The Dodgers Have A Good Outfield Problem.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Shane Victorino was recently asked if he would return to the Dodgers in a part-time role next season. One of the many pieces the Dodgers added near the trade deadline, the former all-star centerfielder was adamant that he’ll seek regular playing time in his next deal. Given Victorino’s sentiments and the crowded Dodgers outfield, his return likely isn’t in the cards. However, the Dodgers may need someone like him over the next year or two as an insurance policy on Carl Crawford or a stopgap until Yasiel Puig is ready.
When the Dodgers acquired Crawford, along with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez …and Nick Punto in last week’s megadeal, they put the finishing touches on a very expensive outfield for the foreseeable future.
The move didn’t come without consequences. In addition to the hefty contracts now on the books, the Dodgers created a positional logjam that may prove difficult to solve without eating salary or making subsequent trades.
As it currently stands, Crawford is set to play left field for another five years. He will make around $102 million over that span. Andre Ethier will man right field and just signed a five-year, $85 million extension through 2017. Matt Kemp is on the books at $160 million over eight years and has center field locked up. The Dodgers would have a difficult time moving any of these players if they were so inclined. Crawford, the likely odd man out of the bunch, wouldn’t bring back much either, even if the Dodgers paid most of his bill.
What complicates matters is twofold: Crawford’s health and the signing of Puig.
The Dodgers signed Puig to a seven-year, $42 million deal this season. He spent August between Rookie Ball and High-A, and produced a .433 wOBA at the latter. He is at least a year and a half away, but is being groomed for a corner outfield spot. Assuming his progress remains on track, the Dodgers will face an interesting dilemma.
The natural reaction to this type of logjam is to move one of the outfielders to a new position. The likeliest position to receive one of said outfielders is first base. The Dodgers just acquired Adrian Gonzalez. Ipso facto, none of those outfielders are moving to first base. They aren’t going to try and move Gonzalez to open up space because the entire point of that trade was to bring him in. They absorbed Crawford’s and Beckett’s contract specifically to replace James Loney with Gonzalez.
If Crawford were to return from Tommy John surgery on schedule and start producing again, the Dodgers may very well find suitors for his services. Crawford probably won’t return until May or June next season, and might not get his groove back until a few weeks later. Which means the Dodgers are spending almost $200 million next season yet won’t have an everyday left fielder until the midway point of the season. If Crawford experiences any setbacks, he would obviously miss even more time.
This puts the team in somewhat of an awkward position, because it’ll be tough to convince a worthwhile and established outfielder to sign up for a role that might not involve everyday play from June onward. They certainly aren’t going to platoon Crawford or limit his playing time either, especially with that contract. Yet the Dodgers can’t risk not getting production out of the position and their big-time prospect isn’t yet ready.
If everything works out, Crawford will return sometime in May, produce very well, and the Dodgers will have another 1.5-2 years to make a decision based on Puig’s readiness. They would only need a stopgap leftfielder for a month, maybe two, and could look to utilize, say, Juan Pierre in a role similar to his current one with the Phillies. He wouldn’t cost much, especially relative to what the Dodgers just spent, could produce in a small sample, and then get relegated to fourth outfielder and pinch-runner status.
If everything doesn’t work out and Crawford misses more time, the Dodgers would be left with a fourth outfielder in an everyday role, which isn’t very prudent for a team looking to make a big-time dent in the National League. The future of the Dodgers outfield is very much up in the air, even with almost $400 million committed to four outfielders over the next several seasons.
They have an important decision to make this offseason but an even more crucial decision to make over the next year or two. Having a surplus of talent is a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem in need of a beneficial solution.
A Post About the San Diego Padres.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Overlord Dave and I exchange a lot of emails, and earlier Thursday he sent me an email declaring that everybody’s talking about the Padres. I chuckled heartily to myself, as Dave is one of the funniest people I know. The Padres are about as forgettable a franchise as any in the major professional sports. They could win seven consecutive World Series and still people would only talk about them in order to complain about the camouflage uniforms. But while everybody most certainly is not talking about the Padres right now, more people are talking about the Padres right now than were talking about the Padres some months ago. That’s because the Padres have been playing some outstanding baseball.
By their standards, at least. Maybe “outstanding” is too strong a term, but since June 10 — an endpoint carefully selected to make the Padres look as good as possible — the Padres have gone 41-30 and they’ve outscored the opposition by 23 runs. Overall, they’ve drawn to within a game and a half of the Red Sox, and while the Red Sox clearly aren’t what they were supposed to be, that’s a psychologically significant fun fact. The Padres and the Red Sox aren’t too different. The Padres now might well be better than the Red Sox now. What a game, baseball.
The Padres are nowhere close to a playoff race, because before they caught fire, they played baseball as if they were literally on fire. Yet their stretch of success has people wondering if the playoffs might be in the Padres’ near-term future. Let’s examine how this stretch has happened, and what the Padres’ outlook looks like.
Whenever a team surprises like the Padres have, you always want to check for signs of sustainability. Working in the Padres’ favor is that they haven’t put together this stretch of success by just beating up on the Astros. It’s not like the Padres have played 41 games against the Astros and 30 games against real teams, so if that’s something that you had in mind, the thought can be discarded.
Obviously, there are things that have occurred that can’t be counted on to continue to occur. During the stretch, Luke Gregerson has allowed zero runs, and Huston Street has allowed zero runs. Eric Stults has allowed ten runs in nine games, five of them starts. Will Venable has ridden his BABIP to lofty offensive heights. The Padres have won more games than their run differential would otherwise warrant. Whenever you isolate a team’s best stretch, you expect that the team will have been playing over its head, and, yeah, you see where this is going.
Interestingly, though, not all that many things stand out as being crazy. The starting rotation has not been very good, and the Padres have been saved by an excellent bullpen and a productive offense. You look at the top hitters and the numbers and it’s not like Alexi Amarista has been posting a four-digit OPS. Chase Headley‘s really good, and he’s been good. Venable’s been good, Yasmani Grandal‘s been good, Carlos Quentin‘s been good, and so on. This fine stretch of Padres baseball has come from fine performances from fine players.
That’s why this is so encouraging, from the Padres’ perspective. That’s why Ken Rosenthal just wrote about the Padres adjusting their plans to try to win sooner. The players who have been lifting the team are players who’ll be sticking around, and there are going to be more players with talent either coming up or coming back.
This is what the Padres’ lineup of position players could conceivably look like in 2013:
C: Yasmani Grandal
1B: Yonder Alonso
2B: Jedd Gyorko
SS: Everth Cabrera
3B: Chase Headley
LF: Carlos Quentin
CF: Cameron Maybin
RF: Will Venable
Logan Forsythe and Amarista could be around, for infield depth. Chris Denorfia could be around, for outfield depth. You look at that group and you don’t see a clear weakness. Cabrera isn’t much, but it’s hard to find a quality regular shortstop, and the Padres could find someone else. Statistically, Maybin isn’t much, but he’s posted a .735 OPS over the last two months since making an adjustment. There’s reason to believe in all of these guys, and there’ll be a little bit of depth in the probable event of someone’s under-performance.
The Padres do have reason to be wary. As recently as 2011, Maybin and Nick Hundley were major offensive contributors. Now Maybin is a work in progress again and Hundley seems lost. Players will surprise you in good ways and in bad ways. But the most you can do is raise your odds, and that group up there has fine odds of working out all right.
The bigger question for the Padres in the near term is the starting rotation. I’ll tell you now that I’m not going to dwell on the bullpen because bullpens are almost entirely unpredictable. During the Padres’ successful stretch, they’ve given regular starts to Ross Ohlendorf, Jason Marquis, and Eric Stults. Next year’s rotation is going to look different.
And it should look a hell of a lot better. The Padres’ pitching staff has just been shredded by injuries this year, and though injuries can mean future injuries, the Padres have suffered through too much bad luck. The only regular members of the rotation have been Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard. Returning soon will be Anthony Bass. Returning soon will be Andrew Cashner. Casey Kelly just arrived. Returning somewhere early in 2013 could be Cory Luebke. Returning somewhere around the middle of 2013 could be Joe Wieland. Robbie Erlin seems to be over his elbow issues, and his minor-league numbers are designated as NSFW.
As the Padres have learned, you can’t really rely on any pitcher, but there’s a lot of intriguing starter talent already in the organization and with new ownership, the team could also land a quality arm on the market. Rosenthal mentioned Hiroki Kuroda as one possibility, and while we won’t just assume that Kuroda will land in San Diego, he’d make for a quality stabilizer. Going into next year, the Padres look to be all right. With an addition or two, they could be even better than that.
What the Padres are short on are stars, and stars are what help a team join the elite. The Padres have more of a smooth talent spread, with a Headley exception. There’s not a lot of projected condensed WAR on the 2013 roster. But in most places, there’s quality, and there should be the financial means to support that quality, or even add more of it. Nobody’s going to declare next year’s Padres as World Series favorites, nor should anybody do that, barring an unforeseen offseason of miracles. But the Padres have lifted themselves out of the lower tier and suddenly .500 looks less like a goal and more like an expectation. It’s realistic to think that the Padres should contend for next year’s one-game playoff. We’ll never live in a world in which everybody’s talking about the San Diego Padres. But we’re living in a world in which people are gradually remembering that the San Diego Padres are a baseball team. A pretty decent baseball team, with more talent on the way.
Billy Hamilton and Stealing 100 Bases.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Because he is a man who hates joy, Walt Jocketty said yesterday that Billy Hamilton would “probably not” be called up to the majors in September, as the Reds put the finishing touches on a first-place campaign. (Hamilton has been assigned to the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League.) But you never know — as Lloyd Christmas might say, there’s a chance — so I think it’s still worth writing about Sliding Billy, the man who could reach the century mark in steals for the first time in a quarter-century.
Hamilton has stolen 154 bases in 127 games in the minors this year, in High-A and Double-A, breaking Vince Coleman‘s minor league stolen base record. Hamilton also stole 103 in 135 games in Single-A last year. If Billy played 150 games in the majors, the odds are awfully good that he could steal 100 bases, which no one has done since Coleman in 1987. Hell, Mike Podhorzer estimated that he could steal 100 bases as a pinchrunner next year.
Only four men have stolen 100 bases ever, and you probably know their names. Eight 100-steal seasons occurred between the years 1962 and 1987, and none before or since. Maury Wills stole 104 bases in 1962, setting the all-time single-season record, breaking Ty Cobb‘s modern baseball record of 96 steals in 1915, which had stood for 47 years.* Lou Brock upped the ante in 1974, with 118, which is still the second-most of all time. Then, of course, six of the eight 100-steal seasons occurred between 1980 and 1987, with Rickey Henderson on the Billyball Athletics and Vince Coleman on the Whiteyball Cardinals.
* Ty Cobb didn’t hold the all-time record, exactly, and technically, nor does Henderson Brock. It would actually be Hugh Nicol, who is credited with 138 steals in 125 games for the 1887 Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association, the predecessor to the modern Reds, Billy Hamilton’s club. I wrote about those Red Stockings in my Opening Day column: they were banned from the National League because the Reds wanted to sell beer at the ballpark. They were finally readmitted to the NL in 1890. Anyway, a lot of people stole 100 bases in 1887, according to Retrosheet: in addition to Nicol, there was Arlie Latham, Jim Fogarty, Pete Browning, future Players’ League founder Monte Ward, and future White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey. Two other players stole 100 bases before 1900. One of them was Tom Brown. The other, of course, was the original Sliding Billy Hamilton, who did it four times — and that is also a record.
Baseball has changed a lot since the 1980s, of course. In stealing 100 bases, Maury Wills established the primacy of the steal by breaking a record that had lasted even longer than the home run record that Roger Maris smashed the year before. And the speedy shortstop got value from his legs during a decade when offense was down across the major leagues.
Despite the fact that his offensive stats appear slightly worse than Coleman’s — Coleman had a career .320 wOBA, 97 wRC+, and 28 career homers; Wills had a .308 wOBA, 95 wRC+, and 20 career homers — Wills had a much better career, about 30 wins better. That’s partly because of the positional adjustment: Wills was an average defensive shortstop and Coleman was a slightly below-average left fielder. But that’s also because the replacement adjustment since the offensive level in Coleman’s era was a fair bit higher than it was in Wills’ era. Wills played from 1959 to 1972, when the major league average was 4.04 runs a game; Coleman played from 1985 to 1997, when the major league average was 4.52 runs a game.
Indeed, Wills’ career would be a very good outcome for Hamilton. Wills was an average defensive shortstop who managed a 40-WAR career and firm enshrinement in the Hall of the Very Good; he’s also probably the greatest major leaguer to hail from Washington, DC. He didn’t really have any power and didn’t really walk. His only two really remarkable talents were his ability to make contact — he had a career 8.2 percent strikeout rate — and his basestealing ability. Wills’ contact rate is the main thing that separates him from Hamilton, who has struck out in more than 20 percent of his minor league plate appearances.
Coleman’s career is another possible outcome, Mike Newman wrote two weeks ago. Coleman managed around 13 WAR in parts of 13 seasons. The typical Coleman season was above replacement-level but below league-average; he was exciting to watch but no more than “a useful player,” as John Sickels writes, predicting that Coleman’s career is essentially Hamilton’s floor.
Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson are less likely outcomes, unless Hamilton flashes power at the major league level. Brock finished with 149 homers, and he is one of only four members of the 100-800 club of players with 100 homers and 800 steals: Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and Ty Cobb. Brock had an ISO of .118, more than twice the .050 that Wills posted, and Henderson’s ISO was .140. Hamilton’s career minor league ISO is .101, and his ability to keep that up will be strongly related to his ability to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples at the major league level.
But Wills and Coleman demonstrate that Hamilton could have a long, successful career even if he does no such thing. One thing is for sure: he’s gonna be a whole lot of fun to watch.
Arizona Fall League Breakdown: Mesa Solar Sox.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Tentative rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released on Aug. 29. The fall developmental league is designed to help prospects received extra seasoning and coaching at the conclusion of the minor league season. Each organization contributes players to the six-team league. The league typically shifts in favor of the hitters because teams are generally reluctant to assign top arms to the league – unless they’re attempting to make up for lost innings due to injuries.
The Mesa Solar Sox club consists of players from five organizations – Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles NL, and Chicago NL. Below are some interesting names set to appear on the roster. Full rosters can be found here.
Mike Belfiore, LHP, Baltimore: A former supplemental first round draft pick, Belfiore doesn’t have the same stuff he once did but he was a great addition to the organization when Arizona asked for Josh Bell. He pitched well in double-A and held left-handed hitters to a .170 batting average. He could provide same-handed match-ups at the big league level as a loogy or work as a long reliever. Belfiore, 23, is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this off-season so the organization will have to decide if its going to add him to the 40-man roster by the November deadline; his fall performance could help sway the decision.
Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF: Detroit: One of the top prospects on the squad – along with Chicago’s Javier Baez and Houston’s Jonathan Singleton – Castellanos could use the AFL as a spring board to a big-league assignment in 2013. A natural third baseman, Castellanos has seen time in the outfield in 2012 as the big league club tries to find a way to fit his bat into a lineup that already features third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The young prospect probably needs another half season of seasoning in the minors after posting a 96 wRC+ in 72 double-A games after a promotion from high-A ball (186 wRC+).
Chia-Jen Lo, RHP, Houston: After missing most of 2010 trying to avoid the knife and then 2011 following Tommy John surgery, Lo returned to appear in 18 games in ’12. When he’s right, the 26-year-old Taiwan native can hit the mid-90s with his fastball and he flashes a solid curveball. He struck out 19 batters in 17.0 high-A ball innings this season and could jump all the way to triple-A in 2013 if he has a strong AFL. Lo has the ceiling of a high-leverage reliever.
James McCann, C, Detroit: With the recent trade of Rob Brantly to Miami, McCann is now the top catching prospect in the system. He appeared in 45 high-A games and posted a 102 wRC+ and was aggressively pushed to double-A. McCann slumped badly afer the promotion, though, with a wRC+ of just 24. With big league catcher Alex Avila under contract for at least three more seasons, the club can afford to be patient with McCann. He’ll look to jumpstart his bat in the fall.
Jiovanni Miers, SS, Houston: A former first round draft pick who’s fallen on hard times, Mier showed an improved offensive game in 2012 but missed time with an ankle injury. The middle infielder was also playing in the potent California League so it’s hard to know for sure just how “real” his results were. Observers did have some nice things to say about adjustments made at the plate so the Astros organization will look for his success to carry over to the AFL. The jump to double-A could be a big test in 2013.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles: The Dodgers organization shocked a lot of people when it handed a contract for more than $40 million to the relatively-unknown Puig. Reportedly 21 years old, the outfielder has appeared in just 21 games this year – nine in Rookie ball and 12 in High-A ball. He’s flashed some massive power and has also handled the strike zone surprisingly well. The AFL will provide some much needed at-bats for the Cuba native and will help the organization decide if he’s ready for the challenge of double-A in 2013.
George Springer, OF, Houston: The Astros’ first pick of the 2011 draft, Springer was known for being exceptionally athletic but raw for a college product thanks to some fairly large holes in his swing. He got off to a strong start, thanks in part to the favorable hitting environments in the California League. He produced a 20-20 season with 101 runs scored and a .316 batting average in 106 games before getting bumped up to double-A. Springer, 22, then suffered a concussion and hit just .191 in his first 15 double-A games. His tour of duty in the AFL will help him continue to smooth out his rough edges and cut down on his massive strikeout rates.
Tony Zych, RHP, Chicago: A solid fourth-round selection during the 2011 draft, Zych reached double-A in his first full pro season. The right-hander flashes heat that sits in the mid-90s but he has yet to develop a consistent slider, which has hampered his overall effectiveness… to a degree. Zych struck out 28 battes in 23.2 double-A innings and also showed an above-average ground-ball rate. If he can improve his command of his secondary pitch and sharpen his overall control, Zych could develop into a high-leverage reliever and could reach the Majors in 2013.
Pedro Alvarez’s Cardinal Destruction.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cardinals must be glad they won’t be seeing the Pirates again this season. Not because the Pirates were a particular thorn in the Cardinals’ side — the Pirates won the season series 8-7, but the Cardinals have had greater struggles against the Braves (1-5) and, oddly enough, the Phillies (2-5). No, the Cardinals must be glad because they’ve seen the last of Pedro Alvarez, at least until a potential playoff matchup.
Alvarez closed the season series with a home run, a double and three RBI as part of a 2-for-4 night, bringing his line for the series up to 23-for-58 with four doubles, seven home runs and seven walks. All-in-all, Alvarez compiled a .534 wOBA throughout the assault. More importantly, with the Cardinals and Pirates separated by just one game in the standings, Alvarez made the damage count — in just 15 games, Alvarez produced a massive 1.7 WPA.
1.7 WPA over the course of 15 games is a staggering number. Only four times in major league history has a hitter put together a season with a WPA over 10. Three times it was Barry Bonds (+12.9 in 2004, +11.5 in 2001, +10.5 in 2000), the other time it was Willie McCovey (+10.1 in 1969); each time the subject posted both the league’s highest OBP and SLG. Alvarez set a pace of +18.4 WPA per 162 games against St. Louis this season.
Bonds’s 2001 produced a .539 wOBA, his 2004 a .538 mark, both nearly equivalent to what Alvarez did against the Cardinals. But Alvarez also sported an uncanny sense of timing. In eight plate appearances with a leverage index above two, Alvarez went 6-for-7 with two homers, a double and an intentional walk; in 15 plate appearances above 1.5 he went 10-for-14 with three homers, the double and the intentional walk.
The biggest moment — both by WPA and symbolic significance — came as the Pirates exorcised their 19th-inning demons back on August 19th. Alvarez blasted the game-tying home run with one out in the inning.
Given the depths to which Alvarez sunk in 2011 — a .098 ISO out of a man listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds; -0.8 WAR — it was fair to wonder if the Pirates would get anything out of their second-overall pick this season. But his resurgence has been one of the key stories to the Pirates’ contention for a Wild Card this year. With a 120 wRC+, Alvarez has started to live up to expectations.
And most importantly, with the Pirates clawing for every possible victory against their closest rivals for a playoff spot, the Cardinals, Alvarez came up big time and time again. His 1.7 WPA (and the resulting -1.7 for St. Louis) is the equivalent of 3.5 games in the standings, and it’s easy to find four games in the season series Alvarez directly swung in the Pirates’ favor. With single games now accounting for between seven and ten percent of playoff probability for Pittsburgh according to CoolStandings, Alvarez’s march of destruction through St. Louis this season effectively turns the Pirates from pretender to contender by itself.
Johnny Cueto For Cy Young.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yesterday, we rolled out Fielding Dependent Pitching in an effort to provide a more thorough evaluation of pitching and run prevention. Today, I want to talk about how FDP can be used to examine the Cy Young races, and specifically, why it illustrates that Johnny Cueto should be the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award.
Let’s just start by looking at the value stats of the top five candidates, side by side.
Name IP WAR RA9-Wins BIP-Wins LOB-Wins FDP-Wins
Clayton Kershaw 186.2 4.7 5.1 1.7 (1.3) 0.4
Johnny Cueto 181.2 4.6 6.4 0.2 1.6 1.8
R.A. Dickey 182.1 4.1 5.1 0.9 0.1 1.0
Matt Cain 182.0 3.5 5.1 1.5 0.1 1.6
Aroldis Chapman 64.0 3.5 3.5 0.4 (0.3) 0.1
You could make a case for some other guys on the periphery, including somewhat shocking entries from guys Kyle Lohse and Wade Miley, but in terms of people I think actually have a chance to win, it’s probably one of these five. Kershaw and Cueto grade out best in terms of WAR, but their lead over Dickey and Cain is slight, and of course both of them are known for being pitchers who outperform their FIP anyway. Chapman’s in the mix because he’s having one of the great relief seasons of all time, but I’m not going to spend too much time talking about him in this post because he doesn’t really have much of a case, given what his own teammate is doing in the rotation. So, really, let’s focus on the four starters.
WAR suggests its a pretty close race, with Kershaw and Cueto out in front. However, we’ve never intended for WAR to be a discussion-ender, with the leaderboards of that one stat being the standard for handing out awards, and there is no question that you should dive deeper into the issue that simply saying “Kershaw has the highest WAR, therefore he’s been the best.” And now, with FDP, we can more easily look at the differences in run prevention that aren’t so clearly the result of the pitcher, and decide how much credit we want to give them for those runs saved.
So, if you re-sort the table above by FDP, you’ll note that Cueto has produced the most extra wins above and beyond his FIP, coming in at +1.6 LOB-wins and +0.2 BIP-wins. Cain and his normal low-BABIP ways add +1.5 BIP-wins and +0.1 Lob-wins, while Dickey’s knuckler gets him +0.9 BIP-wins and +0.1 LOB-wins. With both Cain and Dickey, we have legitimate reasons to believe that their below average BABIPs are a direct result of a skill they possess, and so they likely should be given a large majority of the credit for their FDPs, which would push both of their adjusted WARs up around +5.0 wins.
With Kershaw, the story is more interesting, and forces us to look deeper into the causes of runner stranding. While Kershaw is also likely a lower BABIP guy — high strikeout flyball lefties do well in hit prevention historically — his BIP-wins and LOB-wins nearly offset, and Kershaw’s total FDP is just +0.4. In other words, it’s hard to make a case that Kershaw has performed significantly better than his FIP, even though he has one of the lowest BABIPs in the league.
Cueto, on the other hand, is essentially Kershaw’s equal in wins based on FIP, but has racked up +1.8 FDP-wins, and has done it in the exact opposite way of everyone else we’ve discussed. His +1.6 LOB-wins lead the National League, and suggests that Cueto may deserve more credit than his WAR suggests. But, before we just hand him that extra credit, we’ll want to know how he’s keeping opposing baserunners from scoring. In looking through his splits, the answer doesn’t immediately jump out at you.
Bases Empty: .235/.270/.317, .259 wOBA
Men On Base: .245/.338/.369, .294 wOBA
RISP: .246/.357/.371, .311 wOBA
Unlike with Jordan Zimmerman (#2 in the NL in LOB-wins), Cueto’s performance against hitters has not taken a significant uptick once he allows a baserunner. In fact, he gets quite a bit worse, as his FIP rises from 2.44 with the bases empty up to 4.63 with men in scoring position. And, his BABIPs are essentially even in all three situations, so we can’t explain his stranded runners through the sequencing of hit prevention.
However, there’s one thing that these splits don’t measure, and it happens to be the thing that Johnny Cueto is better at than anyone else in baseball – picking runners off.
Cueto’s pick-off move isn’t the stuff of legends yet, but it probably should be. The list of the top ten pickoffs by a pitcher this year includes nine left-handed pitchers and Johnny Cueto, and despite being right-handed, Cueto’s seven pickoffs are actually only one off the Major League lead (held by Kershaw and Ricky Romero). Cueto’s pick-off move is so good, he actually nailed two Giants in the same inning back in June, and because it’s fun, let’s take a look at those.
Okay, Melky Cabrera was leaning, and any pitcher can catch a guy leaning once in a while, right? Well, look what he does to Buster Posey not five minutes later.
Buster Posey has stolen one base this year. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying for one there – Cueto just spun around so quickly he caught Posey off guard and didn’t give him a chance to get back to the bag. And so, despite the fact that the three batters he faced in that inning went single-walk-deep flyball to center field, it was actually a 1-2-3 inning for Cueto, and no one even got into scoring position.
Cueto’s been doing this kind of thing all year long, and it’s gotten to the point where there’s no real point even trying to get much of a lead off first base, much less think about taking second. Opposing baserunners have managed one steal off Cueto all season, matching the same number of stolen bases that he allowed in 2011. In fact, for his career, opposing base stealers are just 14 for 41 against Cueto, an astounding 34% success rate. 28 major league pitchers have allowed more stolen bases this year than Cueto has in his entire career.
How big of a deal can holding runners on actually be? Well, consider a guy like Tim Lincecum, a right-hander with a lousy pickoff move who doesn’t hold runners all that well. Would-be basestealers are a perfect 18-for-18 off of him this year, and surprise surprise, he’s posted -1.2 LOB-wins this year. Not all of that can be attributed to his inability to hold runners, but even if we just take the linear weight value of those steals, that’s 17 extra bases advanced at 0.25 runs apiece, and eight fewer outs made on the bases against him at 0.50 runs apiece, so the gap between Cueto and Lincecum’s value simply on SB/CS is over eight runs, or nearly an entire win. And that presumes that the only value to be had from holding runners is through controlling steals or picking runners off, but it’s certainly possible that batters get better jumps off Lincecum than they do off Cueto, which could influence the frequency of double plays turned or their ability to go first to third on a base hit.
While Cueto’s never stranded runners at this level before, and it’s unlikely that his LOB-wins are entirely the result of his fearsome pickoff move, the reality is that he has demonstrated a real skill at runner stranding, and he’s been above average in LOB-wins every year of his career. Like we acknowledge that Dickey and Cain are likely influencing a decent amount of their hit prevention, we should also acknowledge that Cueto is influencing a large part of his runner stranding, and given that he also leads both of them in FIP, we should give Cueto enough credit for his FDP that he returns to the top of the heap in the Cy Young race once again.
While things can certainly change over the final month of the season, Cueto has established himself as the frontrunner, and should be the guy to beat at this point. His skills as a pitcher — and perhaps the best right-handed pickoff move we’ve seen in a very long time — have elevated him into the top tier of the National League hurlers, and unless Dickey or Cain close with a great final month, the Cy Young Award should end up in Cincinnati. It just belongs to their ace starter, not their ace reliever.
Greatest September Call-Ups.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We’re only three days from the expansion of major league rosters. On Sept. 1, all players on a team’s 40-man roster will be eligible to play in the big leagues without an accompanying move. Often times, baseball fans are treated to a sneak preview of teams’ top minor league talent as a result of September call-ups; or they’re surprised by a relatively unknown player who manages to contribute over the season’s final month.
In preparation for this year’s roster expansion, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the greatest-ever September call-ups, defined here as players that made their major league debut during the month of September.
There are, of course, two ways to look at this: The first is to look at players — position players and pitchers — who generated the most value for their clubs during their call-up. The second is to look at players whose careers began as a September call-up and then went on to have great careers.
I’m looking at both.
David Appelman was kind enough to pull the for me. For position players, I looked at WAR, but also at wRC+. Why? Any metric can be volatile in a small sample — and a month is pretty small — but defensive metrics tend to be more volatile than others. I didn’t institute a plate-appearance limit for WAR, but I did for wRC+ (40). For pitchers, I looked at FIP- and ERA-.
Let’s first tackle the greatest September performances among position-players, sorted by WAR and then by wRC+:
Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR
Dwayne Hosey 9/1/95 77 171 1.6
Bill Sudakis 9/3/68 102 168 1.4
Chris Parmelee 9/6/11 88 187 1.3
Fernando Perez 9/5/08 72 121 1.2
Craig Wilson 9/5/98 53 228 1.2
Daric Barton 9/10/07 84 183 1.2
Nyjer Morgan 9/1/07 118 107 1.1
J.D. Drew 9/8/98 41 260 1.1
Kevin Seitzer 9/3/86 116 148 1.0
Jim Greengrass 9/9/52 75 159 1.0
Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR
J.D. Drew 9/8/98 41 260 1.1
Craig Wilson 9/5/98 53 228 1.2
Fred Lynn 9/5/74 51 226 0.8
Randy Ready 9/4/83 43 211 0.7
Chris Parmelee 9/6/11 88 187 1.3
Daric Barton 9/10/07 84 183 1.2
Mark Quinn 9/14/99 65 175 0.8
Dwayne Hosey 9/1/95 77 171 1.6
Bob Nieman 9/14/51 47 171 0.6
Ron Cash 9/4/73 46 169 0.8
For overall value, it’s hard to top Dwayne Hosey, who made his debut on Sept. 1, 1995. Hosey created 1.6 Wins Above Replacement for the Boston Red Sox, and he did it in only 77 plate appearances. The 28 year-old outfielder posted a wRC+ of 171 (tied for eighth-best among September call-ups) and posted a .279 ISO and a .408 OBP. After his historic September, Hosey came back to earth and earned a negative WAR (-0.3) in 1996 in 87 plate appearance.
Bill Sudakis was a 22 year-old with the Dodgers in 1968. He rewarded his team with 1.4 WAR. All of Sudakis’ value was tied up in his offense that September, and he posted a 168 wRC+ in 102 plate appearances. Sudakis manned third base for 24 games and had a .195 ISO while he walked more than he struck out (15 walks against 14 strikeouts). Sudakis went on to be the Dodgers’ starting third basemen the next year. He generated 2.6 wAR, but only managed a 95 wRC+. He finished his career with 6.9 WAR and a 101 wRC+.
What about pitchers?
Here’s the top 10 pitchers (minimum of four starts), sorted first by ERA- and then by FIP-:
Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP-
Josh Beckett 9/4/01 4 4 24 36 99
Marty Bystrom 9/7/80 5 6 36 41 73
Jack McDowell 9/15/87 4 4 28 43 70
Eric Gagne 9/7/99 5 5 30 49 91
Rich DeLucia 9/8/90 5 5 36 50 79
Steve Busby 9/8/72 5 5 40 51 54
Randy Martz 9/6/80 6 6 30.1 53 100
Dillon Gee 9/7/10 5 5 33 56 109
Pat Combs 9/5/89 6 6 38.2 59 63
Tim Belcher 9/6/87 5 6 34 61 75
Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP-
Steve Busby 9/8/72 5 5 40 51 54
Richard Dotson 9/4/79 5 5 24.1 88 58
Pat Combs 9/5/89 6 6 38.2 59 63
Andy Rincon 9/15/80 4 4 31 71 66
Wade Davis 9/6/09 6 6 36.1 87 69
Jack McDowell 9/15/87 4 4 28 43 70
Marty Bystrom 9/7/80 5 6 36 41 73
Bob Knepper 9/10/76 4 4 25 91 73
Ken Forsch 9/7/70 4 4 24 140 73
Tim Belcher 9/6/87 5 6 34 61 75
In four starts in 2001, Josh Beckett posted an adjusted ERA of 36. While the young pitcher struck out more than 24% of the batters he faced, he also walked more than 11%. The high walks didn’t hurt him, though, and he managed to strand 78% of his runners. Opposing hitters only mustered a .183 BABIP against Beckett.
Future Dodgers closer Eric Gagne started five games for Los Angeles in September 1999. Gagne struck out 25.2% of the batters he faced and stranded 86.8% of the batters who reached base. That helped fuel his 2.10 ERA for the month. Gagne spent the next two seasons primarily as a starting pitcher before he was moved to the bullpen full-time.
A few other notable September call-ups include White Sox great Jack McDowell (43 ERA-, 70 FIP-), Tim Belcher (61 ERA-, 75 FIP-) and Steve Busby whose 51 ERA- and 54 FIP- are nearly identical.
Arguably the greatest relief performance from a call-up belongs to Joel Johnston. Johnston debuted on Sept. 5, 1991 and finished the year with a 10 ERA- in 22.1 innings pitched. Johnston stranded 94% of all base runners and struck out almost 25% of batters faced. In his 13 appearances, Johnston recorded six shutdowns and didn’t have a meltdown. Unfortunately for Johnston and the Royals, he’d would fall far short of his 1991 brilliance and posted a 364 FIP- of in five appearances the next year. Johnston had pretty good season in 1993 with the Pirates (82 ERA-, 111 FIP-), but he pitched horribly in only eight more games from 1994 to 1995.
There’s obviously a significant amount of variability when you see how the best September call-ups’ careers panned out. Some went on to have good to great careers (like Drew and Belcher); but many times, some truly great players managed only mediocre September debuts. Here are the top-20 position players (sorted by career WAR) and pitchers (sorted by career FIP-, minimum 1000 innings pitches):
Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR Career PA Career wRC+ Career WAR
Mike Schmidt 9/12/72 40 84 0.2 10062 146 110.5
Joe Morgan 9/21/63 30 118 0.0 11329 141 108.0
Brooks Robinson 9/17/55 22 -55 -0.5 11782 105 94.6
Chipper Jones 9/11/93 4 353 0.1 10489 143 90.8
Carlton Fisk 9/18/69 5 -100 -0.1 9853 118 74.4
Lou Whitaker 9/9/77 37 64 -0.3 9967 117 74.3
Rafael Palmeiro 9/8/86 78 89 0.0 12046 130 74.3
Ernie Banks 9/17/53 39 141 0.6 10395 117 74.1
Gary Carter 9/16/74 29 186 0.5 9019 114 72.5
Reggie Smith 9/18/66 27 -14 -0.2 8050 136 71.8
Jim Thome 9/4/91 104 80 0.0 10277 144 71.8
Graig Nettles 9/6/67 3 189 0.0 10226 111 71.8
Dwight Evans 9/16/72 64 120 0.3 10569 129 71.4
Willie Stargell 9/16/62 34 99 0.1 9026 145 70.9
Tim Raines 9/11/79 -100 0.0 10359 134 70.9
Joe Torre 9/25/60 2 191 0.0 8801 129 70.8
Edgar Martinez 9/12/87 46 159 0.3 8672 148 69.9
Manny Ramirez 9/2/93 55 30 -0.6 9774 152 69.6
Alan Trammell 9/9/77 48 22 -0.6 9375 111 69.5
**** Allen 9/3/63 25 106 0.1 7314 156 67.9
Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP- Career IP Career ERA- Career FIP-
Pedro Martinez 9/24/92 1 2 8 67 34 2827.1 67 67
Lee Smith 9/1/80 18 21.2 74 79 1289.1 76 73
Roy Halladay 9/20/98 2 2 14 41 78 2649.1 73 75
Kevin Brown 9/30/86 1 1 5 85 28 3256.1 78 79
Adam Wainwright 9/11/05 2 2 325 265 1025.2 76 81
Sam McDowell 9/15/61 1 1 6.1 84 2492.1 89 83
Rollie Fingers 9/15/68 1 1.1 939 573 1701.1 83 83
Len Barker 9/14/76 2 2 15 69 94 1323.2 108 84
Tom Gordon 9/8/88 2 5 15.2 130 68 2108 88 84
Nolan Ryan 9/11/66 1 2 3 420 168 5386 90 84
Cliff Lee 9/15/02 2 2 10.1 39 95 1789.2 85 85
Alejandro Pena 9/14/81 14 25.1 84 115 1057.2 85 85
Gary Lavelle 9/10/74 10 16.2 57 99 1085 80 86
Ubaldo Jimenez 9/26/06 1 2 7.2 72 106 1059.2 91 86
Lindy McDaniel 9/2/55 2 4 19 116 133 2139.1 92 86
Tom Bradley 9/9/69 3 2 772 196 1017.2 104 86
Ron Reed 9/26/66 2 2 8.1 59 116 2477.2 93 87
Fergie Jenkins 9/10/65 7 12.1 62 103 4500.2 87 87
Bob Moose 9/19/67 2 2 14.2 110 108 1304.1 100 87
John Hiller 9/6/65 5 6 45 1242 75 88
The lists are packed with all-time greats.
Mike Schmidt is arguably the greatest position player to make his debut during September. Schmidt finished his career with 110.5 WAR and 146 wRC+. Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters ever, posted a meager 30 wRC+ in 55 plate appearances in 1993. Until 2011, that was the last time Ramirez posted a wRC+ below 120.
Pedro Martinez, he of the identical career ERA- and FIP-, threw eight innings in September 1992. It was only eight innings, but those eight innings gave fans a preview of the Martinez who’d dominate the league in the next 13 years (25%+ strikeout rate, one walk).
Oddly enough, none of the pitchers on this list started more than two games during their September call-up. Lee Smith and Alejandro Pena appeared in the most games (18 and 14, respectively) on their way to excellent carrer FIP- numbers (73 and 85).
Fans can expect to see sneak previews of some of the best players during the coming month, but they also have a good chance to see a few players have truly remarkable runs. Players that may not contribute much outside of one spectacular September. And that’s just one of the things that makes baseball in September so much fun.