setup to hold runners. Strasburg wants to have a better idea of where the runner is as he comes set, to combat their leads, and Sunday, he worked on his slide step as well. “That’s the attention to detail we’re looking for,” Williams said.

The perception of some within the organization is that some of the greatest difference that Williams may make could be in the team’s defense -- helping the fielders be more efficient, aiding the positioning for a team that scouts viewed as subpar last season, doing little things that can make a difference.
[+] Enlarge
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images
Ryan Zimmerman could see time at first. His bat plays well there, too.

Most of the significant defensive shifting done in baseball is in the AL East, and with the Milwaukee Brewers. Williams may not completely embrace shifts to that degree, but the expectation is that he will help the Nationals be more specific in how players are aligned.

“It’s important in today’s game that you’re in the right spot,” Williams said. “We have all this knowledge that’s available to us, all these statistics and any piece of information we want. We might as well use it, understand what our guys do well and get them in a position to succeed. If we can do that, we have a chance everyday, and that’s all we ask.”

Williams has told infielders that if they can dance, they can play infield, because he believes defense is about timing and rhythm. When he played, Williams said, he would listen to the music piped over the field during batting practice and infield and he would try to time his own movements according to the beats of the sound.

Now his own players will move according to the sounds of a horn, on their way to getting better, better than they were in 2013.

Notables

• The news about Mark Mulder is a bummer.

• Michael Pineda says he feels well, and the early perception in the Yankees’ camp is that he is throwing well, progressing toward the sort of velocity that made him one of baseball’s most coveted young pitchers. He has another motive to come back: He wants to play with Derek Jeter.

"When I heard I was traded to the Yankees, I was thinking, 'I get to play with Mariano Rivera, with [Derek] Jeter,'" Pineda said.

But Pineda hasn’t played in the big leagues in either of the past two seasons, as he works his way back from shoulder surgery, so he never actually played in the same game as Rivera. He will have a chance to do that, it appears, with Jeter.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted,” said Pineda, who has worked diligently on his English.


AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Atlanta's signing of Craig Kimbrel involved some give on both sides.

• Craig Kimbrel’s arbitration trajectory was guaranteed to take him to a place where the Braves wouldn’t be able to afford him -- and to a place where Kimbrel, born and raised in Alabama, wouldn’t be able to stay with the Braves.

But the two sides worked around that inevitability with a four-year, $42 million deal. Kimbrel relented, to a degree, surrendering the opportunity to set records through arbitration year by year -- and in return, he got a whole lot of guaranteed money and a future with the Braves assured.

Atlanta relented too, paying Kimbrel near the top of the scale for pitchers with three-plus years of service and immediately making him one of the highest-paid relievers in baseball. In return, the Braves got a bit of a break on Kimbrel’s annual wage and, more important, they are assured of retaining the best reliever in baseball.

Think about this: Kimbrel has faced 883 hitters in his career so far, and struck out 381.

Kimbrel’s contract is the latest piece in the Atlanta plan altered by a forthcoming ballpark.

• Homer Bailey’s contract talks could impact the Indians and Justin Masterson, writes Paul Hoynes. Bailey is scheduled for arbitration later this week.

• Ryan Dempster walked away from baseball for personal reasons, as Gordon Edes writes, walking away from a potential $13.25 million salary. From Gordon’s piece:
During his big league career, Dempster was paid more than $89 million, according to Baseballprospectus.com. He's not the first player to walk away from millions, [Red Sox GM Ben] Cherington said, but it's still an uncommon gesture.

"In a career full of earning respect and building respect, he's ending his time with the Red Sox in a way that only bolsters that, strengthens that feeling about him," Cherington said. "It was ultimately the right thing to do in his mind. That doesn't mean it was an easy thing to do, and I have great respect for him making the decision that way."

His decision surprised his former Cubs teammates.

Dempster’s decision gives the Red Sox additional financial flexibility. Sunday’s announcement was about Dempster’s personal decision, but there is no question that within the cold numbers, this may benefit Boston. Dempster battled injuries throughout 2013 and in the second half of last season, he had a 5.16 ERA in 13 games. If he had been a free agent after last season, at age 36, he would’ve received a fraction of what the Red Sox had committed to him for 2014.

Now, with Dempster stepping aside, Boston has more wiggle room in dollars to add this spring or during the regular season, if it chooses, and, more directly, the Red Sox might get more production out of the roster spot that would’ve been committed to Dempster.

• Matt Harvey is focused on rehabilitating his elbow.

• David Samson says the Marlins’ big ballpark benefits the team.

• On paper, the Red Sox and Pirates would seem to have a potential match for first baseman Mike Carp -- if Grady Sizemore demonstrates that he’s healthy enough to be counted on. Carp had a nice season last year, posting an .885 OPS in 86 games, and the Pirates could a left-handed hitting first baseman, but the Red Sox probably wouldn’t consider moving Carp if they have doubts about Sizemore.

Dings and dents

1. Within this Derrick Goold notebook, there is word that Jason Motte returned to the mound.

2. Colby Lewis could have one more comeback in him, and it could save the Rangers.

3. Matt Harrison can’t let the Rangers’ rotation situation impact his preparation.

4. Casey Kelly threw 65 pitches, as Corey Brock writes.

5. Mark Teixeira plans on playing in a lot of games.

6. This is good news: Manny Machado was back on the field, writes Eduardo Encina.

7. This is not good: Miguel Gonzalez’s throwing session was pushed back because of back spasms.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Royals GM Dayton Moore doesn’t see a fit for Ervin Santana.

2. The Brewers would like to invest a long-term deal in Jean Segura.

The fight for jobs

1. Carlos Gonzalez may stay in left field, after all.

2. Justin Smoak says the first base job is his to lose.

3. Danny Espinosa will get a shot to win the Nationals’ second-base job.

NL East

• Strasburg focused in his bullpen session, as Adam Kilgore writes.

• Jose Fernandez did a ton of bicycling over the winter, writes Juan Rodriguez.

• B.J. Upton’s swing looks cleaner.

• Jason Heyward is going to continue wearing his protective garb.

• Ryan Zimmerman arrived to find a first baseman’s mitt.

• The Nationals have evolved from a circus, writes Thom Loverro.

• Age might not be such a bad thing for the Phillies, writes Bob Brookover.

• The Phillies needed A.J. Burnett, writes David Murphy.

• As always, the Phillies were really aggressive with their option year: Burnett gets $7.5 million in a player option if Philadelphia turns down its $15 million option for 2015.

• The Mets are hoping Bartolo Colon can provide a lift.

NL Central

• Pat Neshek is driven to return to the majors, writes Derrick Goold.

• Starlin Castro may hit leadoff.

• Cubs prospect Kris Bryant drew a crowd.

• Jeff Locke put his back injury in the past, writes Bill Brink.

• Jameson Taillon is a work in progress, writes Rob Biertempfel.

NL West

• Mark Trumbo is intent on improving his outfield skills.

• Walt Weiss thinks the Rockies could be pretty good in 2014.

• Tim Lincecum is more prepared for camp this year, writes Henry Schulman.

• The Dodgers plan to monitor Clayton Kershaw’s innings.

• Yasiel Puig intends to dial it down in 2014, writes Dylan Hernandez.

AL East

• John Gibbons needs to take control, writes Jeff Blair.

• The Blue Jays are about to get serious, writes John Lott.

• Wil Myers is getting ready for his first full major league season.

• Kevin Long couldn’t get through to Robinson Cano about his lack of hustle, writes John Harper.

• There are question marks in the Yankees’ bullpen, writes George King.

AL Central

• Robbie Ray knows he must prove himself to the Tigers, as George Sipple writes.

• The Royals need to protect Salvador Perez, writes Andy McCullough.

• Asdrubal Cabrera is hoping to be better.

• John Danks is trying to get back to his old form.

• The Twins’ spring facility is upgraded.

AL West

• The Astros kicked off spring training.

• The Rangers have some lame ducks.

• Oakland’s pitching is impressive at first glance.

• The Athletics are counting on Scott Kazmir, writes John Hickey.

• A new stance should help the Mariners’ Mike Zunino.

Reasons for optimism on every MLB team.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
TAMPA BAY -- CC Sabathia laughed about the reaction to his weight loss -- 40 pounds over the last two offseasons, he said Friday -- and mentioned that he felt like the winner of the show “The Biggest Loser.” He said he feels better, with his body adapted to his new weight, and he feels he’ll have the power back on his fastball.

In other words: It’s spring training, when everybody is entitled to optimism. Heck, optimism is required at this time of year, because if you’re not feeling good after having a winter of work and thought and anticipation of something new and better, well, there’s a root problem in place.

Reasons for optimism for each of the 30 teams:



Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Their rotation has improved, and Albert Pujols -- a grinder who has had a habit of playing through injuries in his career -- had a chance to heal last season. Bernie Miklasz thinks Pujols will have a big bounce-back year.



San Francisco Giants: Pablo Sandoval is in tremendous shape, relatively speaking, and the Giants’ pitching staff had a full offseason of recovery. And Tim Hudson says his ankle is feeling really good.



Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates learned to take the next step in 2013 by making the playoffs. And while Andrew McCutchen was the MVP last season, other position players have a lot of room for growth. We’re also just seeing the start of Gerrit Cole’s career.



Cleveland Indians: Rotation help is needed, and Danny Salazar demonstrated at the end of last season how dynamic he can be. The Indians are additionally encouraged by what they’ve seen in Trevor Bauer's revamped delivery. Remember, Bauer had enough talent that he was taken third overall in one of the best drafts in recent memory, and he appears much more comfortable with his mechanics, a hybrid of those he had in college and those he began adopting last season.

• Bauer’s delivery is making a good impression, writes Paul Hoynes.



Tampa Bay Rays: Their rotation is loaded and their lineup is deep. This is particularly true if Wil Myers takes the next step and improves his focus through experience and becomes a strong lineup complement to Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria.



Philadelphia Phillies: If A.J. Burnett comes in and pitches for Philadelphia the way he did for the Pirates for a lot of last season, and if Cole Hamels bounces back from his tendinitis, the Phillies’ rotation could be pretty good.



Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke was limited to 28 starts last season because of a spring injury and a suspension, but they should have him for a full season this year. Their great rotation could be even better, with the addition of Dan Haren and the expected return of Chad Billingsley early in the season.



Seattle Mariners: No matter how effective the lineup is, how deep, they will be better with the addition of Robinson Cano. The improvement starts there.



St. Louis Cardinals: Last year they had to integrate a lot of very young pitchers into their roster -- and made it to the World Series. Now Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, etc., are a year older, a year wiser, and some rival teams that assess other clubs are projecting the Cardinals to win the NL Central handily.



Chicago White Sox: General manager Rick Hahn has revamped the lineup with the likes of first baseman Jose Abreu, center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson. Early last season, hope evaporated quickly -- but now it’s back. The White Sox are holding out hope for the playoffs, writes Daryl Van Schouwen.



Atlanta Braves: Put it this way -- B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla can’t play worse than they did last year, and the Braves still won the NL East with ease. Upton and Uggla could bounce back, Jason Heyward appears ready to climb to the next level of hitters, and watch Andrelton Simmons’s developing pop; he had an OPS of .630 in the first half and .789 in the second half.



Toronto Blue Jays: Nothing went right for them last year, from Jose Reyes’s early-season ankle injury to the wave of problems that hit the rotation. They still have a lot of talent, and it’s possible that they’ll add a good, veteran starting pitcher before the start of the season.



Arizona Diamondbacks: Rival evaluators see a lot of room for growth for this team, which should have a shut-down defense and a deep bullpen, around MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt. Catcher Miguel Montero should be better.



Oakland Athletics: Remember, they’re two-time defending champions in this division, and the bullpen should be overpowering, with a great group of set-up men -- including newcomer Luke Gregerson – in front of new closer Jim Johnson. And now they’ll have a full season of Sonny Gray.



Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun is back with his Biogenesis history now behind him, at the center of what could be a good lineup. Watch Khris Davis, an intriguing hitter who had a .949 OPS in 56 games last season. The rotation could be good, too.



Detroit Tigers: In the first year of manager Brad Ausmus, the Tigers should have more speed, better defense and a better bullpen.



New York Yankees: Sabathia has a chance to restart after his frustrating 2013, and there is also this -- some encouraging signs about Michael Pineda, the pitching phenom who hasn’t been in the big leagues since 2011 because of shoulder issues. Word is that he appears to be throwing well and on his way to perhaps rebuilding his velocity to where it was when he was with the Mariners.



Washington Nationals: They had what was widely perceived to be a great offseason, with the addition of Doug Fister and some left-handed relief, as well as needed outfield depth in Nate McLouth. Oh, yeah -- they also have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth at their core.



Houston Astros: The pile of young talent they’ve collected continues to grow, and we could see the climb of two in their first major wave, in Jon Singleton and George Springer.



Texas Rangers: They determined their greatest need to be in left-handed hitting, and they added Shin-Soo Choo -- one of the game’s best OBP men -- and Prince Fielder, one of the sport’s best power hitters. This should mean more margin for error for the pitching staff.



San Diego Padres: The Padres have a lot of good players on their 25-man roster, and Bud Black should have a strong pitching staff. Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal can move on from their PED issues, meaning the Padres should have their regular team on the field much more often in the year ahead.



Cincinnati Reds: Nobody in baseball can alter a game with his speed the way that Billy Hamilton can, and he figures to create a lot of scoring opportunities for Cincinnati -- which has a very, very underrated pitching staff.



Kansas City Royals: They could have the best defense in baseball to go along with an improved lineup and a good pitching staff. They have every reason to believe they can make the playoffs this year, for the first time since 1985.



New York Mets: Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud will be playing their first full seasons, and David Wright will have more lineup help around him, with the addition of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. And like Uggla and Upton, Ike Davis cannot possibly be worse than he was last season.

• Terry Collins thinks this is going to be a good year for the Mets.



Boston Red Sox: They are stocked with a lot of young talent, giving them a real shot to replace the offense lost because of the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury. Xander Bogaerts is viewed by rival evaluators as a player who could have Manny Machado impact.



Baltimore Orioles: Even though they didn’t add much this offseason, the Orioles still have a great core of players -- Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, etc. -- and Machado appears as if he’s suitably recovered from his knee injury and ready to continue his ascent to superstardom.



Miami Marlins: Mike Hill, the team’s president of baseball operations, explained recently that the Marlins believe they’ve bolstered the lineup around Giancarlo Stanton, with the additions of Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The signing of Rafael Furcal will enable them to move Christian Yelich into the middle part of the batting order. And remember: A rotation loaded with potential stars with the best young pitcher on the planet, Jose Fernandez.



Chicago Cubs: Rick Renteria takes over as manager and gives the organization a fresh voice, and there is a lot of hope that Starlin Castro can get back on track this year. The growth within the Cubs’ farm system has been slow -- but unquestionably, their collection of talent is better than it has been in a long, long time.



Minnesota Twins: The front office made it clear that it would not stand for another summer of non-competitive pitching, and the Twins’ rotation will be better through the additions of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. And those two stars on the horizon: Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.



Colorado Rockies: As I wrote here the other day, the Rockies had a quietly productive winter, adding depth, increasing lineup options, and Colorado has a chance to have a dynamic offense depending on how healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are.

Around the league

• For the second time in two weeks, the Braves locked up a foundation piece to a long-term deal, signing pitcher Julio Teheran.

• I agree with what John Harper writes here: It may be that Sabathia never regains velocity, but his explanation of how he felt last year -- and how he feels now -- makes a lot of sense.

• The Mariners have renewed their push to bolster their roster.

• Brandon Morrow has added weight.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Max Scherzer won’t talk about a contract extension during the season.

2. The Rangers settled their case with Mitch Moreland.

3. The Reds are still talking about a long-term deal with Homer Bailey, and one source says it’s possible the talks could carry over into the regular season.

4. Jeff Samardzija knows he could be traded this season. He’s trying to boost his value, writes Jesse Rogers.

5. Tyler Clippard is relieved he didn’t go through arbitration.

6. The Rays signed Erik Bedard.

Dings and dents

1. Matt Harrison’s health is really important for the Rangers.

2. The Astros’ Mark Appel is taking it slow after his appendectomy.

3. Mat Latos had cleanup surgery on his knee.

4. Jake Peavy left the Red Sox complex with a heavily bandaged hand, writes Peter Abraham. Peavy told reporters that it’s nothing, as Gordon Edes writes.

5. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are having some minor issues.

AL East

• Derek Jeter’s decision makes things easier for the Yankees, writes David Waldstein.

Yes and no. I agree with the premise, in theory. On the other hand, if Jeter hasn’t markedly improved in how he’s moving, then the fact that he’s on a final tour of cities will create some pressure on Girardi to play Jeter in spite of his physical limitations. A lot of tickets are being sold for a lot of money as fans aim to get their last look at Jeter.

• Jeter says he has no concerns about his health, as Anthony McCarron writes.

• Buck Showalter is setting a foundation.

• The Rays have a big appetite for success, writes Marc Topkin.

AL Central

• Brad Ausmus introduced a new drill.

• Danny Duffy is fighting for a spot in the Royals’ rotation.

• James Shields is aiming for the playoffs.

AL West

• Arte Moreno says the Angels’ stadium talks are at a stalemate, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

• Tommy Hanson doesn’t like discussing last season, Evan Grant writes.

• A Seattle reliever is ready for a set-up role.

NL East

• New Phillies coach Bob McClure is focused on location.

• Doug Fister can fix things, as Adam Kilgore writes.

• Ike Davis is surprised he’s still with the Mets.

• Alex Wood is ready to start or relieve.

• Here are five questions about the Marlins, from Juan Rodriguez.

NL Central

• Seth Maness, groundball guy.

• The Cubs could give Kyle Hendricks a shot, writes Mark Gonzalez.

• Doug Melvin likes his pitching depth.

• The Pirates breathed a sigh of relief after Wandy Rodriguez’s first bullpen session.

• Edinson Volquez signed with the Pirates based on the advice of a friend.

NL West

• Waiting for the D-backs’ confidence last year was hard, says Gerardo Parra.

• Matt Kemp says he’s not a fourth outfielder.

• For Ian Kennedy, there is a new beginning.

Jimenez makes sense for the Orioles.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Baltimore Orioles get a mild bargain in Ubaldo Jimenez -- four years for close to $50 million -- by waiting out the market, although the loss of the 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft stings, and Ubaldo himself is still a volatile asset. That said, I think it's a positive move for them even with the associated risk.

Jimenez spent two-and-a-half years with Cleveland, and the first two years were awful, with a 5.10 ERA in 340 2/3 innings. Early in 2013, however, Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway worked on speeding up Ubaldo's delivery and keeping him more online toward the plate when he strides. There were flashes of the new Ubaldo in the first half of 2013, and in the second half, he was dominant, punching out 100 against 27 walks in 84 innings. In fact, Jimenez allowed more than three runs in only five starts after April.

Hoping for the best

The Ubaldo Jimenez that the Orioles are hoping they'll get is the version we saw in that second half, sitting mid-90s, throwing more strikes, missing more bats with the fastball so he can get to the plus slider and above-average splitter. If you're just grading out the pitches, he'll have outings in which he pitches with three 60s or better, and now he sometimes he can harness that stuff as well. For roughly $12 million a year, it seems like a bargain; the risk here is that Baltimore just guaranteed that salary for four years to a guy who has had, speaking broadly, two good half-seasons in his major league career.

The Orioles weren't going to contend this year without adding some pitching from outside of the organization. Adding Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon may not make them contenders, but the combination of moves helps push them closer to a range where you could see them staying in the wild-card race, something that would become more plausible if, for example, they also signed Ervin Santana or Kendrys Morales.

Good for Gausman

The signing also may help the Orioles keep prospect Kevin Gausman in the minors for more of 2014 so he can work on getting more consistency with his slider while still trying to turn a lineup over three times. Gausman's slider was at its best in September when he was working in relief, and when he carries that over to a starting role, he'll be ready not just to pitch in the major league rotation but to do well in it. If Gausman looks ready in March, they could bump Yoon or Bud Norris to the bullpen, but if not they have a little more depth now with Ubaldo on board and Mike Wright also available for the fifth spot.

The signing leaves Ervin Santana as the free-agent market's sole remaining mid-rotation (or better) starting pitcher, a market where demand for his services is high but few teams still claim to have the budget to pay him. (What teams claim to have and what the owners actually have are often two different things.)

At least half the teams in baseball should be after Santana for 2014, with the Toronto Blue Jays (who have two protected first-round picks), Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians all good fits on paper -- teams near contention with shortages in their rotations.

I imagine Santana will sign within the next week now that pitchers and catchers are reporting, which would leave just Morales and Stephen Drew (who is such a perfect fit for the Yankees that I can't fathom their apparent disinterest) among major free agents left unsigned.

Modest debuts for top college arms.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Mother Nature did its very best to destroy the opening weekend of college baseball, and several high-profile prospect saw their debuts pushed back to Saturday or Sunday because of the blustery conditions on the East Coast, and in some cases canceled entirely.

Nevertheless, the poor weather didn't completely ruin the weekend, and plenty of potential first-round picks made their first impressions of the season. We saw the top two arms in the class have a solid -- if unspectacular -- debuts, dominating opening starts from two of the Southwest's best arms, and two of the class' best backstops have decidedly different levels of success.

No pitcher's debut was messed with more than Carlos Rodon, who was supposed to start on Friday in Santa Barbara, Calif., but instead started Sunday against Canisus because of the massive snow in Raleigh, N.C. The presumed first overall pick was not near his best, struggling to command both his fastball and slider, and sitting in the low 90s for the majority of the game. He gave up only one earned run and struck out six over his six innings of work, but that line didn't tell the story.

"[Rodon] was just a little bit off," an NL Central scout said. "He wasn't missing his spots with his fastball by more than a few inches, but clearly he didn't have his A-plus stuff. Normally when he's ahead in counts you're done for; he'll either throw the fastball by you or get the fastball by you, but that wasn't really the case today.

"I'm not concerned because he wasn't at his best to start last year, and we saw how good he was to finish the year. If he was throwing like this in April, sure, but I'm not panicking over mid-February."

Jeff Hoffman's debut likely didn't start the way the talent right-hander envisioned, giving up a home run on the second pitch of the game. He settled down after that, striking out four of the next nine hitters he faced. His overall line of 6 2/3 innings, 3 earned runs, two walks and six strikeouts doesn't look terribly impressive, but scouts walked away satisfied with how the East Carolina ace performed during a 6-5 victory again James Madison.

"I liked the way he settled down [after the home run]," an American League scout said. "But the stuff was really good all game. I had him 93-96 with a couple of 97's, and the curveball was a plus offering, as was the change at times. His command suffered a bit in the last couple of innings, but overall, there was more positives than negatives, which is always nice to see in the first start."

Weather permitting, Hoffman will next face what will likely be the most difficult challenge of his year, taking on a loaded Virginia lineup in Charlottesville on Friday.

The concern going into the year with Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede was with his command, and the right-hander got off to an inauspicious start, walking the first batter of the game and hitting another later in the first inning. After that, Beede's control was much improved, as he didn't allow a baserunner the rest of the game, striking out seven over five shutout innings.

"The command is the key," an AL West scout said. "There's no doubt in anyone's mind that he has the stuff to start, he's got two to three plus pitches. It was a rough first inning, but he attacked hitters the rest of the day, and hopefully that's what we see the rest of the year."

Southwest sizzle

UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde struggled with consistency throughout his sophomore campaign, but got his year off to a solid start, giving up just one hit in seven shutout inning against Central Michigan in a 5-0 win, striking out 11 and walking one. The athletic right-hander was consistently in the 93-95 mph range with his fastball, and at times showed a plus slider and above-average change.

With his athleticism and arm strength, there's a chance Fedde is a top-half of the first-round selection, but he'll need to show he can repeat these kind of performances.

It was a dominating performance from TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan, though the competition he faced wasn't exactly upper-echelon. Against a Jacksonville team that finished last in the Atlantic Sun last season, Finnegan was perfect in his first three innings, striking out eight of the first nine hitters. He finished with 13 K's over seven shutout innings of work, touching 95 with his fastball and showing his normal advanced feel for pitching. Only his modest size (listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and somewhat awkward arm-path concern scouts, but he's a legit day-one arm who has a chance to go early come June.

Best of the bats

Trea Turner saw his summer hampered by a nagging ankle injury that literally and figuratively slowed down the NC State shortstop, but he looked plenty healthy in his debut. Turner went 3-for-4 with a stolen base on Sunday, laying down a beautiful bunt single in the eighth inning and was clocked below 3.5 by two scouts going to first on the play. He also looked good on defense, making a couple of nice plays to his right and showing adequate arm strength to handle the position.

"I think Turner's the best middle infielder in the class," said the same scout who watched Rodon. "And it was really nice to see him look healthy today. Plus-plus speed and above-average defense at a position like shortstop is always nice, and statistically he's been among the better hitters in college baseball the last two seasons."

There's some questions about the hit tool and the overall upside, but Turner's skill set will be appealing to clubs if he can stay healthy, and he could be among the first hitters -- prep or collegiate -- to come off the board in June.

It's another light year in terms of college catching, but Kennesaw State backstop Max Pentecost was outstanding over the summer, and continued to impress over the weekend. Pentecost went 8-for-13 with two doubles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch over the weekend against Middle Tennessee State, and also threw out two of the four runners who attempted stolen bases.

Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber did not have the same success in his series versus Texas Tech. The left-handed hitting backstop picked up a double in his first at-bat, but then preceded to go 2-for-14 with a walk and a strikeout over the four game series with the Red Raiders. He also spent some time in the outfield, but most scouts believe that if he's not going to end up behind the plate, his most likely landing spot due to his lack of speed and athleticism is going to be first base.

"I know a lot of people like Schwarber, but if you're asking me to choose between the two I'd rather have [Pentecost]," an NL West scout told me after watching the Indiana series. "There's more power in Schwarber's bat by a considerable margin, but Pentecost has above-average tools across the board and I have far less questions about his glove. Schwarber is going to have to hit if he's going to have to convince us he's a 45 glove [on the 20-80 scouting scale] and a 60 bat if he's going to be a first-round pick, and I don't think he's either."

Ranking teams by peak value.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If every player on every Major League team were at his absolute peak -- each as good as he was in his finest season -- which team would win the World Series?
Inspired by Kevin Pelton's recent piece ranking NBA teams based on their players' peak values, I set out to answer this very question for baseball.

To do this we need to imagine what would happen if Derek Jeter were 25 years old again, if Josh Hamilton played like an MVP and if Grady Sizemore were a young superstar. We are forming dream teams, not by gathering the best of the players across teams, but rather by collecting the best historical seasons within current rosters.

I started by finding each player's best season according to FanGraphs' version of wins above replacement, substituting in 2014 Steamer projections for players who are expected to play better than ever before. I then took the best 18 player-seasons from each current team, insisting that each team field five starting pitchers, three relievers and nine hitters that form a workable lineup. (For most clubs, the last seven roster spots are relatively interchangeable from a WAR standpoint, and what we're really trying to measure here is top-end talent.)

I calculated the total WAR for each team and, just for fun, pitted these super teams against one another in 10,000 simulated seasons. There were no injuries and no off years but, each season, 29 teams had long trips home through space and time.

What follows are the top 10 peak teams by WAR, along with how often they made the playoffs and won the World Series in the simulations.


10. Milwaukee Brewers
Results: 65.8 WAR, 51.0 percent playoffs, 1.5 percent World Series

The Brewers' outfield features Ryan Braun from 2012 (7.6 WAR), Carlos Gomez from 2013 (7.6 WAR) and a forecasted full season of Khris Davis (1.3 WAR) from 2014. Optimists might see the coincidence of three peak-like years from this trio as a real possibility for 2014, but bitter disappointment seems just as likely. No other outfield can match their combination of risk and reward.

The Brewers' outfield, along with stellar seasons from Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo are enough to lead the Brewers to division titles in better than 40 percent of the simulations.


9. Atlanta Braves
Results: 67.0 WAR, 55.1 percent playoffs, 2.3 percent World Series)

Unbelievably, the ace of the Braves' staff is Freddy Garcia (5.3 WAR in 2001), and Gavin Floyd is their No. 2 starter (4.2 WAR in 2009). The Braves feature the strongest bullpen in the competition with Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

While Heyward and the Upton brothers should in theory only be reaching their peaks right now, their best seasons are actually from the ages of 22 and 23. We have to face the possibility that what could have been a historic, great outfield never will be.


8. Texas Rangers
Results: 68.4 WAR, 51.7 percent playoffs, 1.7 percent World Series

Adrian Beltre leads the Rangers with the second-best peak season among active players -- a monster 9.7 WAR in 2004. According to ultimate zone rating (UZR), he was an incredible 26 runs better than the average third baseman on defense that year, but what seems flukier, in retrospect, is his offensive production. Beltre's .423 wOBA in what was a contract year was preceded by a .305 wOBA year and followed by a .308 wOBA year.


7. Arizona Diamondbacks
Results: 69.5 WAR, 64.9 percent playoffs, 1.6 percent World Series

Five members of the peak Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt, Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin and Addison Reed) had their best seasons last year. Past great seasons from Martin Prado, Aaron Hill, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley and a 23-year-old Eric Chavez are enough to secure a wild-card spot in 64 percent of simulations, but almost never enough to win the division.


6. San Francisco Giants
Results: 70.5 WAR, 70.3 percent playoffs, 1.9 percent World Series

While the actual Giants rotation was the 27th in baseball last year (by WAR), the track records of Tim Lincecum (7.5 WAR in 2009), Tim Hudson (5.9 WAR in 2003), Matt Cain (4.6 WAR in 2011) and Madison Bumgarner (4.6 WAR in 2011) make for the third-best rotation in the game.

Buster Posey anchors the lineup, followed by Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan. The peak Giants have the misfortune of playing in the best division in the game, and like the Diamondbacks, they regularly win wild cards while almost never winning the NL West.


5. Boston Red Sox
Results: 75.5 WAR, 89.3 percent playoffs, 4.4 percent World Series

Grady Sizemore (7.8 WAR in 2006) edges out Dustin Pedroia (7.6 in 2011) for the Red Sox's best year, and David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli contribute big seasons. Xander Bogaerts' 2014 forecast chips in another 2.8 WAR.

On top of that, past tremendous seasons from Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey and Ryan Dempster give the Sox the second best starting rotation among the dream teams, and Koji Uehara's incredible 2013 season is available to close out games.


4. Los Angeles Angels
Results: 77.9 WAR, 95.0 percent playoffs, 9.5 percent World Series

The Angels take advantage of two seasons from more than a decade ago: Albert Pujols in 2003 (9.6 WAR) and Mark Mulder in 2001 (5.6). They also have Josh Hamilton's 2010 MVP campaign (8.4) and the best single season in our entire illusory league, Mike Trout's 2013 (10.4).

Jered Weaver, Joe Blanton and C.J. Wilson join Mulder in a highly effective, if not overwhelming, rotation.


3. Detroit Tigers
Results: 79.4 WAR, 97.2 percent playoffs, 11.9 percent World Series)

Justin Verlander's 2009 (8.1 WAR) combines with Max Scherzer's (6.4) and Anibal Sanchez's (6.2) performances from last year to give the Tigers an outstanding front three. While the Tigers' 2013 bullpen was a relative weakness, teams wouldn't relish facing Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain at their best.

Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler lead the offense and Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter all have 5 WAR seasons to their credit.


2. New York Yankees
Results: 84.8 WAR, 99.2 percent playoffs, 18.8 percent World Series

The Yankees have tremendous roster depth or, rather, would have great depth if they were allowed to play their games in the past. Outstanding seasons by Brett Gardner (6.0 WAR) and Kelly Johnson (5.4 WAR) in 2010 don't even make the cut and yet the Yankees are stuck with Scott Sizemore's mediocre 2011 season at third base. In case you were wondering, Alex Rodriguez's best season (2002) was good for 9.8 WAR, and would be enough to bump the Yankees into the No. 1 spot if he were allowed to play. (While we're allowing ourselves to travel back in time, allowing Rodriguez to play seemed like a bridge too far.)

Derek Jeter's best season (7.4 WAR in 1999) is the second oldest best-season among current players (a young, relatively slender fireballer named Bartolo Colon had his best season in 1998). The Yankees' offense as a whole has older best-seasons than any other team (with their average best-season coming in 2007), and no roster has a larger gap between past greatness and present value.


1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Results: 92.1 WAR, 100 percent playoffs, 43.2 percent World Series

The Dodgers' rotation features the always-dominant Clayton Kershaw along with Josh Beckett from when he was a Cy Young runner-up. Going by WAR, their best starter, by a wide margin, is actually Zach Greinke from 2009, whose 9.1 WAR is the top mark by an active pitcher. Add in great years by Dan Haren and Chad Billingsley for good measure.

Matt Kemp (8.4 WAR in 2011), Carl Crawford (7.4 in 2010), Hanley Ramirez (7.2 in 2008), Adrian Gonzalez (6.3 in 2011) and, yes, Chone Figgins (6.6 in 2009) provide superstar quality seasons, and Yasiel Puig is in the majors for a full season. This Dodgers team wins an average of 111 games, which is all the more incredible when you consider that they are playing against other dream teams.

Kimbrel deal a win for Braves, industry.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Atlanta Braves have been locking up young talent left and right. In recent weeks they have given long-term contracts to Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran that bought out arbitration and free-agent years, and on Sunday they did the same with Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel and the club were headed toward a potentially contentious arbitration battle, but they avoided the hearing by agreeing to a four-year deal worth $42 million with a fifth-year team option valued at $13 million. The Braves have to be thrilled with this deal, and I bet execs from other clubs are pleased to see it, as well.

Braves win

Kimbrel is just 25 years old, and in each of the past two years he posted an ERA lower than Mariano Rivera ever did. Rivera is the greatest closer of all time and probably always will be because of his longevity, but the start to Kimbrel's career has been comparable to Mo's in terms of dominance.

By signing Kimbrel now, the Braves have his prime years under control and the terms are now in line with their budget. Had they gone year-to-year with Kimbrel via arbitration, it's likely he would have broken the arbitration record for a closer and his annual salaries would have been higher than under the terms of this deal, and there were concerns they would have to trade him. That is no longer the case.

Additionally, they have bought out one of his free-agent years and could get another if they decide to pick up that team option. As long as Kimbrel is healthy, $13 million will probably be a reasonable price for him in 2018.

While every pitcher carries some risk, Kimbrel has shown no signs of slowing down. In 2013, his average fastball velocity was 96.9 mph, which is slightly higher than it was in 2011 (96.2). He earns raves for his work ethic and intensity, and while you can't prevent a fluke injury, he's a good bet to be worth the money for Atlanta.

Other GMs happy

As for the rest of the industry, this is a good precedent. If Kimbrel had gone to arbitration and shattered records, other young closers would have been tempted to go to hearings using Kimbrel as a comp, and a lot of what happens in arbitration is set on precedent. With this deal there is no new arbitration precedent.

Furthermore, this contract signals to the rest of the industry no closer will ever get more than a four-year deal. I mean, if a guy as good as Kimbrel can't get more than four years guaranteed, no one can.

I am on record as saying that I didn't like the Teheran extension, but I still have to give Braves GM Frank Wren an "A" for this offseason. He has taken the expected revenue from the Braves' new stadium and used it to lock up three of the club's brightest young stars for years to come.

The Braves are never going to compete with the Yankees and Dodgers at the high end of the payroll scale, so their path to success involves locking up homegrown talent. This is how they were successful in the 1990s, making sure that the likes of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz didn't make it to free agency in their primes, and they appear to be following a similar blueprint now.

KC's postseason blueprint.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For just the second time in the wild-card era, the 2013 Royals finished with an above-.500 record. And for the first time in the wild-card era, they stayed in the playoff race until the final week of the season. They did so despite having an abysmal offense. This season, their offense should be improved, and with the offensive upgrades, a blueprint is in place for the team to reach the postseason.

At FanGraphs, the Royals are estimated to have 31.5 percent odds of reaching the postseason, and 23.5 percent odds of playing in a division series. Those are decent odds, though they're certainly not the best among their American League brethren. As such, a few things are going to have to break right for them to get to the postseason.

Need more offense

As stated above, the offense should be improved, but a slight improvement isn't going to do the trick. Last season, the Royals finished 26th in baseball in wRC+ once you factored out pitcher hitting, and 12th in the AL -- just the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox fared worse.

The Royals made one of the bigger upgrades they could when they signed Omar Infante to man second base. Infante likely won't be as good as he was last season with the bat, but he will still be an upgrade. Kansas City got some decent production out of Emilio Bonifacio late in the season, but until August, second base was a black hole. The quartet of Chris Getz, Elliot Johnson, Miguel Tejada and Johnny Giavotella hit an underwhelming .237/.290/.301 across 563 plate appearances. Infante has hit .296/.331/.412 over the past five seasons, and projects to hit for about the exact same line this season.

The story is similar in right field, as Norichika Aoki should bring a much higher on-base percentage than did Jeff Francoeur and David Lough. The Steamer projection system pegs Aoki for a .361 OBP, while Royals right fielders were good for a .304 mark last season. Infante and Aoki playing up to expectations will be a big boost, and having Justin Maxwell around for a full season of spot starts against left-handed pitching (career 115 wRC+ against lefties) should help as well. But the team also needs some help from the incumbents, most especially Mike Moustakas.

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Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Salvador Perez is a good candidate for a breakout year.
If this sounds like a familiar tune, that's because it is. Ever since he launched 21 homers in half a season's worth of plate appearances in Double-A, we've been waiting for "the Moose" to lay some tracks down in the big leagues. It hasn't happened yet, and one of the big reasons is his penchant for hitting balls up the chute. Since he reached the big leagues in 2011, he is one of 226 players to tally at least 1,000 plate appearances. Just four of them have hit a greater percentage of infield fly balls than have Moustakas -- three of them are light-hitting middle infielders (Brendan Ryan, Clint Barmes and Sean Rodriguez) and one is washed up (Vernon Wells). Not exactly good company.

Moustakas hit a greater percentage of line drives in 2013 than he did in 2012, but there is still clearly something wrong with his swing. He did actually hit much better in the second half (.259/.308/.416 after the break, .215/.271/.327 before it), and the Royals are going to have to hope that the improvement sticks. Moustakas' backup is Danny Valencia, who is a great option against lefties, but the team has said it won't put them in a strict platoon, which means Moustakas is still going to get the lion's share of plate appearances. If he doesn't deliver, things will get dicey.

While bounce-backs from the likes of Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar would be nice, contending teams also usually have a player who breaks out and has a career year. That player could be Salvador Perez. He has a contact-heavy approach, and if he can turn a few more of those balls in play into the line-drive variety, he will make things very difficult on opposing defenses.

We've seen this from him before, actually. In his abbreviated rookie campaign he posted a .363 wOBA behind a ridiculous 29.2 line-drive percentage. Both percentages have declined since, but if he can reverse the trend, he could provide a substantial offensive boost.

Santana is replaceable

Of course, the elephant in the room we have not yet addressed is how the team replaces Ervin Santana's production. As we've discussed before, though, Santana was a lot closer to a league-average pitcher last season than his shiny 3.24 ERA would seem to indicate. In Jason Vargas, Kansas City got a league-average pitcher, and as Steve Staude detailed in Vargas' FanGraphs+ profile, there is reason to believe in Vargas' uptick in strikeouts last season.

Jeremy Guthrie is still around to potentially drag down the starting rotation, but getting Luis Mendoza and Wade Davis out of the primary mix is a good thing. Danny Duffy always has carried with him a great deal of promise, and he showed that down the stretch last August, when he one-hit the Tigers over six innings at Comerica Park. If he can keep his walks in check, he could be on breakout watch as well.

One of the more interesting spring training stories will be whether Yordano Ventura can supplant one of the five leading candidates for a rotation spot. Keith Law has recommended breaking him in in the bullpen, and hopefully the Royals will do so if he fails to earn a rotation spot. Ventura's potential is breathtaking, as is prospect Kyle Zimmer's. By the end of the season, both should be in the rotation, hopefully with Guthrie and/or Chen being the odd men out.

Of course, we're also assuming that the bullpen and defense remain nearly as spectacular as they were last year. Even if they are, Kansas City will still need a few things to go its way. Infante and Aoki need to play to expectations, Moustakas needs to bounce back and at least one or two players need to break out, with Perez, Duffy and Ventura being leading candidates. Throw in some late-season spice from Zimmer and the continued steadily great play from James Shields, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, and you just might have a playoff team for the first time since 1985.

All of this might seem like a lot, but this is as good as the Royals have been in a while, and there is reason for optimism.

Rumors.
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Position battle: Angels' fifth starter
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
3:42
PM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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Improving a rotation that ranked 24th in the majors with a 4.20 ERA was an offseason priority for the Angels. GM Jerry Dipoto had a busy winter, and now has three candidates competing for the final two spots behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards. The Halos had hoped that Mark Mulder would be in the mix, but a torn Achilles tendon ended his comeback attempt.
The candidates:
Hector Santiago, age 26, throws left
Tyler Skaggs, age 21, throws left
Joe Blanton, age 33, throws right
Santiago: A closer as recently as 2012, Santiago came over from the White Sox in the three-team trade involving Mark Trumbo. The southpaw had an underwhelming 3.56 ERA in 34 appearances (23 starts) for the White Sox last season, but was still getting his feet wet as a starter. Control was an issue, as he walked 4.3 batters per nine innings. He is viewed as a potential middle-of-the-rotation guy if things fall into place.

Skaggs: Came over from Arizona as part of the Trumbo deal. The trade represents a new lease in life for Skaggs, who was 3-6 with a 5.45 ERA over parts of the two seasons with the Diamondbacks and could have been headed back to the minors due to Arizona's considerable pitching depth.

Blanton: The veteran right-hander looks to bounce back from a dismal season in which he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA and gave up 12.2 hits per nine innings. Blanton reportedly believes he has corrected a technical flaw in his delivery after being demoted to the bullpen.

Latest update: According to Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times, Blanton has been told he is no lock for a rotation spot, even if he is on the hook for $7.5 million this season. “He had a terrible season, but when he's throwing to the best of his ability, he's capable of getting major league hitters out," manager Mike Scioscia says.

Current leader: Both Santiago and Skaggs will be given every chance to land rotation spots in order to justify the Trumbo trade, writes JP Hoornstra in the LA Daily News. Blanton has a stiff hill to climb, but the injury to Mulder makes it more likely he will keep a roster spot because of the need for veteran rotation depth.
Tags:Los Angeles Angels, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago, Joe Blanton, MLB position battle
Tuesday Roundup: Deal for Masterson
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
2:56
PM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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Homer Bailey is believed to be closing in on a six-year, $100 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and the progress just may have helped Justin Masterson complete a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians in advance of an arbitration hearing.

According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Masterson has reached an agreement on a one-year deal, allowing him to avoid a trip to Florida for Thursday’s hearing. Masterson, whose production and years of service are comparable to that of Bailey, filed for $11.8 million while the Indians countered at $8.05 million. With Bailey close to a contract, there may have been added pressure on the Tribe to get a deal done.

Bailey also has his hearing on Thursday, but the righthander is dropping hints that the meeting will not be necessary.

As of now, Bailey and Masterson are part of a solid free agent pitching crop for next offseason that includes such notable names as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.

Here are some other rumors around MLB, including the buzz on a few players whose fortunes are linked to Monday’s reported deal that sends Ubaldo Jimenez to Baltimore:
Ervin Santana: A potential landing spot for Santana came off the board Monday when the Orioles reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with Jimenez. The Blue Jays and Yankees are other AL East teams still linked to Santana, but the market may be tightening.

Kendrys Morales: A huge cost of signing Jimenez is the loss of a first-round draft pick as compensation. Now that the first-round pick already is off the table with the signing of Jimenez, the Orioles could be more inclined to pursue Morales as their DH..

Chris Capuano: The Mariners have “decent interest” in the lefthander, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Landing another pitcher may now be an even higher priority after it was learned that Hisashi Iwakuma may miss the start of the season with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his right hand.

Pedro Florimon: Pedro Florimon is expected to miss at least two weeks after suffering from appendicitis late Sunday night, but manager Ron Gardenhire insists the Twins shortstop is in no danger of losing his job.

Tyler Colvin: After being left at the altar by the Orioles last month, the light-hitting outfielder could end up signing with Baltimore after all.

Barry Zito: The lefthander is without a job, the 36-year-old hasn’t actively pursued one, either.

Colvin could still end up in Baltimore
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
10:53
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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After being left at the altar in January, could Tyler Colvin end up in Baltimore after all?

According to various reports, Colvin reached a deal with the Orioles last month, only to see the club back out over concerns with a back injury. But Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweets there is a “good chance” the outfielder will end up signing with Baltimore when all is said and done.

Colvin would likely have to settle for a minor league deal after spending most of last season in Triple-A. He did appear in 27 games for the Rockies, hitting just .160 with a .192 OBP.
Tags:Tyler Colvin
Impact of Jimenez deal on Santana
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
10:24
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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A potential landing spot for Ervin Santana came off the board Monday when the Baltimore Orioles reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with Ubaldo Jimenez.

That leaves Santana as the top free agent starter left on the market, and one reason the righthander is still unemployed may be health. In Tuesday’s column, ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney says “Jimenez’s medical reports were regarded as relatively clean within the industry -- which is not the case with Ervin Santana.”

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Sunday that Santana’s “salary demands have come down” and the Mariners, Yankees and Blue Jays were among the clubs displaying some degree of interest.

Santana is a good pitcher, but not an elite one – his career-best 3.24 ERA in 2013 followed an unsightly 5.16 mark a year before – so the righthander faces a buyer’s market.

The Yankees already have gone on a free agent spending spree that would have made George Steinbrenner proud, but Cafardo says it would not be a surprise if they “intensify” their efforts to add another starting pitcher. But signing Santana would be a luxury, not a necessity.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos insists he is looking to add another starter, yet has no intention of overpaying. Now that the Orioles are out of the mix, the Blue Jays have some additional negotiating leverage.

As for the Mariners, there was a report from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that the Mariners may have stepped up their pursuit of Chris Capuano. That can’t be good news for Santana if Seattle sees Capuano as a lower-priced alternative.
Tags:Ervin Santana
Morales still possible for Orioles?
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
9:32
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been widely criticized this winter for failing to spend significant money on a free agent, a perception he at least altered with Monday’s reported four-year, $48 million deal with Ubaldo Jimenez.

Now that the checkbook is open, could Angelos find some cash for Kendrys Morales as well?

Landing a starting pitcher was a priority for the Orioles, but Buck Showalter’s club also could use another bat in the middle of the lineup. Prior to the deal with Jimenez, the Orioles have been mentioned as a serious suitor for Morales, who spent last season in Seattle and would fit nicely as a designated hitter in Camden Yards.

A huge cost of signing Jimenez is the loss of a first-round draft pick as compensation. Now that the first-round pick already is off the table, they “may as well toss out the second-rounder and sign Morales,” says Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com. Kubatko notes that Showalter prefers a full-time DH if available, and the best one still out there is Morales.

The signing of Jimenez will boost the Orioles’ payroll to around $100 million, so there still may be some room for Morales, whose price has presumably come down with spring training already under way. For the record, Morales has a .431 batting average and 1.177 OPS in 12 career games in Baltimore.

The stiffest competition for Morales could come from his most recent employer. “Don't rule out a return to the Mariners," Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweeted Monday. Morales turned down the Mariners’ $14.1 million qualifying offer after the season. The re-signing of Morales would provide some much-needed lineup production behind free agent signee Robinson Cano.

ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney has more on what the Orioles might do following the deal for Jimenez:


Buster Olney
Jimenez signing keeps O’s in contention
"Now that the Orioles are invested in Jimenez and have sacrificed that first-round pick, they might as well consider some of the other unsigned big names: Nelson Cruz, who split time at DH and in left field, could help balance out a lineup. Morales could be their primary DH against right-handed pitching and share DH time against lefties with Wieters. Maybe even Stephen Drew, who could provide some protection at second base and third base. If Drew signs a two-year deal, he would give the Orioles a safety net at shortstop in the event Hardy walked away after this season."


Tags:Kendrys Morales
Capuano on Seattle's radar
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
8:44
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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The Seattle Mariners, who were among the teams interested in Ubaldo Jimenez, may have shifted their attention to lefthander Chris Capuano.

While a deal is not completed, Seattle has shown “decent interest” in Capuano, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Capuano was one of the teams linked to the Mariners in recent weeks, and their pursuit may have picked up after Jimenez reportedly agreed to a deal with Baltimore.

The 35-year-old Capuano was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA for the Dodgers last season and has been seeking a two-year deal.

The Mariners also are looking to add a bat, and one report Monday said they could step up their efforts to re-sign Kendrys Morales. Landing another pitcher may now be an even higher priority after it was learned that Hisashi Iwakuma may miss the start of the season with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his right hand.

Capuano made a league-high 33 starts for the Dodgers in 2012 and could be a valuable innings-eater if healthy.
Tags:Chris Capuano
More leverage for Masterson?
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
7:24
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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The Cincinnati Reds may be closing in on a long-term deal with righthander Homer Bailey, a deal that could have a significant ripple effect on negotiations between Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians.

Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reported Monday Bailey and the Reds were negotiating a six-year deal that could be worth $100 million. The sides are headed for arbitration later this week with Bailey asking for $11.6 million and Reds offering only $8.7 million.

Any deal that goes down in Cincinnati could help set the market for Masterson and his negotiations with the Indians on a multi-year deal. The 28-year-old Masterson and the 27-year-old Bailey have put up similar numbers in recent years and both are eligible for free agency next winter. Masterson, who also has an arbitration hearing scheduled for this week, had a 3.45 ERA last season, slightly better than the 3.49 for Bailey.

Masterson filed for $11.8 million while the Indians countered at $8.05 million. Hoynes reports “there has been movement on both sides” on efforts to reach a one-year deal. Masterson and his agent are scheduled to leave for St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday to prepare for Thursday’s arbitration case, and the pitcher said he would like to avoid the trip if possible.

An extension for Bailey would likely give Masterson some additional leverage and thin the free agent pitching market for next offseason that includes such notable names as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.
Tags:Homer Bailey, Justin Masterson
Florimon's job in no danger
February, 18, 2014
FEB 18
7:05
AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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Pedro Florimon is expected to miss at least two weeks after suffering from appendicitis late Sunday night, but manager Ron Gardenhire insists the Twins shortstop is in no danger of losing his job.

Veteran Jason Bartlett, who hasn't played since May 2012, was brought in to compete for a utility role and is not viewed as a contender for the starting job. "Bartlett is here to try and make the club, but Florimon is our shortstop,” Gardenhire told MLB.com.

The complete faith in Florimon is a mild surprise given he hit just .221 with a .281 OBP in his first season as the regular shortstop.
Tags:Pedro Florimon
Monday Roundup: Morales staying put?
February, 17, 2014
FEB 17
3:19
PM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN.com
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When Kendrys Morales turned down the Seattle Mariners' $14.1 million qualifying offer a few months ago, it appeared that he was saying goodbye to the Pacific Northwest.

The market for the slugger, however, has not evolved to his liking, and a key culprit is the high cost of a draft pick that a signing club must surrender in return, as Dan Szymborski chronicled last week.

But could Morales end up staying in Washington State after all? “Don't rule out a return to the Mariners," tweets Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, who hears that the interest of two other potential suitors may be fading. Cafardo hears that Orioles VP Dan Duquette “can't get the financial go-ahead” from owner Peter Angelos and that the Pirates won't part with the necessary draft pick.

There was plenty of buzz last week that the Mariners were not done spending, and the signing of Morales would provide some much-needed lineup production behind Robinson Cano.

Here’s a look at other rumors around the major leagues on Presidents’ Day:
Justin Masterson: With Homer Bailey closing in on a long-term deal with the Reds, a beneficiary could be the Indians’ Masterson, who has similar numbers and experience.
Carlos Gonzalez: CarGo was open to playing center field following the trade of Dexter Flower, but it might make sense to keep him in left.
Stephen Drew: The speculation of a possible return to Boston surfaced Sunday once Ryan Dempster announced he will not pitch in 2014, forfeiting the $13.25 million he was due in the final year of his pact with the Red Sox. That would seem to free up some money to spend on Drew, and Cafardo reports there is "dialogue” between Boras and the Red Sox.
Ervin Santana: The market may be picking up for the free agent righthander who reportedly has lowered his price. The market could include the Yankees, who may not be done spending.
Josh Willingham: The outfielder wants to finish his career in Minnesota, but the feeling may not be mutual.
Jason Heyward: Just because the Braves reached a long-term deal with Craig Kimbrel does not mean they will do the same with Heyward, says David O'Brien of the Atlanta JC.
Matt Garza: The pitcher says the bad timing of an offer from the Angels ended up with him landing in Milwaukee.
post #19993 of 77292
That peak value piece was an awesome read. pimp.gif
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post #19994 of 77292

Homer Bailey and the Reds agree to 6 year, $105 million deal. Good for him. But I thought the Reds didn't have money and thats why they were trying to trade Brandon Phillips so they could keep Choo?

post #19995 of 77292
I think it's well known that they want to trade Brandon Phillips becaue he's not worth what he is getting paid and is getting the rep of being bad in the clubhouse.

I don't think Choo is worth what he got from the Rangers, but right now everyone is getting inflated deals, laugh.gif

It's like the housing bubble.
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post #19996 of 77292
Hope the Braves don't have money for Simmons when is eligible nerd.gif
post #19997 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by ooIRON MANoo View Post

I think it's well known that they want to trade Brandon Phillips becaue he's not worth what he is getting paid and is getting the rep of being bad in the clubhouse.

I don't think Choo is worth what he got from the Rangers, but right now everyone is getting inflated deals, laugh.gif

It's like the housing bubble.

I wonder how the bubble bursts in this case.
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post #19998 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

I wonder how the bubble bursts in this case.

Honestly, I don't know.

MLB is getting a ton of money from a medium that is on the cusp of being revamped.

Newspapers and Magazines are on life support right now. The way people consume television is also changing. The reason MLB and sports in general have received more money is because you can't get your sports a la carte, like you can with television (Netflix, Hulu).

Sports are keeping cable/satellite companies afloat. If you can get any game on MLB.tv, do you know how many people will cancel their cable bills?

If you can pay a flat fee to get every MLB game, every NBA game, every NFL game, etc. Would people pay for cable/satellite? Answer is no.

That is the way consumers are going though, and it can't be ignored. Cable/Satellite providers are giving sports leagues massive amounts of cash to keep live sports content exclusive to them.
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post #19999 of 77292

Since all of this money is coming from tv deals I think the bubble bursts if the FCC really follows through with their plans and consider ending the blackout policy. Not only does the blackout policy prevent local channels from showing games if the game isn's sold out, but it stops cable/satellite/online subscription services from importing a signal from elsewhere and showing it. The blackout policy ends and teams aren't gonna get these huge tv deals anymore. 

 

Just using the Phillies as an example, they just signed a 25 year, $2.5 billion deal with Comcast. With the deal over 140 games are gonna be shown on CSN, so you're gonna need to get cable since Dish or DirecTV doesn't carry the channel. If the blackout policy ends, DirecTV and Dish subscribers can watch the games if they have the MLB package. Same thing with those that subscribe to MLB.tv. 

 

But you know all of the leagues, tv channels, etc are gonna donate a lot of money to politicians campaigns so they can keep making their money.

post #20000 of 77292
Do you know what the distribution is of households in Philly that have CSN?

In Houston, 60 percent of the market doesn't have our CSN and can't watch the Rockets and Astros. There are suburbs in Houston that can't even get Comcast, period. The whole situation is a mess.
post #20001 of 77292
Blackout policy should end. What a way to **** the consumer.
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post #20002 of 77292

I don't know what the distributions of households in Philly that get CSN. But I would say that if you live in the Philly area, South NJ, and Delaware, and you have cable you get CSN. Only DirecTV and Dish users don't get it as of yet. 

post #20003 of 77292
Speaking of Philly, what a dirty organization for reporting those kids to the NCAA because they were butthurt that they didn't sign
post #20004 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by worldbeefreeg View Post

Hope the Braves don't have money for Simmons when is eligible nerd.gif

indifferent.gifindifferent.gifindifferent.gif

He's not leaving!
post #20005 of 77292
Thread Starter 
2014 Top 10 Prospects: Texas Rangers.
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The Rangers’ reliance on the minor league system to fill holes at the big league level has ensured that the depth is not quite as deep as it used to be. However, the organization still has an enviable system and some exciting talent on the way — especially in the infield.

#1 Rougned Odor (2B)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 569 156 41 11 35 91 32 .305 .365 .474 .378
The Year in Review: Odor definitely didn’t stink in 2013; in fact, he had a breakout season by hitting .305 with an .839 OPS as a teenager combined between High-A ball and Double-A. The left-handed hitter showed good line-drive pop and hit 41 doubles and 11 home runs. He also swiped 32 bases in 42 attempts. Odor received some additional experience during the off-season by seeing 32 games of action in the Venezuelan Winter League.

The Scouting Report: The Rangers graduated one outstanding middle infield prospect in 2013 in Jurickson Profar, but another one is on the way. Odor, who recently turned 20, has an advanced hitting approach for his age and his above-average bat speed helps him hit balls with authority into the gaps. I’d like to see him be a little more selective at the plate. He’ll likely never hit for big home run power and his speed on the bases is just average. The Venezuela native still has work to do to polish his game at second base but he has the athletic ability to be average or better.

The Year Ahead: Odor will almost certainly return to Double-A to open the 2014 season. With Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar at the MLB level there is no reason to rush the young second base prospect.

The Career Outlook: The Venezuela native looks like a future impact offensive player at second base for the Rangers, which could force the club to once again relocate Profar.


#2 Jorge Alfaro (C)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
20 539 134 30 18 37 139 20 .283 .360 .468 .381
The Year in Review: Alfaro spent the majority of 2013 in Low-A ball where he slugged 39 extra base hits, including 16 homers, in 104 games. He had some issues at the plate with 111 strikeouts and just 28 walks but he showed his above-average athleticism (for a catcher) by nabbing 16 bases in 19 attempts. He hit very well in the Arizona Fall League (.938 OPS) despite further contact issues (17 Ks in 19 games).

The Scouting Report: Alfaro didn’t start catching until shortly before signing his first pro contract and also missed valuable development time in 2012 thanks to injuries so he’s still raw behind the plate. He shows enough athletic ability to suggest he’ll eventually improve his receiving to the point where he can be an average or better defender. Alfaro, 20, has a strong arm that should allow him to control the running game in the Majors. His naturally-aggressive nature at the plate hinders his offensive tools and he may not hit for a great average due to his high strikeout totals. Alfaro has above-average power potential.

The Year Ahead: Aflaro spent three games in High-A in 2013 and he should return there for much of ’14 while he looks to polish his defense. He could be ready to supplant the questionable Geovany Soto/J.P. Arencibia catching tandem (or whoever else shows up in the interim) late 2015 or mid-2016.

The Career Outlook: Athletic for a catcher, Alfaro could handle another position if needed but a move will hinder his value and he’s shown enough improvement to date that a move likely won’t be necessary. He projects as a solid all-around catcher capable of hitting bombs with aplomb.


#3 Luis Sardinas (SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
20 573 149 19 2 36 75 32 .288 .340 .347 .321
The Year in Review: Speaking of infield depth, Sardinas is another talented middle infield prospect — although he receives most of his accolades for his work with the glove. Like Rougned Odor, the young shortstop split the 2013 season between High-A and Double-A. He hit a combined .288 with 32 steals in 42 attempts. He also spent time in the Venezuelan Winter League and hit .354 in 31 games.

The Scouting Report: The slick-fielding Sardinas is often overlooked in an organization brimming with young infielders. The young athlete isn’t as gifted offensively as the likes of Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor but he is a skilled defender at shortstop with an above-average arm, plus range and good actions. At the plate, Sardinas understands his strengths and doesn’t try to muscle the ball, instead focusing on an all-fields approach and hitting the ball where it’s pitched. He also has above-average speed that should allow him to steal 20+ bases in a full big league season.

The Year Ahead: Sardinas will likely pair with Odor to form a talented double-play combo in the Texas League. He’ll likely spend a full year in the minors but could reach Triple-A in the second half.

The Career Outlook: Sardinas could develop into a solid, but unspectacular, hitter but he has a chance to be a plus fielder at a key defensive position.


#4 Luke Jackson (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
21 25 23 128.0 92 6 9.42 4.15 2.04 3.17
The Year in Review: Jackson had a successful season in 2013 from a statistical standpoint with just 92 hits allowed and 134 strikeouts in 128.0 innings. He spent the majority of the season in High-A but also made six appearances (four starts) in Double-A. He allowed just six home runs on the season despite a fairly average fly-ball rate.

The Scouting Report: Trades and promotions have robbed the organization of a lot of its pitching depth but Jackson continues to get better and is now the most talented pitching prospect in the system — although questions remain about his future role. The right-hander has a strong pitcher’s frame but everything that comes out of his hand is hard — a fastball that touches 95-96 mph, as well as a curveball. He has a changeup in his arsenal but it’s rarely used. Jackson also struggles with both his command and control but when he finds the strike zone he can be hard to hit.

The Year Ahead: The late season taste of Double-A should prepare him well to return to that level in 2014. He needs polish but he might see the Majors before the year is out.

The Career Outlook: Jackson has the ceiling of a solid No. 3 starter if he can improve in a few of the areas listed above. Some contacts feel he’d be better-served by a move to the bullpen where he could potentially dominate as a high-leverage reliever.


#5 Chi-Chi Gonzalez (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
21 14 14 42.2 45 2 7.38 3.38 3.80 3.36
The Year in Review: The Florida native was selected 23rd overall in the 2013 amateur draft out of Oral Roberts University. Gonzalez made 14 starts after turning pro while splitting his time between short-season ball and High-A ball. He struggled against southpaws, especially with his command and control, but he produced an excellent ground-ball rate and showed an advanced feel for pitching.

The Scouting Report: Gonzalez is an advanced college product that shouldn’t need much seasoning in the minors. He produces strong ground-ball numbers with a fastball that shows plenty of movement and enough velocity to make things interesting. He also flashes a plus slider and a developing changeup. His command and control were both inconsistent in his debut but project as average or better with further polish.

The Year Ahead: Gonzalez’s performance in the spring time will likely help decide if he opens the year in High-A ball or Double-A, but he should see the latter league at some point in 2014.

The Career Outlook: Gonzalez looks like a future No. 3 starter capable of keeping the ball on the ground while piling up innings.


#6 Joey Gallo (3B)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 467 103 23 40 50 172 15 .251 .338 .623 .425
The Year in Review: The Nevada slugger did just that — slug — in 2013 by sending 40 balls over the outfield fences in 111 games. He even added 14 stolen bases in 15 tries. Unfortunately, he hit just .245 with a .334 on-base percentage and stuck out a whopping 165 times.

The Scouting Report: Gallo possesses plus-plus power and has one of the most potent bats in the minors in terms of home run potential. Unfortunately, he invokes comparisons to former Indians slugger Russell Branyan for the boom-or-bust, swing-and-miss tendencies. He struck out almost 40% of the time in 2013. In the field, Gallo shows a very strong arm but his range and foot work are both below average and he may end up in right field (first base is also an option but would negate part of his defensive value).

The Year Ahead: Gallo will move up to High-A ball in 2014 where he’ll look to continue hitting bombs while trimming his legendary strikeout rate.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned above, Gallo runs the risk of developing into a Branyan type of player or a future MVP of the Japanese league. If he makes enough contact, though, he could be a special player on this side of the ocean.


#7 Michael Choice (OF)
Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
23 19 5.3 % 31.6 % .278 .316 .333 .290 83 -0.4 0.0 0.0
The Year in Review: Since slugging 30 home runs over 467 at-bats in the California League (High-A) in 2011, Choice has produced two disappointing seasons in terms of power — including a combined 24 home runs over 869 at-bats. On the plus side, he hit .302 in Triple-A last year and backed that up with a .390 on-base percentage. He was traded from Oakland to Texas in the offseason during the Craig Gentry swap.

The Scouting Report: Choice has plus raw power but he doesn’t always tap into it in game situations. He hit for a strong average in 2013 but the strikeout totals (although improved) will likely prevent him from hitting more than .270-.280 in a big league season. He has a patient approach and should produce strong on-base rates. Defensively, Choice has played centre field but is better suited to a corner where he shows respectable range and a strong arm.

The Year Ahead: The Texas native may have to open the year back at Triple-A for a second year because he doesn’t really have a shot at a starting gig and would make a poor choice for the fourth outfielder’s role (mainly because it might stunt his development).

The Career Outlook: Choice’s future likely hinges on his ability to tap into his raw power on a more consistent basis.


#8 Nick Williams (OF)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 404 110 19 17 15 110 8 .293 .337 .543 .395
The Year in Review: Williams’ 2013 numbers look fairly decent on the surface — including a .293 batting average and .879 OPS — but dig a little deeper and you’ll find 110 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 95 games. The left-handed hitter did a nice job of handling southpaws (.798 OPS). He clearly tired in August and September during his first full pro season and saw his OPS dip well below .700 for that period; he also struck out 34 times in his final 22 games.

The Scouting Report: Williams does have the swing-and-miss tendencies that Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson have but he is aggressive at the plate and needs to improve his pitch recognition. The ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact and he should be capable of at least 15-20 home runs at the big league level. He lacks first-step quickness but he’s a good runner. Williams played the corner outfield in 2013 in deference to Brinson but he has the potential to play center field despite a modest throwing arm.

The Year Ahead: The young outfielder will move up to High-A ball and look to remain strong for the entire five month season while also becoming more patient at the plate in an effort to boost his on-base percentage.

The Career Outlook: A Texas native, Williams has an intriguing multifaceted tool set but he still has a lot of polishing to do with his game.


#9 Lewis Brinson (OF)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 503 106 18 21 48 191 24 .237 .322 .427 .347
The Year in Review: Brinson’s final line on the season wasn’t terrible but his 191 strikeouts in 122 games — including in almost half of his at-bats against right-handed pitching — certainly limited his effectiveness. The fact that he was able to produce a 20-20 season as a teenager says a lot about his potential.

The Scouting Report: Brinson was one of my favorite athletes available in the 2012 draft but his approach at the plate has taken a step back in pro ball and he’s become a prolific hacker at the plate, as witnessed by his strikeout rate of 38%. His long swing doesn’t do him any favors. Surrounded by power-hitting prospects in Low-A ball (Nick Williams, Joey Gallo), became homer-happy even though he possesses five-tool (albeit raw) potential. Brinson has plus potential on the base paths as well as in centre field.

The Year Ahead: Brinson will likely move up to High-A ball along with Nick Williams and Joey Gallo. His athleticism and overall potential is exciting but he has a long, long way to go in terms of realizing his full potential.

The Career Outlook: Unless he trims the strikeout rate, Brinson is going to burn out before he even hits Triple-A. If the light clicks on, though, he could be a solid big league performer.


#10 Chris Bostick (2B)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
20 555 138 25 14 51 122 25 .282 .354 .452 .368
The Year in Review: Bostick produce surprising pop in 2013 and went deep 14 times; his slugging percentage went up almost .100 points over his previous season. The infielder hit .282 but he struck out a lot. He was a threat on the base paths with 25 steals in 33 tries. Bostick arrived in Texas from Oakland along with fellow Top 10 prospect Michael Choice.

The Scouting Report: The Rangers may have pulled off a real steal with the addition of both Michael Choice and Bostick from the A’s for a fourth outfielder in Craig Gentry and a middle reliever in Josh Lindblom. The young infielder isn’t overly physical but he improved his strength in 2013 and started hitting the ball with more authority, although he’ll never be a big home run hitter. He has enough speed and base running acumen to nab 15+ bases in a season. He’s shown an ability to handle both shortstop and second base but his future is probably at the keystone.

The Year Ahead: Bostick will move from Low-A to High-A ball in 2014 and if he continues to hit well (and possibly trim the strikeouts) he could see Double-A late in the year.

The Career Outlook: Bostick could develop into a solid big league second baseman — which is just what Texas needed, right?

The Next Five:

11. Nomar Mazara, OF: Given a massive bonus to sign out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 as a 16 year old, Mazara spent ’13 in Low-A ball at the age of 18. He was a little overwhelmed at times — which is understandable — but he showed flashes of why he was so heavily coveted. When he can make contact, the ball goes a long way. The left-handed hitter struggled against southpaws and hit just .165 against them. In total, he struck out 131 times in 126 games.

12. David Ledbetter, RHP: David and his twin brother Ryan were both drafted (and signed) by the Rangers in 2013. The more talented of the two, David had a strong pro debut in the Northwest League and struck out 51 batters in 58.1 innings while also producing a solid ground-ball rate. He has a four-pitch repertoire that includes an 89-94 mph fastball with good sink, a curveball, a slider and a changeup.

13. Travis Demeritte, SS/3B: An athletic infielder, Demeritte played shortstop as an amateur but also spent some time at third during his debut. He has as strong arm but his range is hindered by his modest speed so the hot corner is likely his long-term destination. Demeritte is a bit of an inconsistent hitter but he had a strong debut with an .856 OPS. The strikeouts — 49 in 39 games — were an issue and he needs to make more consistent contact.

14. Ronald Guzman, 1B: Signed the same year as Mazara, Guzman’s 2013 season was interrupted by a knee injury. He flashes plus raw power but has yet to fully tap into it. He struggled mightily against southpaws in 2013 with a .496 OPS compared to .778 against righties. Guzman, 19 has limited defensive value.

15. Jairo Beras, OF: Beras appeared in just 17 games due to a broken hamate bone but he showed flashes of what made him such a highly-sought-after commodity on the international free agent market. The 18-year-old showed good power for his young age — not surprising given his frame and he also showed a good eye considering his limited playing time over the past year and a half. He possesses a very strong arm in the outfield.

A Few Thoughts on the Orioles and their Window.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Recently, the Orioles have finally gotten active with regard to improving their ballclub. Such behavior was long overdue, because inactivity was likely to leave the Orioles in a non-competitive place despite a roster littered with upper-level talent. Their offseason, for a while, was as disappointing as Cincinnati’s, and on the heels of the Ubaldo Jimenez acquisition, writers all over the place have emphasized that the Orioles are working with a short-term window. That is, the Orioles need to win in 2014 or 2015, because after that, they could easily be without both Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.

Wieters is good, and next year is his last year of team control, and he’s represented by Scott Boras. Davis is good, and next year is his last year of team control, and he’s represented by Scott Boras as well. Certainly, the Orioles would rather have more good players than fewer good players, and if they do lose these two, they’ll have to work hard to make up for it. But I want to talk about the Orioles’ perceived window, just as I talked some time ago about the Royals’ perceived window, because the actual reality is always more complicated than the sound-byte reality. For Baltimore, it doesn’t have to be two years or bust.

The first thing to talk about: how good are the Orioles, actually? Like, right this second? Is this even really a good window for them? They have won 178 games over two years. Much of that talent is still around. And yet, they aren’t quite projection-system darlings. Steamer has them as the worst team in the AL East. PECOTA also has them as the worst team in the AL East. ZiPS doesn’t seem to think they’re very different from the Blue Jays. One message: the Orioles aren’t bad. A second message: the Orioles, at least this year, will have an uphill battle. For a team supposedly with a short-term window, the shortest term is less than encouraging.

Some young talent could and should arrive down the stretch. It could and should be in place for 2015, so maybe next year would be when the Orioles are at their best. Some of that depends on how good Davis and Wieters actually are. Wieters hasn’t shown much improvement, and Davis looks like a regression candidate, if only because his most recent numbers were so insane. I think if you’re going to talk about a team with a window, it should at least be clear that they’re a real contender during. The Orioles simply might be. The teams around them are also pretty good.

Now, let’s say that Wieters and Davis both walk after 2015. It’s the current course of things, and let’s say they become highly sought-after free agents. Lose Wieters and the Orioles are down, say, 3-4 wins. Lose Davis and they’re down, I don’t know, 3-5 wins. The specific numbers aren’t important — what’s important is that they’re big losses. But those aren’t just losses of wins; they also represent cleared payroll. Wieters might easily end up making about $10 million in 2015. Davis could earn upwards of $15 million. This is the easy part to forget about — when you lose a highly-paid star, you lose a star, but you also gain some flexibility.

Of course, Wieters will probably be more valuable than $10 million, and Davis will probably be more valuable than $15 million. Those are estimated third-year arbitration figures, and you can’t use that money to buy the same wins back on the open market. But then, there’s also the Nick Markakis factor. Markakis will make $15 million this season. Then there’s a bigger club option, with a $2-million buyout. Markakis has been worth 7.5 WAR over five years, and his most recent year was his worst, and he’s entered his 30s.

Unless Markakis turns things around, the Orioles will happily clear that money, and then they’ll be able to re-invest it, probably better. Between Markakis, Wieters, and Davis, the Orioles could lose a lot of talent over two years, but that talent would’ve come at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, and dollars are basically wins without a corporeal form. Even if they can’t totally make up the gap in lost wins, they can get a lot of the way there.

And now’s when we consider the potential long-term assets. If the talk is about the Orioles losing Wieters and Davis, the talk should also be about the players the Orioles would have left. Because every baseball team is bigger than one or two players, and though you can never be confident in projections a few years off, the Orioles have reason to hope they could still have a pretty strong core a few seasons down the road.

Adam Jones is there for a while. He’s locked in and he’s good. Manny Machado‘s there for a while. He’s under club control, and he’s good. The Orioles just signed Ubaldo Jimenez for four years. Chris Tillman isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015. Less sexily, Miguel Gonzalez isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015. Hell, the Orioles signed Suk-min Yoon for three years, whatever he might be, and that contract’s interesting. It’s looking like the front office could sign J.J. Hardy to a long-term extension.

And what the Orioles have is a top-heavy farm system, which means it’s light on depth, but big on potential impact talent. Our own Marc Hulet put five Orioles prospect in the top 100. Keith Law put the same five in the top 100. Baseball Prospectus put the same five in the top 101. Those five are real good and, for the most part, they’re close to being major leaguers.

Dylan Bundy is on the other side of Tommy John surgery, now, and he’s an operation removed from being baseball’s consensus top pitching prospect. He’s 21 years old. Kevin Gausman is 23 years old, and he’s had few problems in the minors, and while his big-league cup of coffee featured a near-6 ERA, it also featured a near-3 xFIP, with a strikeout an inning. Eduardo Rodriguez is 20 years old, and he just struck out a batter an inning in his first exposure to Double-A. Jonathan Schoop is 22 years old, and he’s thought to be close to a big-league infield provided he’s over a 2013 back injury. Rounding things out, Hunter Harvey was just drafted 22nd overall, and he’s 19, and while he’s a few years away, he’s also a potential fast riser. Hulet has given him a high ceiling, albeit shy of ace-level.

Odds are, not all those guys will work out. Bundy’s already been hurt. Harvey’s a low-minors prep arm, and Schoop hasn’t hit a whole lot for a while. But some of those guys should work out, and if, say, Bundy and Gausman succeed, they could be impact starters real soon under cheap team control for several seasons. And there’s absolutely nothing more valuable to a big-league franchise than a good young player making a tiny fraction of his market-value salary.

Jones, Machado, and Tillman are already good and in place. Jimenez is something of a mystery, and Hardy is a different sort of mystery, but there could be value there, too, and then you throw in the prospects, who could make significant impacts. Mix that together and it’s not unreasonable to think that the Orioles could still be pretty good in 2016 and beyond. If Bundy and Gausman deliver in the nearer term, the 2015 O’s could be a force, but a force without Matt Wieters and Chris Davis is still a force with some money to spend. So, you can paint a hopeful picture.

You can also paint a depressing picture. A lot depends on a group of young arms, and there’s no less-reliable set of players in baseball. If the pitchers bust, the Orioles would need new pitchers, non-busted pitchers, and those pitchers would cost them money, and they’d run out of money fast. But Bundy could be real good. Gausman could be real good. Rodriguez could be real good, and Schoop could at least be an all-right infielder for cheap, and so on. Life for the Orioles doesn’t have to end after 2015, even if Wieters and Davis both leave. Solutions could be found from within the system, because a system’s the real key to sustainable winning.

Homer Bailey and His Peers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Extension season continued today, with the Reds announcing the six year, $105 million contract for Homer Bailey that’s been rumored for the better part of the last week or so. Jeff already wrote up Bailey’s 2013 improvements, and there’s no question he was a significantly better pitcher last year than he had been previously. If those improvements are real and sustainable, Bailey won’t have any problem justifying this extension, and he certainly would have landed a much larger deal as a free agent next winter. There’s certainly upside here if he continues to pitch as he did last year.

That said, it’s also a pretty big bet on what amounts to one year’s performance at this level, and we can’t ignore what Bailey was before 2013 in projecting what he’ll do going forward. Using forecasts that account for multiple years of performance, Steamer projects Bailey as a +2.5 WAR pitcher in 2014, while ZIPS is a little more optimistic, coming in at +3.5 WAR. The always optimistic FANS projections are agree more with ZIPS, but they’ve generally been 15-20% too high across on the board — rose colored glasses and all that — and if you adjust all the FANS projections down to a more reasonable baseline, Bailey would come out at +2.9 WAR. I think it’s fair to say that Bailey is roughly a +3 WAR pitcher at the moment.

But this winter, we’ve seen a bunch of +3 WAR starters hit the free agent market, and none of them got anywhere close to $105 million over six years. One could certainly make the case that Bailey is more attractive than pitchers like Matt Garza (health concerns), Ubaldo Jimenez (lack of consistency), Ervin Santana (ditto), and Ricky Nolasco (ERA/FIP differentials), each of whom have signed — or in Santana’s case, are likely to sign — for roughly 4/$50M. The Reds essentially bought five of Bailey’s free agent years for an AAV of $19 million per season, while similar-if-not-quite-as-attractive actual free agents were only able to command $12 or $13 million per year with one fewer guaranteed year. Even if you prefer Bailey to these free agents — I do too, for the record — I’m not sure how to justify the gap at $6-$7 million per season, plus an extra guaranteed year, especially considering Bailey wasn’t actually a free agent yet.

This contract basically says that Bailey is a full win per season better than these guys going forward, and that the extra leverage that the Reds had of forcing him to wait an additional year to hit the open market had little or no value. Even if you think Bailey’s a +3.5 WAR guy going forward, you have to be fairly down on all of the Garza/Santana/Nolasco/Jimenez group to make that case. Which isn’t totally crazy, as they each have their own issues, but of course, it’s not like Bailey has been a dependable model of excellence either. Just as the Reds are betting on Bailey’s upside, the Orioles on bidding on Jimenez’s upside, and both have established similar top-end performances over the last few years. Maybe Bailey comes with less downside, but I don’t know that it’s significantly less, and the Orioles bet is less than half of the guaranteed money that the Reds just gave Bailey.

Clearly, Walt Jocketty knows more about the trade value of trying to sell teams on acquiring Bailey on a one year, $10 million contract, especially since trading him now would essentially have been an admission that the Reds didn’t think Bailey was worth the price he was asking for. It’s tough to ask an opposing GM to give up a bunch of talent in return for a single year rental of a player that you yourself won’t extend at the price he’s asking. So maybe the Reds wouldn’t have gotten much for Bailey’s walk year.

But given the other options available for $10M in salary — that’s Dan Haren/Bartolo Colon/Josh Johnson territory, essentially — it’s hard for me to imagine that the Reds couldn’t have extracted some real value in return, especially since the acquiring team would know that they could at least use a qualifying offer next winter to regain some future value even if they weren’t going to extend him themselves. Could the Reds really not have talked the Yankees into doing some version of the Bailey for Brett Gardner rumor that kicked around all winter? Or what about sending him to Seattle for displaced 2B prospect Nick Franklin, giving themselves an in-house replacement for when they eventually give Brandon Phillips away?

Maybe there wasn’t that kind of interest in Bailey from other GMs. Maybe the Reds really were best off keeping him at $19 million per year rather than spending $12 or $13 million on an inferior pitcher, even if the gap isn’t that huge. Free agents who change teams regularly underperform their projections, so maybe the available hurlers are more likely to be +2 WAR pitchers than +3 WAR pitchers going forward, and the Reds will be better off with a younger, better hurler than the free agent alternatives. There are plenty of scenarios where this deal works out just fine, and even if the Reds decide in a year that $19 million per year might not be such a bargain after all, it’s not such an egregious overpay that he wouldn’t still be movable if need be.

Given what we know about Bailey and about what the free agent market just said about good-not-great hurlers with some inconsistencies in their track records, this feels like a pretty steep price to pay, however. Maybe it was the best path forward for the Reds, but I wonder if in a year’s time, they don’t look back and wonder why they paid $100 million for their above average starter when everyone else was paying $50 million for theirs.

The Best Transactions of the 2014 Off-Season.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yes, there are still free agents on the market, but with Spring Training officially underway, I think it’s fair to say that the off-season is over. From November through the first half of February, we’ve seen over $2.2 billion handed out in free agent contracts, and that doesn’t even account for the big money being thrown around in contract extensions for players who weren’t yet up for open bidding. We also saw several notable trades, with some big names and big contracts changing cities over the winter.

So, let’s go ahead and do a little recapping, starting off with my 10 favorite moves of the last three and a half months. This is the third year I’ve done this here on FanGraphs, with the 2012 list working out a little better (in retrospect) than the 2013 version, which included praise for deals like the Melky Cabrera and Scott Baker signings. We’ll aim for better results this year.

Keep in mind, just because a trade is listed here as a win for one franchise doesn’t mean that I think the decision was necessarily a poor one for the other side. There are several deals below that I think served both teams interest because I think both teams got exactly what they needed in the transaction. There are win-win deals, so the support for one side of a transaction should not be read as condemnation of the other side. We’ll look at the worst transactions of the winter tomorrow, and it won’t simply be the flip side of the trades listed below.

Also, we’re evaluating not just the deal’s impact on 2014, but the longer term ramifications as well, so larger, more impactful deals will generally get more weight than good deals that only last a year. Short term moves aren’t excluded from the analysis, but it would be easy to create a list of low-risk, short term commitments that could work out wonderfully for the signing team, but the moves that end up having the biggest impacts on a franchise are the ones that have an impact beyond just the upcoming season. There are a few one year deals on this list, but overall, the attempt is to acknowledge teams that made significant acquisitions that will move the needle for their franchise, and not just provide a short term boost.

Before we get to my favorite 10 deals, here are a few that just missed the cut, but I still like quite a bit:

Honoroable Mentions: Mets sign Chris Young, Dodgers sign Paul Maholm, Indians sign David Murphy, Royals sign Omar Infante, Rays acquire Ryan Hanigan, Yankees sign Kelly Johnson, White Sox acquire Matt Davidson.

And now, on to what I view as the 10 best transactions made this winter

10. The Padres sign Josh Johnson.
Cost: One year, $8 million.

Like Scott Baker last year, this is an example of a deal that will probably either be a big win or a big nothing, as Johnson’s value depends almost entirely on whether or not he’s physically capable of taking the mound. If his forearm problem from 2013 is a thing of the past, the the Padres may have signed the most effective free agent hurler on the market, and if it doesn’t work, well, they’re out a little more than what Jason Hammel cost the Cubs. And even on a one year deal, this deal has real potential long term benefits for San Diego, because a bounce back season makes Johnson an easy qualifying offer target next winter, setting the Padres up to either re-sign him at a discount or get a draft pick if he walks. The amount of risk the Padres took on was pretty minimal, but they got a lot of upside in return.

9. The Dodgers sign Dan Haren.
Cost: One year, $10 million.

The Dodgers are making a similar bet on Haren as the Padres are on Johnson, only Haren’s downside is even lower, since he’s been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball over the past decade. Even if his recent home run problem persist, Haren’s likely to be something like an average innings eater, and that alone is worth the $10 million investment, but there’s a good chance that Haren doesn’t keep up giving up home runs at the rate he has lately, and he returns to being an above average starter for the Dodgers. Like with Johnson, the qualifying offer is certainly in play if the rebound happens, so this deal has 2015 value even with only a one year commitment.

8. The A’s sign Scott Kazmir.
Cost: Two years, $22 million.

You may be getting the feeling that I like short-term, moderate cost deals for pitchers with upside. You are correct, and while the A’s took on a bit more risk in betting on Kazmir’s rebirth, I think there is real value in locking in his 2015 season rather than trying to use the qualifying offer to get him to stick around another year. This kind of deal not only gives the A’s a boost in 2014, but if they’re right about his resurgence — and I think they are — it will give them a highly valuable trade chip should they want to shop him around next winter. A bunch of pitchers signed contracts in the 2/$20M range this winter, but for me, Kazmir’s deal was easily the best of the bunch.

7. The Astros acquire Dexter Fowler.
Cost: Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.

It’s easy to rattle off Fowler’s flaws, ranging from his big home/road splits to his propensity for striking out without offsetting it with a ton of power. However, even with his warts, Fowler has been an above average outfielder for the last three years running, and is just 28 years old, so a short term spike can’t be ruled out. In exchange for two reasonably priced arbitration years of a quality player with remaining upside, the Astros gave up two fringe talents that they won’t miss in any real way. This move flew under the radar because it was completed during the busiest day of the off-season, but the Astros picked up a ton of value in this deal.

6. The White Sox acquire Adam Eaton.
Cost: Hector Santiago and Brandon Jacobs.

In an era where teams are putting a higher value than ever on young, cost-controlled talent, the White Sox still managed to pick up a 25 year old center fielder who they control for the next five years, and they did it without giving up anything of serious value. Santiago is a major regression candidate who probably fits better in the bullpen than the rotation, and Rick Hahn managed to sell high on his artificially low ERA and turn that into a guy who could be a quality regular for the rest of the decade. This is perhaps the very best example of buying low and selling high of any trade this winter.

5. The Yankees sign Brian McCann.
Cost: Five years, $85 million.

Of the big splashy free agent signings this off-season, this is the one that I think has the best chance of working. McCann is an underrated player whose core skills have showed few signs of decline, and his left-handed pull power should play extremely well in Yankee Stadium. Even if he’s only a catcher for the next few years before moving to 1B/DH as he gets older, he’ll accumulate a ton of value in the first few years of the contract, and is a good enough hitter to provide some value at the end of the deal, Victor Martinez style. Similarly valuable players were going for $50M to $100M more this winter, so $85 million for McCann looks like a great price compared to other premium free agents.

4. The White Sox sign Jose Abreu.
Cost: Six years, $68 million.

Yes, another White Sox deal. I really liked their off-season, if you haven’t noticed. And I think this is the deal that has the potential to turn out to be the best move any team made all winter, even though it comes with some pretty decent sized risk. $68 million in guaranteed money is a lot for a bat-only guy who has never played in the U.S., but if the White Sox are right about his offensive potential, this deal will be a massive bargain over the long term. Rather than just focusing on the $68 million, keep in mind that the White Sox just signed up for an $11 million AAV, which in today’s dollars gets you in the bidding for a guy like Bronson Arroyo. Even if Abreu is just an average first baseman, this contract probably works for Chicago, and if he turns into a monster, they’ll be one of the few teams with a locked-in bargain rate on premium power.

3. The Tigers dump Prince Fielder.
Cost: $30 million, plus Ian Kinsler‘s remaining $62 million.

While the Prince Fielder era in Detroit wasn’t a total disaster, it was clearly time for the experiment to end, and Dave Dombrowski did a great job of not only getting out of the worst years of one of baseball’s worst free agent signings in recent years, but of acquiring a similarly valuable player in return. There’s a pretty good case to be made that Kinsler is likely to be more valuable over the next four years than Fielder is, and the Tigers managed to drop $70 million in committed salary while getting a player that isn’t a demonstrable downgrade, and allows them to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base. I didn’t love the rest of their off-season, but this move was a great one for the Tigers.

2. The Cardinals acquire Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
Cost: David Freese and Fernando Salas.

While Jon Jay isn’t a bad player, watching him try to run down balls in the post-season was pretty painful, and the Cardinals correctly identified their outfield defense as an area where they could make a major improvement. In landing Bourjos, they now have one of baseball’s truly elite fly catchers, and a guy who is a better offensive player than he’s given credit for. Like with Eaton, the Cardinals didn’t just acquire a quality upgrade for 2014, but also multiple years of team control over an underrated player who probably won’t be properly compensated by the arbitration process. And by keeping Jay around, the Cardinals aren’t counting on Bourjos to play 160 games, so his injury issues aren’t the liability they would be for a team with less depth. Freese had some real value, so they didn’t get Bourjos for free, but this move allowed them to get Kolton Wong into the line-up and improve their outfield at the same time. Big win for St. Louis.

1. The Nationals acquire Doug Fister.
Cost: Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, and Ian Krol.

You probably knew this was coming. I’m going to guess that this move will show up at the top of every best-transactions-of-2014 list, as the Nationals basically stole Doug Fister from the Tigers in a trade that no one still understands very well. When you look at the prices being commanded for quality starting pitchers, getting Fister — who will make less than $20 million over the next two years, most likely — for a trio of bit pieces is a huge theft. We haven’t seen a player this good get traded for this little in years, and it’s mystifying how Mike Rizzo managed to get Fister for this price. This deal put the Nationals right back in playoff contention, and it did so for such a low cost that I still haven’t found anyone who thinks the Tigers made a good trade. When a deal is universally accepted as a heist, you’ve done something very right.

Stealing Success Against Pitch Speeds and Pitch Heights.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Sometimes there just isn’t a way to sex up a headline. The other day I tried to sate my own curiosity by looking at what happens to the called strike zone when there’s a runner on the move. The results supported what I expected to be the case, but the data’s also incomplete, so it’s not like anything could be proven one way or another. Ultimately it turned out to be half study and half idea-introduction. There’s not a lot I can do about it now.

The post was powered by the searchable Baseball Savant, which somewhat recently added a “stolen base attempt” check box. This time around, I want to do something a little more obvious with the data, since it’s data I’ve never played with before. There’s information for more than 14,000 stolen-base attempts in the past four seasons, which doesn’t cover all the stolen-base attempts, but does cover most of them. Let’s assume, for the moment, the data that’s available is accurate. How do stolen-base rates change by pitch velocity? How do stolen-base rates change by pitch height? Do the trends follow the patterns we’d expect?

I probably shouldn’t need to tell you the patterns we’d expect. In theory, success rate goes down the faster the pitch. In theory, success rate goes down the higher the pitch (to a point). We might as well just dive into the numbers. First, the velocity table, broken into somewhat arbitrary groups:

Speed SB CS Attempts SB% Avg. Speed
95+ 609 175 784 77.7% 96.2
90-94 3699 1319 5018 73.7% 92.2
85-89 2815 1050 3865 72.8% 87.7
80-84 2128 623 2751 77.4% 82.6
75-79 1026 308 1334 76.9% 78.0
Under 75 308 74 382 80.6% 71.9
Immediately, something interesting stands out. Yes, the highest success rate comes against the slowest pitches, which is one of the things we’re looking for. But there’s no clear trend, and the second-highest success rate comes against the fastest pitches. Runners had a better-than-average success rate trying to steal against pitches that averaged 96.2 miles per hour. The sample is small, but not so small it can be dismissed.

Here’s what I suspect: We could be observing the results of selection bias. The pitcher on the mound doesn’t have any secrets. If that guy has a big fastball, everybody knows about it. The guy who’s reached base knows about it. The guy who’s reached base knows that, because of the velocity, the ball will arrive to the catcher faster. So runners might take off only when they feel more certain. More significantly, this could be selecting for better runners overall, where worse runners don’t even try to take the chance. It could be that mostly only premium runners try to steal against the hardest-throwing pitchers. This is one potential explanation of several.

It’s worth noting we don’t have a breakdown of attempts at second and attempts at third. It’s worth noting that, between groups, we’re talking about differences of only some hundredths of a second that the pitch is in flight. It’s worth noting that the hardest-throwing pitchers might just be below-average at holding runners on, perhaps because they haven’t had to worry about it; perhaps because they throw so hard. All groups here aren’t even, so it’s interesting to think about why we might see the things we see in these numbers.

Similarly, runners are a little more successful in group No. 2 than they are in group No. 3. Also, they’re a little more successful in group No. 4 than they are in group No. 5. I don’t think the message is pitch velocity is irrelevant. I think the message is pitch velocity is only a small factor. A steal takes place in three to four seconds. The difference between a fast pitch and a slow pitch might be between 2% and 3% of that.

Now let’s look at steal success rates against pitch height, again broken into somewhat arbitrary groups:

Height SB CS Attempts SB%
4.5+ 282 154 436 64.7%
4.0-4.4 369 210 579 63.7%
3.5-3.9 799 339 1138 70.2%
3.0-3.4 1284 518 1802 71.3%
2.5-2.9 1722 639 2361 72.9%
2.0-2.4 1940 636 2576 75.3%
1.5-1.9 1750 507 2257 77.5%
1.0-1.4 1347 337 1684 80.0%
0.0-0.9 962 189 1151 83.6%
Under 0 130 20 150 86.7%
Height is feet above the ground at the front of home plate, as determined by PITCHf/x. A negative height would refer to a pitch that bounced in the dirt in front of the plate. Apparently some runners have been thrown out stealing even after a dirt ball. It’s uncommon, but it’s happened, and it’s probably embarrassing.

Here, I’d say we see the trend we’d expect. Generally, a throw to a base is made from a standing position. A standing position is a higher position, so the higher a pitch, the easier it is for a catcher to receive it and get rid of the ball quickly. If a pitch is down, a catcher either has to wait to get up, he has to drop back down again or he has to suck it up and throw from his knees. The trend is nice and consistent, and the success rate changes from below- to above-average between groups No. 5 and No. 6. With the highest pitches, runners aren’t even successful 70% of the time.

Yet it’s probably worth adjusting to remove designated pitchouts from the sample. Pitchouts are successful at nailing runners on the basepaths, but they’re also sort of their own beast, and they kind of skew the data. Pitchouts are mostly thrown high, and removing them only meaningfully changes the data for the first two groups. The changes:

Group 1: 64.7% –> 75.1%
Group 2: 63.7% –> 68.4%

Here, runners start to look successful against the highest pitches. Some of these pitches were simply too high, getting by the catcher or at least causing him to jump and end up out of position. From the catcher’s perspective, pitchouts excluded, the sweet spot is more between 3.5 feet and 4.4 feet above the ground. These pitches will drop a little more as they go from the front plane of the plate to the glove, and they’ll allow the catcher to almost immediately transfer the ball to his bare hand. At that point, all else being equal, the catcher has about a three-in-10 chance.

There are probably more things that could be done with this data. I’ll note there’s no real difference at all by horizontal pitch location. You’d expect there would be a difference by horizontal pitch location against intended horizontal pitch location, but we can’t measure that so we can’t speak to it. And honestly, I’m content for now. This is data I’ve never investigated before, so it’s nice just to have it, even if it doesn’t reveal anything groundbreaking. And it might still do that, given further study.

What Can Toronto Do To Fix That Second Base Problem?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Look at our depth charts, please. Go ahead, look! If you sort by position, ascending from worst to best, you’ll see a few spots that are projected to be just awful, by which I mean, “1 WAR or less.” That’s close enough to zero WAR that we can safely describe them as “replacement-level,” and that’s not a situation any contender wants to be in. Of course, many of those spots — Marlins shortstop, Brewers first base, etc. — don’t belong to likely contenders, which I will completely arbitrarily define as having playoff odds of at least 30 percent on our Cool Standings page.

That still leaves a few potential contenders with a big problem, but none more so than second base in Toronto, where the Blue Jays are apparently actually planning to give Ryan Goins a crack at second base, if for no other reason than that Maicer Izturis was atrocious last year. Between Goins, Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz, and Steve Tolleson, the Jays keystone crew ranks dead last in our second base projections, and no, newcomer Brett Morel‘s attempt to move from third isn’t changing that needle.

If anything, that combined projection of 0.4 WAR seems possibly high, because it partially depends on Izturis being somewhat less miserable than he was last season. If Goins can even manage to be replacement-level, that will be something, because he’s coming off a Triple-A debut in which he hit just .257/.311/.369, followed by a .252/.264/.345 line (and a 1.7% walk rate!) in 121 plate appearances after the Jays after Izturis injured his ankle and Emilio Bonifacio was traded. The Fans, Steamer, and Oliver all think he’ll put up a wRC+ in the 60-69 range, which is of course terrible, no matter how good the glove is, and for a team that still has a chance to contend, that’s just not going to work.
But of course, no one expects this to go on long enough to have a chance to fail. The point of this post isn’t to point out how poor the Toronto second base situation is, it’s to answer the question: What can they do about it? With Ubaldo Jimenez now off to Baltimore and Ervin Santana seemingly like a terribly poor fit for the Rogers Centre — no matter how badly they need rotation depth — the Jays have yet to make their moves this winter, having added only catcher Dioner Navarro. A Toronto move to add a second baseman seems like the most obvious trade to happen of the spring, if only because one nearly already happened, or at least it would have if Ian Kinsler hadn’t reportedly planned to veto the deal.

So where do they go? We can take a look at Steamer’s second base projections and see that there’s 116 options, but of course most of those aren’t realistic. They aren’t getting Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia or Ben Zobrist, and guys at the other end like Tony Abreu aren’t really worth the effort.

The name everyone wants but doesn’t really fit

Pretty much every time this discussion comes up, Nick Franklin‘s name appears as well. After all, he’s a well-regarded prospect who just lost his spot in Seattle for the next million years thanks to Robinson Cano, and as much as Lloyd McClendon wants to pay lip service to Franklin competing with Brad Miller at shortstop, absolutely no one expects it to happen. So he’s as good as out the door, right?

Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean that Toronto matches up particularly well, because even though Franklin wasn’t especially impressive in his 2013 debut, he still doesn’t turn 23 for another two weeks, and Seattle isn’t letting a young talent with five controllable years remaining go easily. What the Mariners need more than anything is a starter to fill out a rotation that’s already dealing with an injury to Hisashi Iwakuma.

Meanwhile, this is the rotation the Jays currently have:

R.A. Dickey
Mark Buehrle
Brandon Morrow, for the 10 minutes he’s healthy
J.A. Happ, see above
Esmil Rogers, maybe? Marcus Stroman, at some point
The Jays needed Jimenez, didn’t get him, and still need a starter. There’s not exactly much here they can offer Seattle for Franklin, and they aren’t dipping into the minors to send Aaron Sanchez west, either. The Mariners probably trade Franklin sooner than later, but other teams match up better.

The trade route, buying low division

Franklin doesn’t fit, but would Dustin Ackley? At the moment, he’s penciled in to be Seattle’s primary center fielder, but if and when they go out and sign Nelson Cruz, as we all expect them to do, they’re going to have to find a place for him to play. Assuming he’s spending at least half of his time, if not more, in right field, that pushes Michael Saunders back to left, and Logan Morrison and Corey Hart into some kind of first base / DH situation with Justin Smoak. Maybe that inevitably ends with Smoak being traded to Pittsburgh, but maybe it means that Saunders returns to center, where he has over 2,000 innings of experience, and Ackley gets moved.

Though Seattle sees him as a center fielder now, he did start eight games at second over the final two months last year, where he still grades out well defensively, and he has enough in his bat to be worth a win or two more than Goins. That doesn’t mean that Toronto suddenly has a starter to trade to Seattle, but Ackley’s trade value is far lower than Franklin’s.

Far less exciting is Danny Espinosa, who was just atrocious last year in Washington – .158/.193/.272! — and ended up back in the minors, though he’s being given a chance to beat out Anthony Rendon for his job this spring. That’s unlikely to happen, but while he may just end up in Triple-A, he’s also a guy who was worth three wins in both 2011 and ’12, combining good power with solid defense, and his 2013 struggles can at least partially be chalked up to his wrist and shoulder. Espinosa might be done entering his age-27 season, or he might be worth taking a buy-low shot on.

There’s also Rickie Weeks, who is less a “buy low” than he is a “please, please take him” at this point after hitting .209/.306/.357 for Milwaukee, all but certainly losing his job to Scooter Gennett. It’s almost hard to believe he was worth 10 wins in 2010-11 considering how far he’s declined on both sides of the ball, and he’s still owed $11.5m for his age-31 season in 2014. If the Jays wanted to take a chance, Milwaukee would surely jump to clear any of that salary. You can swap out “Rickie Weeks” for “Dan Uggla” in most of this paragraph, too.

The trade route, bigger name division

Brandon Phillips is declining and absolutely won’t top 100 RBI again now that Shin-Soo Choo is gone, but he’s still good for two to three WAR. That said, while the Reds have an obvious need in the outfield to hedge against Billy Hamilton and Ryan Ludwick, Toronto doesn’t have an equally obvious piece to send back. Either way, the Reds think they can win and aren’t likely to move Phillips when they have only Skip Schumaker, who may be less valuable than Goins, to replace him.

Whether or not Daniel Murphy is a “bigger name” is arguable, but despite being a below-average second baseman, he’s valuable enough with the bat that he was worth three wins last year, and is a reasonably solid bet to do the same in 2013. Eric Young can’t really play second base, but the Mets seem fascinated with having him in the lineup, and opening up the keystone for him would at least let Juan Lagares continue to bring his fantastic defense to center. New York won’t let Murphy go lightly, but a decent-yet-far-from-elite second baseman headed into the expensive part of arbitration isn’t going to command a monster return, either.

The unlikely free agent route

Stephen Drew is another popular name here, particularly because with two protected first round picks, the qualifying offer anchor hurts the Jays less than most, and his price can’t be high at this point. Even so, the fit isn’t great, because Drew isn’t going to displace Jose Reyes, and while he’s potentially willing to move to second base, the fact that he’d now be trying to do so without even a full spring training, much less a full winter in front of it, makes it somewhat worrisome. Besides, for whatever reason — different country, brutal division, the turf — Toronto has had difficulty convincing free agents to come.

That might be a problem for Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz, who is now eligible to sign with a team and had Toronto scouts in attendance at his workout last week. Would Diaz be willing to go to Canada and to a team that would ask him to move off of shortstop? It’s easy to see him looking elsewhere.

***

Toronto has various options, but none perfect. Perhaps the Jays try to make several moving parts happen at once, using their protected first rounders as a way to trade Adam Lind to a team that needs help and doesn’t want to lose a pick, then signing Kendrys Morales. Either way, the fans are getting restless. If starting pitching help isn’t coming, a second base upgrade has to be. Otherwise, Navarro is all that’s happened this winter, and even a projected improvement from simply having Reyes and Melky Cabrera healthier than last year won’t help the Jays in what should once again be the toughest division in baseball.
post #20006 of 77292
Thread Starter 
Ryan Dempster Sort of Retires But Not Really.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
From just missing out on the Marlins’ first World Series title to being a member of the Red Sox’s eighth, Ryan Dempster has experienced plenty in his big league career. He might have just had his final experiences as a player however, as the 36-year-old Canadian native announced on Sunday morning that he will be sitting out the 2014 season. If this is the end, it has been a good run for Dempster, who has achieved some notable things in his career. And while the announcement comes at the dawn of spring training, his retirement doesn’t create a panicked situation for Boston in a vacuum, as the team has several pitchers ready (or close) to graduate to major league duty.

Dempster certainly isn’t going to be mistaken for one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, but in a way, he was. Using our leaderboards, we can see the following:

- 8,811 people have pitched in a professional baseball game since 1876.
- 7,160 people have pitched at least 10 innings.
- 4,404 people have pitched at least 100 innings.
- 2,177 people have pitched at least 500 innings.
- 1,179 people have pitched at least 1,000 innings.
- 425 people have pitched at least 2,000 innings.

That Dempster has crossed that 2,000 innings threshold puts him in the top five percent of pitchers all-time in terms of innings pitched. And, as we have seen countless times before, it is that longevity that teams really value. Dempster had that. He wasn’t the beastiest of the beasties, but he did post seven 200-inning seasons. That ties him for 182nd place all-time in terms of 200-inning seasons. And that’s not really fair to him, either, because if it were up to him, he probably would have notched a couple more such seasons, since he wasn’t even a starting pitcher for his entire career.

Here we see the terrible wrath of Dusty Baker taking the starch out of a player’s career. Dempster, who had signed with the Cubs following his Tommy John surgery in 2003, had appeared solely out of the bullpen for the 2004 Cubs squad while working his way back into form late in the season. No harm, no foul there. Makes sense to work a guy back in slowly from surgery. When 2005 started, Dempster worked three good starts and three bad starts, but after the third bad start he was summarily dismissed to the bullpen. The last start wasn’t even that appalling. He didn’t do great, mind you, but he left in the seventh inning having only allowed three runs. His Game Score was 51. The Cubs would lose on a walk-off hit, and Dempster didn’t factor in the decision. Still, out went Dempster.

Baker didn’t even really have a replacement for him. Kerry Wood had recently landed on the shelf, and he and Dempster were replaced by Glendon Rusch for a few weeks. Baker gave Jon Leicester a spot start on May 9th, and then went with a four-man rotation of Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Rusch for a couple times through the rotation before adding Sergio Mitre to the mix on May 24. This way all in the name of replacing LaTroy Hawkins as closer. As we’ve seen, Hawkins has kept on, kept trucking ever since. As always, Baker did a lot of odd things. This is just one in a long line of them.

In any case, it presented Dempster with the unique opportunity to become one of the rare pitchers to excel as both a closer and a starting pitcher. He is one of just 20 pitchers in major league history to start 200 or more games and save 50 or more. And the majority of the pitchers on this list come from a time when the closer wasn’t as big of a thing. There’s only a few from these grand modern times, where the closer is in vogue.

There are just six who played in the Wild Card era who find themselves on the list — Dennis Eckersley, Kelvim Escobar, Tom Gordon, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe and Dempster. That’s some pretty decent company. As we can see in this custom leaderboard, Dempster finds himself the poor man of the group both a WAR and RA-9 WAR perspective, but it’s still a pretty nifty list on which to find yourself.

Still, all those accomplishments weren’t going to vault him into Boston’s starting rotation on Opening Day. He would have likely been the de facto sixth starter, which in reality meant he probably would have started the season as the long man in the bullpen, firmly behind the break in case of emergency safety glass. This is the role in which he finished the 2013 season. Had Clay Buchholz been healthy in the second half, Dempster might have lost his spot right when the team acquired Jake Peavy, who was acquired in part because Dempster had been so ineffective in the first half.

Dempster even managed to hold down his spot for two turns through the rotation once Buchholz did return in September, as the team gave Felix Doubront a little bit of a breather. But eventually, Dempster would find himself in the bullpen. He didn’t do that badly out the ‘pen either. In six outings from the ‘pen in September and October, he only allowed one run, and he struck out Matt Adams swinging to put the wraps on Game 1 of the World Series. That pitch, a 91-mph fastball on the outside half of the plate, currently stands as his last pitch in a major league uniform:
http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/63106348/v31172661/ws2013-gm1-dempster-fans-adams-to-end-game-1
As he alluded to in his press conference on Sunday, if that’s the way he goes out, that’s not a bad capper to a great career. And while Dempster’s decision to sit out the season came as a surprise to the Red Sox, they won’t be lacking for options. In addition to Brandon Workman, who probably now assumes the sixth-starter/long man mantle, the team has three top prospects who should be able to contribute this year at the major league level in Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes, and another in Henry Owens who isn’t far behind them. Barnes and Owens both landed on Marc Hulet’s 2014 top 100 prospect list. That’s a plethora of arms, and with Chris Capuano and Ervin Santana still on the market, among others, the team could still take its $13.25 million and put the full-court press on one of them if they really felt that was warranted. It probably isn’t, but they have the option…which is nice.

Ryan Dempster wasn’t the best pitcher ever, but he was pretty good, and his longevity should count for something. He started 29 games for a team that went on to win the World Series in his (as of now) final season in the Show, and struck out the final batter he ever faced to finish a World Series game. That’s pretty nice. And while it’s disappointing that he is going to sit this season out, he isn’t leaving the Red Sox in an inescapable bind, which is also nice.

Derek Jeter, Offensive Shortstop.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As you might have heard, Derek Jeter is set to take his final lap around the major leagues. I have always found Jeter fascinating, for many reasons. Obviously, he was the key defining link – along with Mariano Rivera – among the Yankees’ five World Series champion clubs over the last 20 years. He was the centerpiece of the simultaneously most beloved and hated franchise in the game. If at all possible, Jeter has been, quite paradoxically, one of the most overrated and underrated players in baseball throughout his career. There is no disputing Jeter’s status as one of the greats of his era, and as a certain first-time Hall of Famer, due to one simple fact – he is one of the premier offensive shortstops of all time.
Overrated? Some Jeter aficionados claim that he is one of the top 10 players of all time, and might even belong on a Mount Rushmore of the game’s legends. That is beyond the pale, based on a closer examination of the facts. Many believe that he should be the first guy to earn 100% of the Hall of Fame vote. While I would certainly vote for him on the first try, even with the current crowded ballot, why should he be more worthy of an honor that escaped Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc., not to mention the even brighter stars of a more recent vintage who have been tainted with the brush of steroids?

Underrated? There are those who point to his obvious defensive deficiencies and state that he gave back too big of a portion of the offensive value he provided. Just a singles hitter, some say. Amazingly, with the so-called New York media bias that has supposedly favored him, Jeter won exactly zero MVP awards. For all of his on-base prowess, he never won a batting or OBP title.

Today, let’s throw away the perceptions, the narratives, the championships, and for the most part, the defense, and focus on the words “offensive shortstop”. The offensive shortstop has been one of the single most rare and valuable commodities in the game, both today and in the past. Since 1901, there have been 2334 individual player-seasons that can be classified as regular shortstop seasons. Those 2334 seasons resulted in a cumulative slash line of .259-.317-.358, with an average OPS+ of 86.5. Only 605 (25.9%) of those seasons resulted in an OPS+ of 100 or better. Obviously, throughout most of the game’s history, offense has been a secondary consideration for the position – but the player who can both meet the defensive requirements of the position while also adding offensive punch adds massive value.

Only 62 players in the game’s history have been regular shortstops for 10 seasons or more. Only one player, Luis Aparicio with 18 seasons, tops Jeter’s mark of 17 years as a regular shortstop entering 2014. The vast majority of these 62 were well below average offensive players. For each of these shortstops, the number of cumulative standard deviations above or below league average for their seasons as a starting shortstop were measured. Only 14 of these 62 players had a positive combined cumulative total of standard deviations in OBP and SLG for their career. These players appear below:


OBP-SLG OPS+
LAST FIRST SS YRS AGE LAST REL OBP REL SLG SS OPS+ YRS > AVG YRS > AVG
Wagner Honus 15 42 22.93 30.72 151 14 14
Vaughan Arky 11 31 19.55 9.70 136 11 11
Jeter Derek 17 38 18.81 1.75 117 15 15
Cronin Joe 12 34 8.84 6.68 119 11 12
Larkin Barry 15 40 11.06 4.38 116 12 13
Stephens Vern 10 31 2.20 12.28 122 9 9
Appling Luke 16 42 16.44 -4.65 113 12 12
Boudreau Lou 10 31 8.84 3.65 120 8 9
Ripken Cal 15 35 3.18 7.98 118 9 12
Trammell Alan 16 36 7.14 1.53 110 8 8
Tejada Miguel 12 35 -1.37 4.37 112 9 9
Reese Pee Wee 14 37 8.35 -5.62 101 10 9
Yount Robin 11 28 -1.57 3.69 113 6 6
Wallace Bobby 12 38 1.47 -1.41 105 7 8
For each player, the following info is listed, from left to right: number of years as a regular shortstop, the age at which each played his last year as a regular shortstop, each player’s cumulative career total of standard deviations above/below league average in OBP and SLG compiled through his last year as a regular shortstop, his career OPS+ through his last season as a regular shortstop, and his number of seasons with positive combined standard deviations above league average OBP and SLG, and above 100 OPS+, respectively. For purposes of this exercise, only seasons dating back to 1901 were included in the seasonal count columns.

Measuring players’ offensive contributions using standard deviations above/below league average is a somewhat inexact science, but it does afford the ability to split production into its on-base and slugging components. It measures players relative to league average instead of replacement level, which makes it poor at measuring average players, but pretty good at measuring really good ones. In this case, it also successfully shows how high a bar it represents to A) be a regular shortstop for 10 or more years, and B) be a league average or better offensive performer.

Some observations about the list above – Honus Wagner is in a class by himself. This is a guy who just might be included on a Mount Rushmore of the game’s greats, and would have a 100% chance if a second mountain was annexed. Arky Vaughan is a very interesting case. The only lefthanded hitter on the list, he is clearly the second best hitter above on a per at bat basis. His OPS+ of 190 in 1935, with a .385-.491-.607 line, is the only season ever posted by another shortstop that wouldn’t look out of place in Wagner’s prime. After tearing apart the NL as a Pirate in the 1930′s, Vaughan went to Brooklyn, never got along with Leo Durocher, and was basically done as a shortstop at age 31. He then drowned at age 40, and has largely been forgotten. Jeter has Vaughan on longevity, but the latter was clearly a much better offensive player qualitatively.

The rest of the listed shortstops, with the exception of somewhat lesser threats Reese and Wallace – both Hall of Famers – were similarly productive on a per at-bat basis. This is where Jeter’s career bulk sets him apart. Vern Stephens‘ peak period occurred during wartime, and he barely met the 10-season minimum criteria. Robin Yount moved to center field after his age 28 season, and continued the offensive uptick in his game that had only recently begun. Lou Boudreau, like Vaughan and Stephens, hit the wall in his early thirties.

Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin‘s offensive profiles were similar to Jeter’s, but the former was a better than league average offensive performer in only half of his seasons, while the latter’s injury problems kept his counting numbers and number of regular shortstop seasons down. Joe Cronin, qualitatively, was very similar to Jeter, but had a much shorter career. Luke Appling had the career length, but wasn’t quite the equal with the bat of Jeter or most of the others on a per at bat basis.

One argument against Jeter that some will try to make is his lack of a particularly exceptional career peak. Let’s look at these 14 one more time, focusing on their three-year peak period:


LAST FIRST PEAK AGE PEAK YRS REL OBP REL SLG PEAK OPS+
Wagner Honus 33-35 07-09 7.02 10.24 190
Vaughan Arky 22-24 34-36 8.52 5.04 161
Yount Robin 26-28 82-84 3.44 4.25 147
Jeter Derek 24-26 98-00 4.98 2.13 136
Larkin Barry 27-29 91-93 3.90 2.78 133
Ripken Cal 22-24 83-85 2.66 3.92 138
Stephens Vern 22-24 43-45 1.55 4.98 134
Trammell Alan 28-30 86-88 3.08 3.25 138
Boudreau Lou 25-27 43-45 4.10 1.98 138
Appling Luke 28-30 35-37 5.40 0.11 121
Cronin Joe 31-33 38-40 3.03 2.46 128
Tejada Miguel 30-32 04-06 1.81 3.39 128
Reese Pee Wee 28-30 47-49 3.15 -0.18 111
Wallace Bobby 30-32 04-06 1.66 0.83 120
It turns out that Jeter’s peak period actually matches up almost equally as well as does his entire career with this group. Wagner and Vaughan are on another plane, and Yount’s offensive explosion in his last three years as a shortstop also outstrips Jeter, but his peak is as good or better than that of any of the others.

At this point, let’s revisit the term “offensive shortstop”. To be a truly exceptional offensive shortstop, by definition, you have to provide offense, and you have to be able to remain a shortstop. Ernie Banks was an exceptional offensive shortstop – for eight seasons. Then he moved to first base. Alex Rodriguez was an even better offensive shortstop for eight years – and then moved to third base, in deference to Jeter. At the time, many – including myself – thought the Yanks moved the wrong guy to third. In the short term, perhaps they did, but by 2010 at the very latest, it was clear that the Yanks were right.

While Rodriguez was becoming an increasingly stationary, one-dimensional player, Jeter had remained athletic enough to meet the demands of a full-time shortstop position, new-age defensive metrics notwithstanding. He remained a viable shortstop option, and as Jeff Sullivan’s excellent recent article on the topic stated, the worst defensive shortstops still provide value solely by their virtue of playing a very demanding defensive position.

On a per at bat basis, Jeter has provided offensive at a level equal to the second or third best, depending on your feelings about Arky Vaughan, offensive player ever at his position. Who is the second best bat at very other position on the diamond? Inner circle Hall of Famers, that’s who. Even at the other more defensive-oriented positions, your second-best offensive second baseman would likely be Eddie Collins, your second-best offensive catcher might be Gabby Hartnett. In either case, those are clear Hall of Famers, regardless of their respective defensive prowess. This would also seem to help make a clear case for Mike Piazza‘s Hall of Fame candidacy, as a solid argument can be made that he is the very best offensive catcher of all time.

Let’s take away the barrier of defensive position now, and look at Jeter’s standing among all hitters. His combined number of career standard deviations above or below league average in OBP and SLG of 18.81 + 1.75 = 20.56 ranks him 136th of all time, with no adjustment for position. Of the 135 players ahead of him, only two have a lower SLG component – Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose. Henderson is a substantially better offensive player (39.09 + 1.36 = 40.45, #5 OBP component of all time, #36 overall) who provided solid defensive value farther toward the easy side of the defensive spectrum. As an all-around player, Henderson trumps Jeter. Rose (25.71 + 1.41 = 27.12, #77) played a bunch of positions at a league-averageish level, and spread his value over an amazing 23 seasons as a regular.

I would submit that Jeter was a better all-around player than Rose when all factors are taken into consideration. Only 50 players had a higher career OBP component than Jeter’s 18.81, and most of them are clear all-time greats with superior power, though they played “easier” defensive positions than Jeter. There is also a lesser number of players with a lower OBP component than Jeter whose power is so extreme that on an all-around basis they belong ahead of Jeter, regardless of defensive position. Without pitting these players against one other tournament-bracket style, I would estimate that 50 position players would possess more all-around value than Jeter, and wouldn’t you know that he ranks #45 in WAR according to Fangraphs, and #58 according to Baseball Reference.

Derek Jeter is going to the Hall of Fame the second he is eligible, and deservedly so. He doesn’t need the championships to buttress his argument. In fact, one could argue that he was the best player on at most two of those five teams, with the criminally underrated Bernie Williams and Rodriguez his strongest competition. Jeter was great because he established a high level of performance at a very young age at the position farthest to the difficult side of the defensive spectrum, and maintained both that level and that position for a very long time. That is historic stuff. He might not belong on Mount Rushmore, but he is an inner circle Hall of Famer, an all-time great that we were all privileged to watch play. May his last season be a healthy, above average one.

Patience Is a Vice.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The emotions that surround a player’s promotion to the big leagues are intense. Dealing with the realization of a lifelong dream coming true, sharing the moment with friends, family and loved ones, and putting on that uniform for the first time in a 24-hour span takes a special mindset to separate the emotions from the moment. Even veterans still talk about having butterflies on opening day, or the start of a postseason series.

When a prospect gets to the major leagues, they want to do everything they can do to stay there. Sometimes, they know up front they are only up for a specific assignment and will be sent back down at a later date, but everyone gets one chance to make a first impression. Often, that impression is made with the bat and players will try to force that issue.

Josh Donaldson had a successful 2013 season that saw him finish fourth in the AL MVP voting, building upon the success he had late in 2012 as he hit .290/.356/.489 after his final recall from the minor leagues. Donaldson has hit .298/.377/.497 since returning from the minor leagues, which allows many to forget that he hit .154/.172/.246 in his first 130 at bats at the major league level walking just three times. Yasiel Puig‘s debut last season generated as many comments about his skills as it did his impatience as he walked just 7 times from his call-up date through the middle of July over 161 plate appearances.

Conversely, you get call-ups like Robbie Grossman with the Astros. Grossman was traded to his hometown team by the Pirates in 2012 as part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade. Grossman made his major league debut on April 24th, and was given 131 plate appearances before being sent back to Oklahoma City. That sample size was enough to look at Grossman’s strikeout rate as well as his walk rate, which were 23.7% and 12.2% respectively. Grossman had posted double-digit walk rates throughout the minor leagues, and his strikeout rate was in-line with what he demonstrated in the minors as well. What did not mesh up with his previous performance was an empty slash line as he hit .198/.310/.243 with just five extra base hits.

Grossman’s .310 on base percentage was due to his willingness to work counts. His 3.72 pitches per plate appearance during his first call-up was better than the likes of David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, and Ben Zobrist during the same time. The problem was that accepting a walk quickly became Grossman’s best chance to get on base, and to his credit, he maximized those chances by swinging at a low 36.5% of pitches thrown his way. Only Jose Bautista swung at a lower percentage of pitches during Grossman’s first call-up (min 100 PA). He returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and remained there for 226 plate appearances, where he posted a more traditional .265/.374/.368 line with a 14.2% walk rate and a 20.4% strikeout rate. He also made some changes during his demotion.

Prior to his demotion, Grossman had a slightly crouched posture, with a more open stance, and started his swing with his hands level to his chest as shown in the image below from a game in early May.



The changes Grossman made in his stance were quickly evident when he returned to Houston on a homestand in early August against the Boston Red Sox. Here is Grossman at the plate against Boston as he prepares to hit a home run off Ryan Dempster.



There are several noticeable changes to Grossman’s stance at the plate. His stance is more closed, he is closer to the plate and his posture is more upright than it was in May. Grossman’s hands have a higher starting position and his bat starts at a lower angle.

The changes allowed Grossman to hit the ball with more authority, as the average distance on his flyballs increased 13 feet from the first half to the second half and hit 13 extra base hits in 157 plate appearances before being shelved with an oblique injury just after Labor Day. Earlier in the season, Grossman was unable to drive mistakes in the strike zone, such as this hanging 86mph changeup from Anibal Sanchez.

The adjustments to his swing allowed him to take advantage of those types of mistakes with more authority as he did with Dempster’s fastball in early August.

The improved production at the plate led to Grossman becoming more aggressive as he re-gained his confidence at the plate. His walk rate declined dramatically as he became more aggressive at swinging at pitches both within and outside of the strike zone.

Split PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP Swing% O-Sw% P/PA
Apr-May 131 0.198 0.310 0.243 23.7% 12.2% 0.275 36.5% 14.8% 3.72
July-Sep 157 0.322 0.351 0.466 24.8% 4.5% 0.413 44.2% 23.6% 3.67
Grossman’s improvements last season allowed him to make a better first impression the second time around. The Astros believe they have found their starting left fielder for 2014 to add to their growing list of improving young players that are key to their rebuilding process.

The Strike Zone With the Runner on the Move.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I’m pretty fascinated by the strike zone. More specifically, while the strike zone is supposed to be laid out in black-and-white in the rules, I’m fascinated by the fact that the strike zone changes. It’s there, at the very heart of the game, and it’s inconsistent. It always has been, and that’s something people just deal with. I’m fascinated by the documented realities of pitch-framing. I’m fascinated by the zone changes with the count. I’m fascinated by bad calls, in both directions.

In the past, I’ve looked up a bunch of should-be strikes that were called balls. In each case, I was searching for some kind of explanation. I noticed that on a handful of occasions, there was a runner on base and he had taken off for the next one with the pitch on the way. So the catcher would’ve prepared himself to throw, taking him out of ordinary pitch-receiving position. This got me wondering what happens to the strike zone when there’s a runner on the move. Not long ago, Baseball Savant added a “stolen base attempt” check box to its PITCHf/x search. So now you know where this is going.

In short, my hypothesis is that there are fewer strikes called when a runner is going. Part would be due to the fact that the home-plate umpire would be distracted by seeing a runner take off. More would be due to the fact that the catcher would have to prepare to throw, meaning they wouldn’t exactly be receiving balls quietly. They’d be pulling the balls back to their bare hands, in theory, costing out-of-zone strikes and some more fringy in-zone strikes. Maybe the simplest way to put it is that, according to my theory, a runner taking off turns the average pitch-receiver into Ryan Doumit.

Baseball Savant makes this pretty easy to research. The site allows you to filter by pitches inside the PITCHf/x strike zone and outside the PITCHf/x strike zone. It also allows you to filter by pitch result. I decided to examine called pitches both inside and outside the zone for 2013, while also covering the whole PITCHf/x era. I think that’s actually all the explanation I need. So now here are statistical results.

2013 season, in-zone

Overall: 90% called strikes
Runner(s) on: 88%
Runner(s) going: 85%
2013 season, out-of-zone

Overall: 14% called strikes
Runner(s) on: 13%
Runner(s) going: 10%
2008-2013 seasons, in-zone

Overall: 87% called strikes
Runner(s) on: 85%
Runner(s) going: 83%
2008-2013 seasons, out-of-zone

Overall: 15% called strikes
Runner(s) on: 14%
Runner(s) going: 10%
What’s observed? Sure enough, in each case, there’s the lowest called-strike rate when a runner’s on the move. The zone is already smaller with runners on base, but it’s even smaller with runners in motion. My best-guess explanation is the one I’ve already offered: It’s harder to get a strike called in the zone, because as a catcher, you’re simultaneously catching and turning your shoulders. For the same reason, it’s harder to sell a strike outside the zone. If umpires can be influenced by little motions when a guy’s receiving a pitch, it stands to reason they can be influenced by other motions when a guy’s getting ready to throw to a base. There’s no such thing as receiving with a still, quiet body when someone’s trying to move up 90 feet.

Just to give you some visual sense of what I’m talking about:





I don’t think “ball” is necessarily the default call, and as we’ve seen, most pitches in the zone are called strikes even with a runner in motion. Still, I suspect if there’s any doubt, a ball call becomes more likely. In an ideal world, umpires would consider only the location of a pitch when it’s around the plate, but framing research shows we don’t live in an ideal world. There are other considerations, which is why the strike zone can dip and shimmy depending on the circumstances.

In case you’re curious, the differences look a little bigger if you eliminate pitches in the middle of the zone, since those are basically always gimmes. The differences are never dramatic, but it’s enough to see they’re there. It’s enough to see a suggestion that something is going on.

I think there are two interpretations, and they’re not contradictory. The first is that umpires call a slightly different strike zone when a runner’s on the move, probably — but not definitely — because of the way the catcher has to react. This suggests the movement of the catcher influences the umpire’s decision. The second is that, while the zones are different, the differences are small, and it’s not like runner activity indirectly makes a mockery of the zone. Umpires are mostly consistent in this regard, with room for just a little external influence. It seems true they call fewer strikes when the catcher’s getting ready to throw, but not by enough to complain about. By only enough to think, “Sure, that could be a thing.”

Unfortunately it’s just dawning on me that the data’s imperfect. If a runner takes off for second, but there’s a called ball four, that won’t show up in the spreadsheet. Apparently it also won’t show up if a runner takes off and there’s a called strike three. PITCHf/x tracks steals and steal attempts, but it doesn’t always designate a runner in motion, so I’m now more frustrated than I was 20 minutes ago. I also don’t know what the next step might be, so I’m content to leave it here, if nothing else as an introduction to an idea. I’ve long wanted to know what happens to the called strike zone when a runner is going. I don’t have all the data I want, but at least I’m not completely empty handed. Intuitively, it seems there are going to be fewer called strikes. I don’t yet have a reason not to believe that.

The Orioles Bet on the New Ubaldo Jimenez.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ubaldo Jimenez isn’t what he used to be. His pitches have all declined in velocity and bite since his peak in Colorado, and his Cleveland numbers, both superficial and underlying, look pale in comparison. And this with a move out of one of the most extreme hitter’s parks in the big leagues to one more friendly to pitchers.

But 2013 was a story of redemption for Jimenez, and his adjustment to the current state of his stuff was a big part of that. The Orioles believe in that adjustment, hoping it will stick enough to make the four-year, $50 million investment they made in him look wise.

First, let’s look at how stark the decline in his stuff had become. Starting with his age-25 season in 2009, here are the swinging strike metrics on his primary pitches over the past few seasons.

Pitch Type Four-Seam Sinker Change Slider Curve
2009 0.087 0.094 0.092 0.052 0.083
2010 0.094 0.065 0.18 0.123 0.089
2011 0.092 0.056 0.168 0.096 0.058
2012 0.052 0.045 0.129 0.1 0.095

The underlying cause may have been velocity drop. All of his pitches generally dropped in velocity over the same time period, most notably his four-seamer, which dropped from 96+ to 91+. Command of those pitches is always an issue with Jimenez, but that seems come and go as it pleases, and there’s no linear loss of command as there is with swinging strike stuff.

Pitchers sometimes regain stuff and velocity, but at 30, that seems unlikely for Ubaldo going forward. So it’s probably good news that the change in Ubaldo last season was *not* one about regaining stuff or velocity. His change-up (14% whiffs), slider (11%) and curve (7%) — all pitches that used to be plus in terms of whiffs — are still all below average when compared to the league.

Somehow Jimenez arrested a three-year decline in swinging strike and strikeout rates last season, though. Without regaining velocity or bite on his arsenal. Hey look at that, he threw his split-finger more than ever. Maybe we should all learn the split-finger like Jimenez did.

The narrative isn’t super clean. Jimenez has had a split-finger for a long time. But he hasn’t used it like he did in 2013 ever before. Over his career going into 2013, he’d thrown the pitch 3% of the time according to BrooksBaseball. Last year that number was 14%. Add a pitch with a 17% whiff rate, even if that whiff rate is basically league average, and you’ll see more strikeouts.

It’s a trend you’ll see across his arsenal. By any classification system on this site, he’s thrown the fastball less as he’s aged. We know there’s some evidence pitchers use their fastball less as they age, and Jimenez puts this into focus — as the fastball becomes less effective, you have to throw your junk more.

Of course there’s evidence that heavy breaking pitch usage leads to more injuries, but when you’re buying a 30-year-old pitcher, that’s just part of the price. If this new version of Jimenez sticks, he is a pitcher that has manged 30+ starts since he became a regular. And past disabled list stints are still the best predictor of future disabled list stints.

There’s some evidence that this will be a good fit for the Orioles. Recently, Jimenez’ ground-ball rates have been mediocre, but his career number (47.6%) and increased reliance on off-speed stuff suggest that there’s some bounce in those numbers. If he can garner grounders, the Orioles are ready. They had the fourth-best batting average on balls in play allowed and the second-best team Ultimate Zone Rating in the American league. They shifted their infield defense more than anyone last year with 470 shifts according to Jeff Zimmerman‘s piece in The Hardball Times Annual. Once Manny Machado is healthy again, this is a defense that can gobble up ground balls.

With a little bit of help from his defenders, and perhaps even more split-fingers in the future, this new Ubaldo Jimenez could easily put up a 2014 season similar to the one he had in 2013. Even with aggressive aging projections, that probably makes this contract a value. And maybe all it took was throwing the fastball less and the split-finger more.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Atlanta Braves.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some weak draft results and limited international budgets have hindered Atlanta’s ability to build depth throughout the minor leagues. Some interesting names are beginning to bubble to the surface although most of the key names are still in the low minors.

#1 Lucas Sims | 60/A- (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
19 28 18 116.2 83 3 10.34 3.55 2.62 2.81
The Year in Review: Atlanta limited Sims’ innings in 2013 by starting him off in the bullpen in April and May. He dominated Low-A as a teenager and struck out 134 batters in 116.2 innings. Sims held left-handed hitters to a .190 average and did not allow a home run to them.

The Scouting Report: A lot of prep draft picks struggle to maintain their stuff during their first full pro season but Sims was the exception, as he got stronger as the year progressed. The righty possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball and backs it up with a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup gives him a third offering that could become above-average in time. Sims has good control but his command wavers at times when he battles his arm slot.

The Year Ahead: Sims could see his value skyrocket in 2014 and become one of the top ranked arms in the minors. He’ll open the season in High-A ball but, depending on how aggressive Atlanta wants to be with him, he could see Double-A in the second half of the year.

The Career Outlook: Sims has all the ingredients necessary to develop into a No. 2 starter but I’d like to see the Georgia native induce more ground balls.


#2 Christian Bethancourt | 55/MLB (PH/PR)
Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
21 1 0.0 % 100.0 % .000 .000 .000 .000 -100 -0.2 0.0 0.0
The Year in Review: A return trip to Double-A in 2013 revitalized Bethancourt’s offensive game. His OPS jumped from .566 in 2012 to .741 in ’13 and he hit double-digit home runs (12) for the first time in his career. Despite the improvements, he continued to be a free swinger and walked just 16 times in 90 games.

The Scouting Report: What a difference a year makes. After a limp offensive performance in 2012, Bethancourt rebounded with a much better output that saw his OPS jump almost .200 points. With that said, he still produces a dismal on-base percentage but the increased pop helps compensate to a degree. Really, Bethancourt only has to produce fringe-average offense to be a starter in the Majors based on his plus defensive work that includes an excellent control over the running game, good blocking and otherworldly receiving.

The Year Ahead: The addition of veteran Ryan Doumit, who may or may not occasionally wear the tools or ignorance, and the presence of both Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis muddies the waters for Bethancourt in 2014 even though his defense alone could make him more valuable than any member of that big league trio.

The Career Outlook: Bethancourt could eventually become the second-best defense catcher in the National League (behind St. Louis’ Yadier Molina) and should earn a starting gig for years to come based on his glove.


#3 Jose Peraza | 60/A- (SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 504 129 18 1 34 64 64 .288 .341 .371 .331
The Year in Review: Peraza’s first full season in pro ball included 64 steals in 79 attempts. He produced OK at the plate, given his age, but struggled in the first half before turning things on in the second half.

The Scouting Report: Peraza’s offense if built around above-average speed and excellent base running abilities. He has a solid line-drive swing and makes good contact but he could stand to be a little more patient. The young infielder might generate more power if he were to use his legs a little more in his swing. Defensively, he has a chance to stick at shortstop despite an average-ish arm because he has good range and solid actions.

The Year Ahead: The young middle infielder will move up to High-A ball in 2014 and will look to get stronger at the plate.

The Career Outlook: The chance that Peraza might play shortstop on an everyday basis in Atlanta is slim to none based on the presence of incumbent and plus-plus defender Andrelton Simmons. However, Peraza has a shot at developing into the Braves’ second baseman of the future.


#4 Mauricio Cabrera | 55/A- (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
19 24 24 131.1 118 3 7.33 4.87 4.18 3.63
The Year in Review: Cabrera struggled to find the plate in 2013 — his first shot at full-season ball — and he walked 71 batters in 131.1 innings. On the plus side, his strong fastball induced a lot of ground balls and he allowed just three home runs on the year. He also handled left-handed hitters quite well (.236 average).

The Scouting Report: Cabrera flashes two potentially-plus offerings in a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a changeup with good movement. He also has a curveball that needs a fair bit of polish but should be an average offering in time. Lack of command and control are the two biggest worries with Cabrera’s development right now, and he may eventually settle into a high-leverage relief role. If he can polish his control, though, he has the frame and delivery to become a durable starter.

The Year Ahead: The right-hander from the Dominican Republic should move up to High-A ball in 2014 where he’ll look to find the plate on a more consistent basis.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned above, Cabrera’s future role is still up in the air but he’ll be given every opportunity to stick in the starting rotation.


#5 J.R. Graham | 55/AA (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
23 8 8 35.2 39 0 7.07 2.52 4.04 2.47
The Year in Review: Graham was off to an inconsistent start to the 2013 season when a bum shoulder ended his year in mid-May. Before he went down, though, he showed excellent ground-ball numbers and didn’t allow a home run in 35.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: Graham is a wild card. He suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury in 2013 but decided on rehab over major surgery. It remains to be seen A) How his stuff bounces back, and B) How long his body holds up. He’s not a huge guy but he generates fastball velocity into the 95-96 mph rang. Graham also has a slider and a changeup but he heavily favors the ground-ball-inducing heater.

The Year Ahead: The key for Graham is to hold up over the course of a full season, and he may have to return to Double-A for a third go-around.

The Career Outlook: There were always concerns that his future role was as a reliever and the injury will only help further that belief.


#6 Jason Hursh | 55/R (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
21 9 9 27.0 20 1 5.00 3.33 0.67 3.79
The Year in Review: The 31st overall selection out of Oklahoma State University in the 2013 draft, Hursh made nine appearances after turning pro and allowed 20 hits in 27.0 innings. He struggled a bit with his control and walked 10. He struck out 15 and induced ground-ball outs at a high rate.

The Scouting Report: Hursh is basically a move physical J.R. Graham. Both have heavy, mid-90s fastballs and both need to polish their secondary stuff, which for the recent draft pick includes a slider and changeup. He underwent Tommy John surgery in college so durability is a minor concern. Hursh’s delivery has some effort to it.

The Year Ahead: After just nine games in Low-A ball, Hursh could be ready for High-A ball, although the Braves minor league development staff is fairly conservative so he’ll likely have to earn the promotion in the spring.

The Career Outlook: There are questions surrounding Hursh’s future role, including: Is he a future mid-rotation starter or is he a high-leverage reliever? Time will tell…


#7 Victor Caratini | 55/R (3B)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 246 58 23 1 39 49 0 .290 .415 .430 .397
The Year in Review: A bit of a surprise selection in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Miami Dade Junior College, Caratini had a strong pro debut. He produced a .415 on-base percentage and 25 of his 58 hits went for extra bases.

The Scouting Report: The key to Caratini’s value as a prospect is tied to his ability to continue developing at his new defensive home behind the plate. Converted to full-time catcher after his first pro season, the young prospect has picked up the basic skills quite quickly. He also has experience at third base but is considered below-average defensively and lacks the power profile to become an elite prospect there. Caratini shows a good swing at the plate as a switch-hitter and isn’t afraid the go the other way from either side of the plate. He also has a solid eye and some patience.

The Year Ahead: Caratini’s bat is probably ready for Low-A ball but he may be held back in extended spring training to continue working on his defensive conversion.

The Career Outlook: A switch-hitting catcher with average defensive skills, strong on-base abilities and gap power carries a ton of value so you can understand why Atlanta would attempt this experiment.


#8 Tommy La Stella | 50/MLB (2B)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
24 430 126 28 6 61 39 9 .345 .443 .488 .428
The Year in Review: Injuries cost La Stella some development time in 2013 but he put up an excellent line in Double-A when he was healthy. He produced a .422 on-base percentage and hit more than .300. He also struck out just 34 times in 81 games. He didn’t have much home-run pop but slugged 21 doubles. The New Jersey native walked 16 times with just four strikeouts during an 18-games stint in the Arizona Fall League.

The Scouting Report: La Stella ranks a little lower than some fans might think because his value is tied entirely to his bat; his defensive skills are fringe-average at second base and he might eventually end up as a utility player and pinch hitter in the mold of former Athletics infielder Scott Spiezio who played first base, second base and third base. Offensively, La Stella has a strong left-handed swing with good bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. He has a good eye and a patient approach. He doesn’t have quite as much pop against southpaws but he hits them well.

The Year Ahead: La Stella could see some big league action in 2014 but he’s going to have to wait for an injury to incumbent second baseman Dan Uggla or for an opening on the bench. He’ll likely spend much of the year in Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: The young infielder could develop into an offensive-minded second baseman or a strong bat off the bench.


#9 Johan Camargo | 50/R (3B/SS)
Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 256 67 7 0 18 31 3 .294 .359 .360 .342
The Year in Review: Camargo has done nothing but hit since turning pro two years ago. In his first season in North America in 2013, the shortstop batted .294 but failed to hit for much power. He didn’t run much and was successful in just 50% of his six attempts. He showed a solid, but unspectacular, glove.

The Scouting Report: Camargo isn’t flashy and doesn’t have great range but he’s the kind of player that’s going to make all the plays on the balls he can get to — especially as he matures as fielder and cuts out all of the youthful mistakes. However, he may eventually wind up at second base. At the plate, Camargo makes excellent contact and has a good eye but is still learning how to drive the ball.

The Year Ahead: The Panama native likely showed enough during the 2013 season to earn a roster spot on the Low-A ball squad. He’ll look to continue to get stronger.

The Career Outlook: The middle infielder probably won’t end up at shortstop but he has the skills to develop into a solid big league second baseman.


#10 Aaron Northcraft | 50/AA (P)
Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
23 33 33 155.0 147 9 8.13 3.83 3.95 3.72
The Year in Review: Northcraft produced another solid minor league season — this time in Double-A. The right-hander threw 137 innings and struck out 121 batters. His control wavered a little more than it had in the past but he induced ground ball outs at a rate of 2-to-1 when compared to fly-ball outs. He allowed just seven home runs.

The Scouting Report: Northcraft looks imposing on the mound at 6-4, 220 pounds but he’s a command/control pitcher who relies on location and movement to succeed. What his frame does do, though, is allow him to chew up innings. He pitches in the upper 80s and into the low 90s while backing up the heater with a pair of good secondary offerings in a curveball and changeup.

The Year Ahead: Northcraft should move up to Triple-A and could be one of the first pitchers recalled in the event of an injury or demotion to one of the original five starters.

The Career Outlook: Northcraft projects to develop into a back-of-the-rotation, innings-eating starter for the Braves — perhaps as soon as 2014.

The Next Five:

11. Carlos Perez, LHP: The enigmatic Perez has had an up-and-down career to say the least. Luckily, though, he may have finally found the right role for himself. The starter-turned-reliever struggles with his command and control but has solid velocity for a lefty and flashes a promising changeup. He should return to High-A ball in 2014 but could see Double-A in the second half if he makes further adjustments.

12. Josh Elander, OF: Elander would be much higher on this list if he had stuck at catcher — the position he played when he was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. The young athlete just missed hitting .300 after splitting the year between Low-A and High-A ball and enjoys beating up on left-handed pitching. He also slugged 52 extra base hits. Elander could move up to Double-A with a strong spring but he needs to continue to hit for power if he’s going to play regularly in a big league (corner) outfield.

13. Victor Reyes, OF: Reyes, 19, is a left-handed hitting outfielder who batted more than .340 split between two Rookie ball leagues in 2013. He also struck out just 29 times in 49 games and could eventually develop into a solid No. 2 hitter. Reyes, though, has yet to tap into his raw power and isn’t a prolific base stealer despite solid speed so his value right now is tied almost solely to his ability to hit for average.

14. Wes Parsons, RHP: It’s not often that you find a non-drafted free agent on a Top 10 or 15 list but Parsons is deserving of his rank. The 6-5 right-hander is a strike-throwing, ground-ball inducing machine with solid stuff. Parsons, 21, doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could develop into a reliable back-of-the-rotation contributor.

15. Cody Martin, RHP: The right-handed Martin doesn’t have stellar stuff but he attacks the strike zone, is durable and took just two full seasons to reach Triple-A. In total, he struck out 137 batters in 136.2 innings during the 2013 season. Standing 6-2, Martin has decent height but he works up in the zone too often, which results in a fly-ball heavy approach. He has the ceiling of an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Difference for Homer Bailey.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It’s been long enough that I think it’s easy to forget Homer Bailey was a top prospect. Between 2007-2008, Baseball America ranked him No. 9 overall, between Franklin Morales and David Price. A year earlier, he was fifth overall, between Phil Hughes and Cameron Maybin. Hughes was supposed to blossom into a guy who pitched like an ace. He hasn’t yet. Bailey was supposed to blossom into a guy who pitched like an ace. He has, now, having reached a new level with the Cincinnati Reds. Hitters are the ones who’re supposed to peak at 27, but Bailey stole a page out of their book, and now word is he’s on the verge of inking a long-term contract extension to stay where he is in Ohio. A year away from free agency, the talk is that Bailey’s looking at nine guaranteed figures.

Bailey was already a pretty good starting pitcher, before leveling up. He never let anything get out of control, and for a few years he was in the vicinity of league-average. But last season, he dropped his FIP- into the 80s, and he did the same with his xFIP-. Because the Reds aren’t a huge-budget ballclub, it’s a risk for them to attempt this kind of commitment, so they’re rolling the dice as an organization on Bailey being more like his 2013 self going forward. Naturally, then, one gets curious about what changed between seasons. Was there any kind of key to Bailey’s improvement?

His walks hardly budged. His groundball rate hardly budged. In 2012, Bailey struck out 168 batters. In 2013, he struck out 199 batters, despite 25 fewer plate appearances. You don’t have to look further than that — that’s the key, right there. But we can dig deeper.

Bailey didn’t change much about his pitch mix. He didn’t change much about his pitch movement, or his pitch release points. There was, however, a change in his pitch velocities. His fastball gained an average of 1.6 ticks. His slider was up 0.9. His curve was up 1.5. One of the things we’ve learned in recent years is that pitch velocity tends to start gradually declining upon a guy’s promotion to the majors. Bailey had a significant increase, after already having been an established big-league starter.

Again, that would be another potential stopping point. Bailey’s strikeouts went up, and his velocity went up. That’s the story. But we can dig deeper still. Overall he pitched in a pretty similar way, but he dropped his contact rate a little bit, both in the zone and out of it. Sometimes pitching coaches say that they don’t care about velocity. They’re lying, or they’re stupid. Having more velocity lets a pitcher get away with more things.

Here’s where things get particularly interesting. I’m going to show you some splits. First, Bailey’s xFIP against left-handed hitters. Then, his xFIP against right-handed hitters. I know it’s kind of weird to split xFIP by handedness, but it does a good job of distilling the profile into a single telling number.

Bailey vs. LHB

2010: 3.50 xFIP
2011: 3.44
2012: 3.76
2013: 3.61
Bailey vs. RHB

2010: 3.89 xFIP
2011: 4.03
2012: 4.09
2013: 3.10
Against lefties, Bailey didn’t really change at all. His whiff rate stayed about the same, and the other rates stayed about the same. Against righties, Bailey was like a different pitcher. Not only did he keep half the balls in play on the ground — he lifted his strikeout rate from just over 17% to just under 25%. Last season, Homer Bailey improved, and his improvement was almost entirely contained in showdowns against right-handed hitters.

Two years ago, facing Bailey, righties made contact just over 78% of the time. Last year, they made contact just under 73% of the time. His split strikeout rate improved by 7.4 percentage points, which was the seventh-biggest increase in baseball between 2012-2013 among pitchers to collect significant playing time. Only 11 pitchers improved against righties by at least five percentage points. For Bailey, you could make the argument this improvement was overdue.

See, before last season, Bailey was one of the rare pitchers in baseball with a reverse platoon split. He had a 4.26 FIP against righties, and a 4.19 FIP against lefties. He allowed a .329 wOBA to righties, and a .328 wOBA to lefties. Last season, Bailey shut righties down, and in so doing pitched more like a normal righty with normal behavior. Some might refer to that as simple regression, but it appears like meaningful improvement.

Given the velocity uptick, it’s strange to observe a big jump against righties and no jump at all against lefties. This is where I point out that pitching is complicated. But righties might’ve already had a briefer look at the ball, and perhaps they observed a bigger uptick in perceived velocity. The result was that all of Bailey’s pitches were weapons. He had more success avoiding contact up in the zone. With two strikes, he significantly improved his strikeout rate with his fastball, his slider, and his curveball, and he also threw a few extra splitters. I’m very much aware that pinning this on velocity is labeling correlation as causation, but I do feel pretty good about that, pending other explanations.

Let’s say that a huge part of Bailey’s performance improvement was velocity improvement. Then it’s important to try to figure out where the velocity improvement came from. It might be as simple as health. Bailey threw a similar fastball in 2009. In 2010, he went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. In 2011, he was on the DL out of camp with a shoulder impingement, and later he was back on the DL with a shoulder sprain. It could just be that Bailey took until 2013 to return to 100%. It could also be that Bailey made a few minor mechanical tweaks that allowed him to convert more energy into velocity, or however it is the experts put it.

Between 2002-2013, I identified 62 starting pitchers who threw at least 50 innings four years in a row, and whose average fastball velocity increased at least one mile per hour between year 2 and year 3. Out of that group, 42 of the pitchers saw their velocities increase right after seeing their velocities decline. Of the remaining 20 pitchers, 17 saw their velocities decrease between year 3 and year 4. They averaged 89.8 miles per hour before the improvement, 91.3 miles per hour after the improvement, and 90.5 miles per hour the year after that. What’s suggested is that Bailey might be in line to give some of his velocity improvement back.

But for one thing, he can afford to give back some of it. And for another thing, what’s true for a group isn’t always necessarily true for the individual, and it all depends on where Bailey’s extra velocity really came from. If the Reds believe that it’s sustainable, and if it is sustainable, then Bailey might well be his new self, for some time. The most recent version of Homer Bailey was a complete version of the top prospect he was just a few years before.

On Craig Kimbrel and Committing to a Closer.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Atlanta Braves are in the news yet again, with yet another long term contract for a member of their young core. After already locking up Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, the Braves have now committed $42 million to Craig Kimbrel over the next four years, buying out his three arbitration years and his first year of free agency, while also getting an option for his second FA season. Kimbrel is a dominant closer, and on a per batter faced basis, maybe the most dominant pitcher in the sport right now.

In his career, opposing batters have posted a .212 wOBA against Craig Kimbrel. That’s 40 points better than Aroldis Chapman‘s .253 wOBA against, and Chapman is probably the only guy who one might think could challenge Kimbrel for the most dominating title. Kimbrel has been essentially the perfect closer, putting up some of the best relief pitcher seasons in baseball history, since he debuted back in 2010. And yet I still wonder whether or not the Braves really needed to sign this contract.

The Braves already owned Kimbrel’s rights for 2014 through 2016, and the prices they guaranteed him for his arbitration years aren’t such a steep discount that the deal could be considered a wise investment just on the basis of maybe saving a few million dollars for the next couple of seasons. For the Braves, the value in this deal comes in buying out his 2017 and maybe his 2018 free agent years, and those seasons will now $13 million apiece. That’s a season or two extra that they wouldn’t have been able to control without giving him a long term deal that pushed into his 30s, so even if the salary portion doesn’t look so great, there’s a benefit to adding just one or two seasons extra rather than having to commit to another three or four years after his arbitration seasons are up.

But how likely is it that the Braves will still want to pay Kimbrel $13 million four years from now? It’s no secret that the shelf life of relief pitchers is shorter than players at other positions, and Kimbrel would hardly be the first dominant reliever to show up, dominate for a while, and then hang around as a shell of what he once was. Can we really forecast, right now, that Kimbrel will still be one of the best relievers in baseball in 2017?

For reference, here is a list of every pitcher who posted a +3 WAR season out of the bullpen from 2000 to 2009.


Season Name IP BB% K% HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
2003 Eric Gagne 82.1 5% 36% 0.22 0.243 84% 51 44 4.4 3.5
2004 Francisco Rodriguez 84.0 10% 37% 0.21 0.278 78% 41 39 3.8 3.5
2004 Brad Lidge 94.2 8% 43% 0.76 0.292 88% 44 43 3.6 4.2
2007 Rafael Betancourt 79.1 3% 28% 0.45 0.240 86% 33 52 3.5 4.5
2006 J.J. Putz 78.1 4% 34% 0.46 0.306 79% 52 40 3.4 3.3
2006 Jonathan Papelbon 68.1 5% 29% 0.40 0.224 92% 20 46 3.4 4.8
2004 B.J. Ryan 87.0 10% 34% 0.41 0.302 81% 50 48 3.3 3.3
2002 Eric Gagne 82.1 7% 45% 0.66 0.278 85% 30 20 3.3 4.3
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 4% 27% 0.51 0.218 88% 53 53 3.3 3.2
2004 Eric Gagne 82.1 7% 35% 0.55 0.267 77% 53 47 3.2 2.8
2000 Gabe White 84.0 5% 26% 0.64 0.262 80% 42 47 3.2 3.8
2004 Joe Nathan 72.1 6% 36% 0.37 0.269 86% 35 39 3.2 3.5
2006 Joe Nathan 68.1 8% 31% 0.40 0.238 85% 35 49 3.2 3.9
2001 Mariano Rivera 80.2 6% 26% 0.56 0.268 75% 32 51 3.2 3.6
2001 Octavio Dotel 84.0 10% 38% 0.32 0.301 80% 43 37 3.1 3.0
2002 Robb Nen 73.2 7% 27% 0.24 0.315 80% 56 48 3.1 2.9
2006 Takashi Saito 78.1 8% 35% 0.34 0.268 79% 47 42 3.1 3.1
2008 Jonathan Papelbon 69.1 3% 28% 0.52 0.293 70% 52 45 3.0 2.1
2005 Mariano Rivera 78.1 2% 30% 0.23 0.238 78% 32 47 3.0 4.2
19 pitcher seasons, but only 13 pitchers, as guys like Gagne, Rivera, and Papelbon all had multiple +3 WAR seasons during the first decade of the 21st century. So let’s look at those 13 guys, and see how effective they were in their fourth season after the year indicated above, to see how well they were able to sustain their dominance over the long term. In chronological order:

Gabe White, 2004: 60 IP, -0.4 WAR, -1.3 RA9/WAR

White’s 2000 season looks like one of the great flukes in baseball history, as he accumulated 75% of his career WAR total in that one season. He’d been pretty mediocre to that point, and then returned to mediocrity immediately afterwards, posting a below replacement level season in 2001. He did have one more solid season in 2002, but but he was out of baseball by 2005. A one year spike guy is probably not a great comparison for Kimbrel, but White is a nice reminder that even mediocre pitchers can look amazing for 70 or 80 innings.

Octavio Dotel, 2005: 15 IP, +0.0 WAR, +0.5 RA9-WAR

Dotel followed up his terrific 2001 season with another great year in 2002 and then two solid years in 2003/2004, remaining of the game’s best relief arms for three years after his best season. But then he got hurt, only pitching a combined 25 innings in 2005 and 2006, and eventually returned as a good-not-great setup guy who had value but wasn’t what he was before.

Mariano Rivera, 2005: 78 IP, +3.0 WAR, +3.6 RA9-WAR

You don’t need much information here. Mo was consistently amazing, year in and year out, and could probably still be one of the best closers in baseball today. The ultimate example of a closer having a long, successful career.

Eric Gagne, 2006: 2 IP, +0.0 WAR, +0.0 RA9-WAR

Gagne is the closest thing we have to a match for Kimbrel, as he destroyed opposing hitters from 2002-2004, posting +3 WAR seasons in each of those three years. And then he fell apart in 2005, missed almost the entire 2006 season, and had only a brief and moderately successful return to the majors in 2007. Perhaps Gagne’s previous work as a starter caught up to him, or his workloads as a reliever finally were too much, but Gagne is the yin to Rivera’s yang, and is a reminder of the risk of betting big on even the very best relievers.

Robb Nen, 2006: Forcibly retired by injury

Nen’s last pitch of his dominant 2002 season turned out to be his last. He tried to help the Giants win a World Series with an arm that needed surgery, and it ended his career. He finally retired in 2005 after several years of rehab.

Joe Nathan, 2008: 68 IP, +2.0 WAR, +3.6 RA9-WAR

Nathan had a great six year run as a dominant closer for the Twins, and is a template for how this deal could work out well for Atlanta. He was still nearly as good in 2008 as he was in 2004, and then continued to pitch well in 2009 as well. Even after an injury in 2010, he’s still pitching well, and hasn’t yet succumbed to age or injuries.

Francisco Rodriguez, 2008: 68 IP, +1.7 WAR, +2.7 RA9-WAR

Rodriguez is often used as a comparison for Kimbrel because he was so good at such a young age, posting his +3 WAR season at age-22, and then establishing himself as a dominant closer in his early-to-mid 20s. By the time he got near free agency, he had declined to good reliever instead of a great one, so the Angels wisely let him go. While he’s never totally imploded, his late-20s and early-30s have been nothing like what he was in his younger days.

Brad Lidge, 2008: 69 IP, +2.2 WAR, +2.7 RA9-WAR

Lidge was up-and-down after his monster 2004 season, mixing in a couple of great years with a couple of mediocre ones, though 2008 was again one of his better seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Phillies in his first year there. From there, though, it was mostly downhill, and Lidge’s contract with the Phillies proved to be a mistake.

B.J. Ryan, 2008: 59 IP, +0.9 WAR, +1.5 RA9-WAR

Ryan followed up his dominant 2004 season with two more great years before blowing out his arm. He was good but not great in his return, and that only lasted a year, as he was out of baseball after 2009. He had a great three or four year run, but that’s essentially what his career amounted to.

Jonathan Papelbon, 2010: +1.2 WAR, +0.4 RA9-WAR

Papelbon was excellent for almost his entire tenure in Boston, and sustained most of his success for the next three years after his dominant 2006 season. 2010 was a down year, but he bounced back with a great 2011 season, and while the Phillies certanily overpaid him, he’s a check mark in the positive category for Kimbrel, as he’s been pretty consistently good ever since his debut.

Takashi Saito, 2010: 54 IP, +1.4 WAR, +0.8 RA9-WAR

Saito never repeated his remarkable rookie season, but then again, he was 36 when he came over to the U.S., so this isn’t really much of a comparison for Kimbrel, and I don’t think we can say too much about the fact that he had turned into just a good setup man at age-40.

J.J. Putz, 2010: 54 IP, +1.4 WAR, +1.3 RA9-WAR

Putz broke out in a huge way in 2006, learning a split-finger fastball from Eddie Guardado and riding that pitch to becoming one of the game’s best closers. He repeated his dominance in 2007, but then lost velocity and effectiveness and spent a couple of years as a mediocre reliever. The White Sox fixed him up in 2010 and he’s been a quality closer ever since, though not without a few bumps in the road.

Rafael Betancourt, 2011: 62 IP, +1.8 WAR, +1.5 RA9-WAR

Betancourt’s monster season with the Indians in 2007 didn’t carry over into 2008, as he was nearly a replacement level reliever in the season immediately after his breakout. However, he rebounded nicely and returned to excellence in Colorado, consistently providing value out of the Rockies bullpen.

Of the 13 pitchers on the list, three went on to have sustained success over a long period that would easily have justified a similar deal to what the Braves just gave Kimbrel. If he follows in the path of Rivera, Nathan, or Papelbon, this will turn out just fine for Atlanta.

The other 10 names are a pretty big mixed bag, though. There are some pitchers who were still productive four years out from their +3 WAR season, but many of them didn’t do so well in between, and going year to year likely would have been cheaper than buying out their next four years with a long term deal. For these 10, I think the general consensus would be that a long term deal in the immediate aftermath of their +3 WAR season wouldn’t have worked out that well for the team overall.

However, it must be noted that Kimbrel’s track record is far superior to the ones we’re looking at here. He’s not Gabe White, a career mediocrity who had one great year. Even guys like K-Rod or Lidge weren’t as good as Kimbrel is now. Kimbrel has further to fall than the rest, and could decline a lot while still remaining an excellent pitcher. In that way, he’s not that different from Papelbon, who is worse than he was but still quite good.

Is this a risk for the Braves? Absolutely, and I’m not entirely sure that the upside of potentially having him around for one or two extra seasons at $13 million per year is worth the extra money they guaranteed him going forward, but it should also be clear that this isn’t an obvious mistake. As much as relievers are fickle, a significant portion do sustain success for long periods of time, and Kimbrel is good enough that he can get worse and still be worth $13 million in 2017 dollars.

Like the Freeman deal, there’s an argument to be made that perhaps this deal costs Atlanta too much without providing a ton of upside, but like the Freeman deal, the Braves have ensured that they get to keep a high quality talent through his 20s without having to commit to his 30s. Every long term deal has a risk, but the Braves are taking risks on player’s prime years, and that’s a strategy I can’t argue against too strongly.

Michael Pineda And Trying To Make It Back.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If the last few days of baseball have taught us anything, it’s that the world’s most talented players don’t always receive enough cooperation from their bodies to stay on the field long enough to get the job done. We saw that this weekend when Mark Mulder’s torn Achilles sadly cut short his comeback before it could even begin, and we saw it late last week when Franklin Gutierrez announced he’d be sitting out 2014 due to a recurrence of the intestinal issues that have plagued him for years. If it feels like it’s only a matter of time until we hear about Grady Sizemore’s next injury, well, it probably is.

For the last two years, Michael Pineda has been on that list too. In the 25 months since Seattle traded him to the Yankees as part of a deal for Jesus Montero, Pineda has thrown as many big league pitches as you or I have: zero. He has spent zero days on the active 25-man roster, thanks to a torn shoulder labrum suffered in his first camp with the team, an injury often known as a career killer for pitchers. Considering that Montero is now a Triple-A first baseman, Hector Noesi has been sub-replacement for Seattle, and Jose Campos has been injured and yet to get out of Low-A for the Yankees, this is perhaps the best definition of a lose/lose trade in recent baseball history.

You knew all that, but what’s interesting now is that nearly two-and-a-half years after he last pitched in the bigs, Pineda claims he is “100 percent healthy,” and prepared to battle the likes of Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren and David Phelps for the final spot in the Yankee rotation. With how much uncertainty is ahead of that final group in New York — Masahiro Tanaka is an unknown until he proves he isn’t, Hiroki Kuroda is 39 and CC Sabathia’s 2013 struggles have been well-documented — any boost Pineda can offer at this point will be quite welcome.
We don’t know if he’ll even make it through the spring healthy, much less show enough ability to get hitters out to prove to the Yankees they should let him back on a big league mound in a game that counts. (He does still have a minor league option remaining.) But we do know this:

Pineda was briefly very, very good, and
Very few pitchers have successfully made it back from labrum tears
Remember, for that one season in 2011, Pineda was outstanding. As a 22-year-old rookie, he didn’t look at all out of place alongside Felix Hernandez at the top of Seattle rotation. Among the 94 qualified starters that year, Pineda’s strikeout percentage of 24.9 was better than all but five others, right between Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum, back when Lincecum was still a stud. He was so good that year that when Seattle flipped him for Montero — who was of course still highly-regarded himself — it was arguably a deal tipped in the favor of the Yankees. 22-year-olds who can miss bats like that don’t come along very often (since the strike, only Kerry Wood, Rick Ankiel and Jose Fernandez had better K/9 marks as a rookie 22 or younger), and when they do, they don’t get traded. Over the last 100 years, exactly one rookie pitcher has thrown at least 150 innings with at least a strikeout per inning and fewer than three walks per nine: Pineda.

Pineda was once a guy who had a fastball that touched the mid-90s and a slider that could make the great Chipper Jones look like this:



Pineda threw the slider 857 times that year, and allowed a line against of just .175/.220/.294 off it when he did.

Of course, that’s all in the past now. After the trade, Pineda arrived at camp overweight before injuring his shoulder, and the history of labrum tears for pitchers is just awful. I was going to investigate just how awful, but I don’t need to — two years ago, my friend Jay Jaffe did just that in the wake of the original news about Pineda. At the time, Jaffe identified 67 pitchers who had similar injuries. (Though not necessarily identical, since every pitcher has their own unique concerns, and some were combined with other woes.) 20 of them never made it back to professional baseball, and several of the ones who made it back to the minors but not the bigs are the who’s-who of names you don’t want your young pitcher to be associated with, like Mark Prior and Brandon Webb. (We’re still waiting to see what becomes of more recent pitchers, like Danny Hultzen.) That said, it’s not impossible. Jaffe found 11 pitchers who had returned well enough to throw at least 400 innings (through 2011), and we’re talking about some big names there — Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Chris Carpenter and Anibal Sanchez among them, although as Jaffe noted, Clemens’ injury was slightly different from Pineda’s, and every shoulder injury is of course its own unique animal.

We don’t know what category Pineda will end up falling into, but he did manage to get back into 10 rehab games at three levels last summer, starting just over 13 months following surgery. At the risk of scouting a stat line, a 41/14 K/BB mark in 40.2 innings is certainly encouraging, as were June reports that he was getting his fastball back up to the mid-90s again. We can see how he looked in this clip from a June 25 start for Double-A Trenton against Erie, and while the quality of the competition can’t be ignored, we’re at least seeing some swing-and-misses:

Of course, Pineda left an August 2 start with “shoulder stiffness” and didn’t pitch again, which Brian Cashman explained away as letting Pineda rest after so many months of rehab, while also saying he “finished the year healthy.” Now Pineda is throwing in camp and we should see him on the mound in games in the next few weeks, with an early report from Buster Olney indicating that the Yankees are “quietly encouraged and excited” about Pineda’s velocity, though of course take that for what it’s worth.

Maybe he’s done, doomed to bounce around the minors for years trying to reclaim that past glory with a shoulder that won’t let it happen, although the fact that he didn’t injure his rotator cuff is a mark in his favor . Maybe he’s just done as a starter, and may prove more useful to the Yankees in short stints out of the bullpen. (Even when Pineda was flying high in 2011, the charge against him was that he was a two-pitch pitcher, with a valuable slider and fastball but a poor change.) Either way, Pineda is attempting to do something that very few pitchers have done successfully, and that’s interesting regardless of who is trying it. Considering how great Pineda was in that one healthy season, and how high-profile that failed (to date) trade was, he’s one of the more fascinating stories of the spring, no matter whether you support the Yankees or not.

The Pitcher Who Did the Most With the Least.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I recently dreamed that I hit the comeback trail and was signed to a 10 day contract with a minor league team. With a combination of 77 mph cutters, sub-70′s change-ups, and more than a few knuckle balls, I parlayed my short contract to a major league roster spot. The dream ended, as dreams usually do, but it got me thinking about the minimum talent level necessary to pitch successfully in the majors.

When we analyze pitching talent, we’re mostly referring to a function of velocity, movement, command and control. There is a notable intangible that probably deserves mention. I’ll call it craftiness. Basically, the pitcher’s ability to out-think the hitter. Some pitchers seemingly can outperform the results that we might expect from their speed, movement, and location alone.

In my dream, I was a starting pitcher, so I’m going to take a look at starters only. This is easier, since relievers can have such small samples that the data might not fully reflect the player. I will also filter out relief appearances, since most pitchers are better in the pen and I want to compare apples to apples.

I’ll need to work within the PITCHf/x era. The FanGraphs leaderboard is a good starting place since it lets me filter by velocity and walks per nine. Walk rate isn’t a perfect proxy for command and control, but it’s probably good enough. The leaderboard doesn’t have a handy filter for movement, so I’ll head over to Brooksbaseball.net for that portion of the analysis.

I began with a list of all starter seasons with over 100 innings between 2008 and 2013. I then filtered for all pitchers with a velocity of 90 mph or less and a walk per nine rate above 3.75. That gave me a list of 23 players over 29 seasons. Four pitchers appeared twice and one appeared three times. You can access the initial list here.

The list contains a number of players who were spot starters, had terrible seasons, or otherwise didn’t get the job done. For example, Javier Vazquez had only one season in his career with a velocity under 90 mph and he barely surpassed my arbitrary walk rate cutoff. If you count relief appearances, then his walk rate was better than my cutoff. He also had a 5.32 ERA that year, so he’s off the list.

Garrett Olson never found success at the major league level. He’s out. The same goes for Jeremy Sowers, Brian Tallet, Brandon Backe, and Micah Owings. Jeff Suppan hasn’t been useful by any measure since 2007. Jonathan Sanchez has been terrible since his fastball dipped below 90 mph, so I’m going to cut him too. Kevin Correia and Dillon Gee appear on the list, but both pitchers have found recent success by trimming their walk rate down to about two walks per nine.

After manually filtering the players who don’t pass the smell test, we’re left with this list of 13 pitchers.
Season Name W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2012 Aaron Harang 10 10 31 179.2 6.56 4.26 0.7 0.277 72.3 % 38.6 % 6.3 % 3.61 4.14 4.95 1.6
2009 Aaron Laffey 6 8 19 109.1 4.12 4.36 0.74 0.32 70.0 % 48.8 % 7.4 % 4.53 4.76 5.16 1
2009 Barry Zito 10 13 33 192 7.22 3.8 0.98 0.285 75.0 % 37.9 % 9.5 % 4.03 4.31 4.4 2
2010 Barry Zito 9 13 33 198.1 6.81 3.77 0.91 0.277 72.0 % 36.1 % 7.5 % 4.13 4.24 4.56 1.7
2008 Barry Zito 10 17 32 180 6 5.1 0.8 0.295 65.7 % 36.4 % 6.8 % 5.15 4.72 5.28 1.2
2010 Carlos Zambrano 11 5 20 113 8.2 4.94 0.48 0.287 75.2 % 42.2 % 5.1 % 3.19 3.72 4.31 1.9
2012 Carlos Zambrano 5 9 20 115 6.5 5.24 0.7 0.268 68.7 % 48.7 % 9.2 % 4.54 4.68 4.91 0.6
2008 Chris Young 7 6 18 102.1 8.18 4.22 1.14 0.254 75.8 % 21.7 % 8.7 % 3.96 4.4 4.68 1
2008 Doug Davis 6 8 26 146 6.9 3.95 0.8 0.322 72.5 % 47.0 % 9.2 % 4.32 4.15 4.27 2.3
2009 Doug Davis 9 14 34 203.1 6.46 4.56 1.11 0.291 76.0 % 43.1 % 11.6 % 4.12 4.84 4.63 1.5
2013 Erik Bedard 3 11 26 134 8.73 4.43 1.07 0.317 70.3 % 35.6 % 9.2 % 4.77 4.27 4.48 1.5
2012 Erik Bedard 7 14 24 125.2 8.45 4.01 1 0.314 66.5 % 43.3 % 11.5 % 5.01 4.07 4.05 1.1
2008 Greg Smith 7 16 32 190.1 5.25 4.11 0.99 0.256 72.7 % 34.2 % 7.9 % 4.16 4.82 5.23 1.7
2013 Jake Westbrook 7 7 19 110.2 3.42 3.82 0.49 0.289 71.5 % 56.9 % 6.7 % 3.9 4.51 4.91 -0.1
2013 Jason Marquis 9 5 20 117.2 5.51 5.2 1.38 0.261 77.3 % 52.3 % 18.2 % 4.05 5.65 4.81 -1.6
2013 Ryan Dempster 8 9 29 168.2 8.32 4.16 1.39 0.296 71.8 % 40.9 % 14.0 % 4.64 4.7 4.2 1.2
2010 Tom Gorzelanny 7 9 23 130 7.75 4.29 0.69 0.316 70.5 % 40.8 % 6.6 % 4.22 3.83 4.26 2.1
2008 Tom Gorzelanny 6 9 21 105.1 5.72 5.98 1.71 0.301 68.7 % 40.3 % 13.2 % 6.66 6.35 5.77 -1.1
2013 Trevor Cahill 7 10 25 142.2 6.31 4.04 0.82 0.292 73.1 % 56.8 % 12.4 % 4.1 4.3 4.12 0.8
Let’s see which of these pitchers use movement to get the job done. Brooks Baseball has a handy comparison mode that can convert movement into a 20-80 scouting score. I’ll be looking for pitchers who don’t substantially exceed a 60 rating for any of their most frequently used pitches. I’m going to view each pitcher’s entire sample for the PITCHf/x era, so the movement data won’t correlate perfectly with the samples in question.

Chris Young‘s fastball has vertical movement that grades above 70 on the 20-80 scale. He uses the pitch over 70 percent of the time, so he’s disqualified. When viewing the initial list, I thought he would win this competition since he combines low velocity and middling control with good results. The only thing that kept him from appearing multiple times on the list were his frequent injuries.

Doug Davis is a fringe case, his fastball and change-up grade as slightly above 60, but he only used those pitches a combined 36 percent of the time. The cutter that he used 46 percent of the time had below average movement. Let’s keep him. The story is similar with Barry Zito.

Erik Bedard gets plenty of movement on multiple pitches. He’s disqualified despite appearing on the list twice. The same goes for Tom Gorzelanny. Surprisingly, Greg Smith also received some high grades for movement, so he’s out too. That leaves us with this final list of nine pitchers over 13 player seasons.
Season Name W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2012 Aaron Harang 10 10 31 179.2 6.56 4.26 0.7 0.277 72.3 % 38.6 % 6.3 % 3.61 4.14 4.95 1.6
2009 Aaron Laffey 6 8 19 109.1 4.12 4.36 0.74 0.32 70.0 % 48.8 % 7.4 % 4.53 4.76 5.16 1
2009 Barry Zito 10 13 33 192 7.22 3.8 0.98 0.285 75.0 % 37.9 % 9.5 % 4.03 4.31 4.4 2
2010 Barry Zito 9 13 33 198.1 6.81 3.77 0.91 0.277 72.0 % 36.1 % 7.5 % 4.13 4.24 4.56 1.7
2008 Barry Zito 10 17 32 180 6 5.1 0.8 0.295 65.7 % 36.4 % 6.8 % 5.15 4.72 5.28 1.2
2010 Carlos Zambrano 11 5 20 113 8.2 4.94 0.48 0.287 75.2 % 42.2 % 5.1 % 3.19 3.72 4.31 1.9
2012 Carlos Zambrano 5 9 20 115 6.5 5.24 0.7 0.268 68.7 % 48.7 % 9.2 % 4.54 4.68 4.91 0.6
2008 Doug Davis 6 8 26 146 6.9 3.95 0.8 0.322 72.5 % 47.0 % 9.2 % 4.32 4.15 4.27 2.3
2009 Doug Davis 9 14 34 203.1 6.46 4.56 1.11 0.291 76.0 % 43.1 % 11.6 % 4.12 4.84 4.63 1.5
2013 Jake Westbrook 7 7 19 110.2 3.42 3.82 0.49 0.289 71.5 % 56.9 % 6.7 % 3.9 4.51 4.91 -0.1
2013 Jason Marquis 9 5 20 117.2 5.51 5.2 1.38 0.261 77.3 % 52.3 % 18.2 % 4.05 5.65 4.81 -1.6
2013 Ryan Dempster 8 9 29 168.2 8.32 4.16 1.39 0.296 71.8 % 40.9 % 14.0 % 4.64 4.7 4.2 1.2
2013 Trevor Cahill 7 10 25 142.2 6.31 4.04 0.82 0.292 73.1 % 56.8 % 12.4 % 4.1 4.3 4.12 0.8
These are the pitchers who have accomplished the most success with the least amount of tangible skill. I don’t have an objective way to definitively state which pitcher accomplished the most with the least, but I think one pitcher does stand out as the victor.

Carlos Zambrano is right there at the top, having compiled 30 WAR and 37 RA9-WAR over his career. However, he probably should have been excluded for the same reason as Vazquez. The two seasons Zambrano appeared on this list happen to be the only two seasons where his fastball velocity dipped down to 90 mph.

The other guy at the top is also the pitcher who appeared the most – Zito. He’s compiled 31 WAR and 38 RA9-WAR over his career and may still have a couple passable seasons left in the tank. He does have decent movement on his pitches – he barely passed that particular test. His fastball has never exceeded 87 mph and his walk rate has never strayed below three walks per nine in any of his 14 big league seasons. Perhaps he was able to find some success despite the lack of stuff because he used five different pitches at a roughly uniform rate. His least used pitch, the change-up, was thrown 14.5 percent of the time while his four seam fastball was most frequently used at just 26.7 percent. I’m not surprised to find Zito as the victor. **** Mills, who ran an internet based pitch coaching service frequently used Zito in his examples for how to use tilts and sequences.

Honorable mention goes to Davis, who spun the same no velocity shell game as Zito but never got that huge payday. Davis took longer to establish himself in the majors than Zito and his best seasons were slightly worse than Zito’s. Otherwise, they’re very much cut from the same cloth.

You may have noticed that Trevor Cahill is the only young pitcher on the list. His velocity is barely under the 90 mph cutoff and his walk rate only exceeded 3.75 BB/9 in one of five major league seasons. I’m not sure if this says anything about teams, but it doesn’t look like there are any young Zito’s or Davis’s in the league these days.
post #20007 of 77292
7 years 58 mil for simmons
post #20008 of 77292
Thread Starter 
Two sided coin. Could either be too much or too little, depending how he looks over the next four years. That's a long time away from FA to get 7 years to me laugh.gif
post #20009 of 77292
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Marcus View Post

Speaking of Philly, what a dirty organization for reporting those kids to the NCAA because they were butthurt that they didn't sign

 

It was really dirty of them. But thats the sort of shady, vindictive thing to expect from a front office thats definitely on the hot seat. 

post #20010 of 77292
Andrelton Simmons 7 year deal pimp.gif he had a great season last year it was the right move.
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