Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013: Tigers or Athletics?

Today's issue of Joe Sheehan's Newsletter, spurred by rumors of Felix Hernandez signing a $175 million contract, posits that the Mariners are "the fourth-best team in a division with three of the top ten teams in baseball ..." 

Few would argue that the Rangers, who have reached two of the last three World Series, or the Angels, having signed Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke* this offseason, are not among MLB's best. But placing the A's among a group that includes the aforementioned Rangers and Angels means that two of the Nationals, Blue Jays, Tigers, Dodgers, Reds, Giants, Braves, Rays and Yankees are not top-ten teams. I emailed Joe how that could be, and he replied that while he hadn't researched the topic, he's sure that the A's are better than the Tigers.

*This is what happens when I write at 11pm. This is also why I haven't written in two years. 

My first response was that Tigers < A's is, if not a narrowly-held position, then a quietly-held one -- I've not heard anyone tout the A's for 2013. Indeed, Sportsbook set the A's at 30-1 to win next year's World Series, longer odds than the Cardinals and Rays.* Sportsbook's odds imply that the Red Sox and A's are equally likely to win the World Series. Now, online gambling lines qualify less as research than entertainment, so let's dig a little deeper. 

*The A's play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball while the Tigers play in one of the easiest, though the addition of the Astros to the A.L. Central balances the scale somewhat. Still, the Tigers are clearly a better bet to win their division than the A's are to win theirs -- and therefore much more likely to make the playoffs and win the World Series. This shouldn't affect how we objectively view the teams.

Based on Baseball Prospectus's adjusted standings page, the 94-68 A's should have won between 87 and 92 games last year. The Tigers, at 88-74, nailed their Pythagorean mark; BP says Detroit should have won between 87 and 90 games. What the adjusted standings tell us is that one could expect the A's to naturally regress next season, while the Tigers' record was a fair reflection of its component statistics. The A's and Tigers were both ~89-90 win teams at heart last season, thus the question becomes: Which team did more to improve for 2013?

The A's were involved in two offseason trades, acquiring John Jaso from the Mariners and Jed Lowrie from the Astros. The only major-leaguer Oakland relinquished in those deals was Chris Carter, the hulking slugger whose 16 home runs in 67 games only provided +0.8 WAR because he played a miserable first base -- when he was even allowed to put on a glove. Carter might thrive in Houston, but he's no great loss to the A's. Granting Joe's premise that Jaso provides a two-win upgrade from A's catchers last year, that's a significant upgrade. Lowrie was a +2.5 WAR player in his age-28 2012, but that was the first time he had played even 90 games in a season. The A's have stated they plan to use Lowrie in a utility role, so It is not harsh to pencil him in for a +2.0 WAR season next year. 

The A's also signed Hiroyuki Nakajima to be their starting shortstop in 2013. Nakajima was a star in Japan, but it's fair to say that Japanese infielders seem to rarely work out. Nakajima will look to outplay Stephen Drew, who left Oakland to sign with Boston. Drew's been injured for significant portions of the last two seasons, so he's far from guaranteed to outplay Nakajima next year.

Of the Athletics' returning players on offense, it's unlikely that Brandon Moss, he of the .251/.317/.442 career mark, repeats his age-28 .291/.358/.596 season in 2013. Similarly, Coco Crisp will play this season at 33 years of age; he's more likely to regress than improve.  For the A's to maintain their 90-win pace from last season, they'll need both Yoenis Céspedes and Josh Reddick to prove that their combined 55 home runs and down-ballot MVP showings were not flukes. Reddick will be 26 this year, and Céspedes will be "27", so both could be entering sustained peaks. Still, Céspedes and Reddick combined for only 85 non-intentional walks in 1,213 PAs. That's not a Jason Giambi or Johnny Damon walk rate. Color me skeptical that the Oakland outfield duo will exceed last year's combined +7.9 Fangraphs WAR. 

On the pitching side, the A's lost Brandon McCarthy to free agency, but hope to get Brett Anderson back from having pitched 230 innings -- over the last three seasons. Anderson is a borderline star when on the mound, but his next season throwing 180 innings will be his first. After 35 innings in 2012, I doubt the A's are counting on Anderson to provide more than 120 innings this year. The rest of Oakland's rotation -- Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, and Dan Straily -- will be helped by throwing half their games in the Colosseum, but two-through-five that's a weak starting staff. 

The A's, as is their sabermetric wont, annually cobble together outstanding bullpens from other teams' discard piles. I'll concede that whatever anonymous relief corps Oakland conjures up will outperform the Tigers' pen. 

Oakland's improved at catcher and improved their infield depth while they hope that last year's outfield breakouts are for real. They're treading water on the pitching side. Today, I'll pencil the A's in for 90 wins. Are the Tigers that good?

(It's already past my bedtime, I'm at 900 words, and I've not even written up the Tigers yet. Apologies if this rapidly devolves into incoherence.)

The 2013 Tigers will benefit from a full year of Anibal Sanchez in the rotation and Omar Infante at second base. Neither is an MVP candidate, but each represents an easy one-win upgrade over last year's performers in those spots. Detroit also sees Victor Martinez, returning from injury, replace free-agent Delmon Young at designated hitter. That alone could provide three or four wins over the team's 2012 performance. The Tigers also signed 37-year-old Torii Hunter to play right field. Hunter's not going to hit .313 again, but he won't have to in order to provide more than Brennan Boesch (.240/.286/.372) and Quintin Berry (.258/.330/.354) did last year. Figure that's another 2-win improvement. 

On the regression side of the ledger, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Austin Jackson all performed at MVP levels last year. Two of these three are future Hall of Famers whose 2012 stats are not out of place next to their career numbers. (Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta also performed in line with expectations and should do so again.) Jackson, still just 26 years old, is no lock to provide another +5 WAR season, but I'd rather have Jackson's 2013 than that of Céspedes or Reddick.  

Behind Verlander and Sanchez, the rest of the Tigers' rotation includes Max Scherzer, who was basically unhittable in last year's second half, Rick Porcello, who Jason Parks predicts to break out in 2013, and Doug Fister, who proved in 2012 that his Seattle numbers were sustainable in Detroit. This is an exceptionally strong starting staff. 

With Rafael Soriano off the market to Washington, it appears the Tigers will go into 2013 with a rookie closer backed up by a nondescript veteran bullpen. I'm falling asleep so I'm not going to offer my opinion on Detroit's seventh through 13th pitchers, but with the variability of relief pitchers, I'm unwilling to predict greatness or failure. Jettisoning Jose Valverde's Capital-C Closer mentality is likely to add, not subtract, wins from the team. 

The Tigers took an 89-win team and improved by adding Hunter, Infante and Sanchez, getting Martinez back, and showing the door to Young and Valverde. On paper, that looks like five or six wins to the good. 

I'll stipulate that the A's demonstrated surprising skill by holding off Texas and Anaheim for the 2012 A.L. West crown. But it is respectfully submitted that last year's A's overachieved and did not adequately replace the wins they'll lose to regression. The Tigers, who won the Central nearly by default, and who were last seen getting swept by the Giants in the World Series, improved by trade and free agent signing, but also by health and (subtly) free agent departure. 

Having given this a pretty close look, I'm pretty sure that the Tigers are a better team than the Athletics heading into 2013. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On The Leadership Aging Curve

Joe Sheehan's got an excellent Newsletter issue today about Michael Young's trade demand and, more generally, about "leadership" in the abstract. If you're somehow reading this and aren't a Newsletter subscriber, you should remedy that now (preferably by subscribing and not by clicking away from this blog).

Joe writes:
The notion of Michael Young, Ranger Leader is more a media construct than anything else, as all of these things are, and it is in a time like this, when the player has to choose between self-interest and organizational interest, that we see just how silly the construct is.


Leadership, as much as reporters may say it is, isn't just about making yourself available for quotes, yet some large portion of getting the label of "leader" is that one act. The fact is, we don't know these guys, and after Jeter, after Gonzalez, after Young, maybe it's time we stopped imbuing them with traits they may or may not possess solely because we wish they had them.
Joe would be the first to tell you that it's impossible for an informed outsider such as himself to quantify a "leader's" contributions to his team beyond his observable hitting, fielding or pitching.

But to my thinking, maybe both views are wrong: the MSM's position that a player *is* a leader and Joe's view that players are self-interested and shouldn't apologize for it.

Maybe players' leadership follows a development curve not unlike what we see with baseball skills. You've got your young guys who come up brash and unready to lead. Then they transition into their peak leadership years: they've been big leaguers long enough to command respect from the media and their teammates. Then they enter their decline phase, when both their on- and off-field skills atrophy and they're eventually replaced.

Perhaps during those "peak leadership" years the interest of the player and team are neatly aligned. It's the player's best opportunity to have his personal skills contribute to the team's success, so he goes along to get along, hoping that he'll be part of a championship squad.

You sometimes hear about young leaders like a Jeter, or young malcontents like a pre-rehab Josh Hamilton or a Lastings Milledge, and you hear about the veteran problems you described in the NL. But guys like Milton Bradley -- quality players yet clubhouse cancers -- to me seem the exception not the rule.

Someone with more time on his hands could run a Google News search for players' names + "leader" (and player + problem) and graph the ages of the players cited. Still, I feel like leadership, like elite baseball ability, is a skill that develops, peaks and fades. Not unlike Michael Young's contributions to the Rangers over the years.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The A.L. East is Stacked

Never have teams in baseball's other divisions been as happy to be there as 2011. The best free agent, Carl Crawford, signed with Boston. The Red Sox also acquired the best position player by trade, bringing in Adrian Gonzalez. The Rays just signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to complement a young team that won 96 games last season. The Blue Jays pulled off the unlikeliest heist of the hot stove league by ridding themselves of the worst contract in baseball -- even getting an underrated power-hitting catcher in return. And the Yankees? They'll still have MLB's highest payroll and a roster featuring at least three future hall of famers.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, I wondered which of these teams' rosters I would prefer. (Kudos to the Blue Jays for even entering the discussion.) Here's a quick and dirty analysis. Your mileage may vary, etc. Note that this ranking is all about expected performance. If we ranked these guys by wins expected per million in salary, the list would be completely different.

I'm going to rank each position for each team, with 1 being the best. Lowest score wins.

Yankees - R.Martin/Posada (2)
Red Sox - Saltalamacchia/Varitek (4)
Rays - Jaso/Shoppach (3)
Blue Jays - Arencibia/Napoli (1)

Posada and Napoli will likely get more games at DH than behind the plate, but anytime you have a quality DH as your backup catcher, you're ahead of the game. I'll take the upside of Arencibia over the denouement of Russell Martin's career. I give the Rays a tiny bonus for acquiring Robinson Chirinos from the Cubs in the Garza trade; Chirinos can really hit and might be up soon. I know the Jays have Jose Molina on the roster, but my guess is that Molina joins Francisco Cervelli in the role of glorified bullpen catcher.

First Base
Yankees - Teixeira (2)
Red Sox - A.Gonzalez (1)
Rays - Zobrist (4)
Blue Jays - Lind (3)

Gonzalez and Teixeira are close, but I'll take the 29-year-old over the 31-year-old. As a Mets fan, I remember Mo Vaughn's rapid decent into suck far too well. Zobrist is a more valuable player than Lind because of his positional flexibility, but as a first baseman, where "hit" and "power" are the most important tools, I see Lind more likely to repeat his 2009 than Zobrist.

Second Base
Yankees - Cano (1)
Red Sox - Pedroia (2)
Rays - S.Rodriguez (4)
Blue Jays - A.Hill (3)

Cano put up hall of fame numbers the past two seasons. He's taken the mantle of "best AL second baseman" away from Pedroia, who will have to earn it back -- if he can. Hill seems to be alternating good years with bad (his pattern suggests 2011 will be a good one). Until Rodriguez plays a full season, I can't justify ranking him above Hill.

Yankees - Jeter (1)
Red Sox - Scutaro (3)
Rays - Brignac (4)
Blue Jays - Y.Escobar (2)

Again I'm ranking the Rays player last because we have yet to see what he can do over a 150 game season. Much was made of Escobar's trade to the Blue Jays. The statheads who predicted an improvement in AVG were proved right, though Escobar seemed to be the only Blue Jay who didn't slug .400 last season. Still, I'll take him over a 35-year-old Scutaro. You'll find folks who say that Jeter's 2010 proves he's done as a quality regular. They could be right, but if Jeter gets any bounceback in 2011, he'll be the best shortstop of this bunch.

Third Base
Yankees - A.Rodriguez (3)
Red Sox - Youkilis (2)
Rays - Longoria (1)
Blue Jays - Bautista (4)

Third base is a microcosm of the A.L. East: The Yanks are going with the expensive marquee name, the Rays with homegrown first-round talent, the Sox with a star who's underrated outside of New England and fantasy teams, and the Jays with a recent addition who outperformed expectations. Only in the A.L. East would last year's MLB home run leader be overshadowed by MLB's best young player, a first-ballot hall of famer, and a Greek god. Nobody really expects Bautista to put up the same line he did last year. Any regression puts him at the back of these rankings. Longoria was the best third baseman in baseball last year, and he's likely to improve at age 25. Youkilis is three years younger than A-Rod and has put up better numbers recently, so Youk takes the number 2 spot here.

Left Field
Yankees - Gardner (2)
Red Sox - Crawford (1)
Rays - Damon (3)
Blue Jays - J.Rivera (4)

Crawford is so much better than the other left fielders in this group that the rankings don't do him justice. Like Crawford, Gardner gets plenty of value from his outfield play. Unlike Crawford, Gardner may be underrated. Damon is on his third A.L. East team, but at this point he's a severe defensive liability. Rivera is the worst starter on any of these teams.

Center Field
Yankees - Granderson (2)
Red Sox - Ellsbury (3)
Rays - BJ Upton (1)
Blue Jays - R.Davis (4)

Yankee fans are trying to convince themselves that Granderson's early-2010 injury resulted in sub-par numbers. But Granderson's 2010 OPS+ was actually higher than his 2009 number, and in line with his career numbers. what you saw in '07 and '08 was his peak, and likely won't be repeated. The MSM wants to label BJ Upton a bust, though as @r_j_anderson never tires of pointing out, Upton is an excellent player with room to improve. Ellsbury was moved off CF last year and needs a comeback season there to reestablish his value. Rajai Davis was another nifty pickup by the Jays; for the money he's a great stopgap option. As an aside, Vernon Wells would rank third over Ellsbury, but then again we're not taking Wells' $21 million salary into account.

Right Field
Yankees - Swisher (1)
Red Sox - JD Drew (2)
Rays - Joyce (4)
Blue Jays - Snider (3)

Matt Joyce is another of the Rays' high-expectations, low-experience players. The variance on his 2010 numbers is very high. Same with Snider, who prospect mavens have loved for years, but who has yet to put together a full season of quality play. Looking at Drew and Swisher, the lower limit of their expected performance is probably the 70th-percentile projection for Snider and Joyce. Thus they get higher ranks. Swisher edges out Drew based on durability alone.

Designated Hitter
Yankees - Posada/A.Jones (3)
Red Sox - Ortiz (1)
Rays - M.Ramirez (2)
Blue Jays - Napoli/[to come?] (4)

With the money freed up by Vernon Wells's departure, I could see the Jays signing a left-handed DH type like Russell Branyon to DH when Napoli moves behind the plate. Napoli's value -- or Posada's, during his career -- stems from their hitting ability coupled with an ability to play behind the plate. To put it another way, these guys are amazing hitters for catchers, but are only serviceable as designated hitters. So the real DHs, guys like Ortiz and Manny, rank 1-2 by default. I'm not sure Andruw Jones has much more in the tank, but he's a better backup DH than anyone the Jays have on the roster.

Starting Rotation
Yankees - Sabathia/Hughes/Burnett/Nova/Mitre/[Prior?] (4)
Red Sox - Lester/Beckett/Lackey/Buchholz/Matsuzaka/[Wakefield] (1)
Rays - Price/Shields/W.Davis/Niemann/Hellickson/[Sonnanstine] (2)
Blue Jays - Romero/Morrow/Cecil/Rzepczynski/Drabek/[Villanueva] (3)

For the second time, the Red Sox's domination of a category is minimized by a simplistic 1-4 ranking, especially when considering the necessary "sixth starter." Here's a chart, presented without commentary, ranking each team's starting pitchers (yes, I have Davis and Romero tied):

Yankees rank Red Sox rank Rays rank Blue Jays rank
SP1 Sabathia 2 Lester 1 Price 3 Romero 4
SP2 Hughes 2 Beckett 1 Shields 3 Morrow 4
SP3 Burnett 4 Lackey 1 W.Davis 2 Cecil 2
SP4 Nova 4 Buchholz 1 Niemann 2 Rzepczynski 3
SP5 Mitre 4 Matsuzaka 3 Hellickson 2 Drabek 1
SP6 Mark Prior? 4 Wakefield 1 Sonnanstine 2 C.Villanueva 3

Yankees - Rivera (1)
Red Sox - Papelbon (2)
Rays - Farnsworth (3)
Blue Jays - Dotel (4)

The bullpen, more than any other spot on these rosters, shows the difference in these teams' budgets. The Yanks and Sox go with "proven" and expensive veterans, while the Rays and Jays will mix and match. It's telling that New York's setup guy was Tampa's closer last year and is now making more than Tampa's entire pen. Rivera will remain the top-rated Cyborg Closer until he returns to his home planet. Papelbon is more expensive than great, but he has a better performance record than Farnsworth and Dotel.

Yankees - R.Soriano (1)
Red Sox - Jenks (2)
Rays - J.Peralta (4)
Blue Jays - Rauch (3)

I've broken out setup guys from the rest of the bullpen to emphasize the point about cash and bullpen construction. Soriano and Jenks are tier-one free agent pickups, while Rauch and Peralta are second- and third-tier, respectively. As he proved last year, Soriano is an elite bullpen arm when healthy. Jenks' 2010 ERA did not match his underlying K/BB/HR rates, which have been consistently good since he became a relief ace. Rauch is a Proven C closer with stuff usually associated with a middle reliever, though he has a more consistent history than Peralta, a former Royal and National.

Yankees - Chamberlain/Feliciano/Robertson (3)
Red Sox - Bard/Okajima/Wheeler (1)
Rays - McGee/A.Russell/Hayhurst (4)
Blue Jays - Frasor/Purcey/Janssen (2)

Middle relief is where name recognition goes to die. At least it does for teams with lower payrolls. Yet the Rays and Blue Jays have produced quality bullpens year after year, a testament to their field managers as much as to their GMs. Both teams have significantly shuffled their 'pens due to free agency, but the Toronto group at least has some proven replacements. Tampa's relying on a stud prospect and various Mr. Potato Head parts, including the author of the best inside-baseball book since Ball Four. Boston's bullpen features three guys who could be closers on lesser teams. The Yankees' pen has produced more headlines than strikeouts -- and suggestions that Joba be jerked back into the rotation from his spot in middle relief.


So what have we got? Totaling up the rankings shows us, unsurprisingly, that Boston should be the best team in the division:

Boston - 34
New York - 48
Tampa Bay - 51
Toronto - 56

What have we learned from this exercise?

- Boston is so good at so many positions. They have until July to figure out if their patchwork catching platoon -- the team's only apparent soft spot -- will suffice on a championship-level squad.

- The Yankees' clear weakness is in the starting rotation. Rumors that they're interested in Kevin Millwood, if true, would go a long way toward helping. I'd rank Millwood as far worse than Buchholz, but better than Niemann or Rzepczynski.

- Tampa Bay, while supposedly "reloading" after losing three 10-figure free agents, holds a roster than is nearly as good as the $200 million Yankees.

- Toronto has assembled an impressive roster of homegrown youngsters and other teams' castoffs. They'll be competitive in 2011 but could be a monster in 2012 and beyond. The Blue Jays are now both literally and figuratively in the A.L. East's league.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kerry Wood in 2011 Or: Why You Should Never Pay Relievers

This morning, my friend (an unabashed Yankee fan) emailed me an article from today's NY Post, headlined "Perfect setup job by Yankees' Wood."

I replied, "In 2003, if you told me that Kerry Wood would be the Yankees' setup guy, that would have been the equivalent of saying you would have, I don't know, Barry Bonds, as your backup left fielder."

He came back with, "He is a FA and currently making $10 mill a year. Where do you see him, in what role, and at how much?"

Excellent question! ($1, Bill Simmons) Let's start with a quick list:

The highest-paid active relief pitchers, by average annual value (thanks, Cot's, though you should update the chart because Ryan is no longer active, to say nothing of Wagner and [ahem] Hoffman):
  1. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10)
  2. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11)
  3. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11)
  4. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11)
  5. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11)
  6. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09)
  7. Kerry Wood, $10,250,000 (2009-10)
  8. B.J. Ryan, $9,400,000 (2006-10)
  9. Brian Fuentes, $8,750,000 (2009-10)
  10. Trevor Hoffman, $8,000,000 (2010)
  11. Jose Valverde, $7,000,000 (2010-11)
  12. Danys Baez, $6,333,333 (2007-09)
  13. Trevor Hoffman, $6,000,000 (2009)
    Mike Gonzalez, $6,000,000
  14. Octavio Dotel, $5,500,000 (2008-09)
    Fernando Rodney, $5,500,000 (2010-11)
Wow... You look at that list and you see a bunch of guys who teams wish they weren't paying. K-rod? In jail. Nathan? BJ Ryan? Injured. Then there's the whole group of "closers-who-aren't-anymore" like Wood, Fuentes, Hoffman, Baez, Gonzalez, Dotel, and Rodney.

The *best* aggregate performance over the life of any of the above contracts was, of course, Mariano Rivera's, as he gave the Yankees 6.9 WAR for $45 million over his 3-year deal, or about $6.5 million per win. Trevor Hoffman's 2009 was a good deal for the Brewers, as he produced 1.5 WAR for $6 million, or $4 million per win. Unfortunately, the Brewers brought Hoffman back in 2010 at $8 million, and he proceeded to give back minus-0.6 WAR. Oops.

Ten of the 16 guys on that list are not worth the money they're paid. And that doesn't even count Brad Lidge, who was absolutely awful last season, or Billy Wagner, who was hurt for most of last year. A full 75% of these relievers were terrible signings. In 2008, when many of these contracts were signed, teams paid an average of about $4.5 million per win on the free agent market. Only Mariano and Hoffman (in 2009) were even close to that. Most expensive reliever contracts are busts, even for "great" closers.

Take Joe Nathan. At $11.75 million per year, the Twins pay him like he's a 2-win player. And he was exactly that, in 2008 and 2009. But, as we know, Nathan hasn't pitched at all in 2010. That drives his value down from 2 WAR/year to 1.333 WAR/year. So the Twins have paid $8.8 million over 3 years for each of Nathan's wins, instead of the $5.875 million they would have paid per win if Nathan had put up 2.0 WAR this season too.

Reliever (Yrs) WAR WAR/year AAV years total $ total $/WAR
mariano (08-10) 6.9 2.30 $15.00 3 $45.00 $6.52
lidge (09-10) -0.4 -0.20 $12.50 2 $25.00 -$62.50
k-rod (09-10) 1.7 0.85 $12.33 2 $24.67 $14.51
nathan (08-10) 4 1.33 $11.75 3 $35.25 $8.81
cordero (08-10) 2.7 0.90 $11.50 3 $34.50 $12.78
wagner (06-09) 5 1.67 $10.50 3 $31.50 $6.30
wood (09-10) 0.6 0.30 $10.25 2 $20.50 $34.17
ryan (06-10!) 1.8 0.36 $9.40 5 $47.00 $26.11
fuentes (09-10) 0.7 0.35 $8.75 2 $17.50 $25.00
hoffman (10) -0.6 -0.60 $8.00 1 $8.00 -$13.33
valverde (10) 0.6 0.60 $7.00 1 $7.00 $11.67
baez (07-09) -0.4 -0.13 $6.33 3 $19.00 -$47.50
hoffman (09) 1.5 1.50 $6.00 1 $6.00 $4.00
gonzalez (10) 0.7 0.70 $6.00 1 $6.00 $8.57
dotel (08-09) 0.7 0.35 $5.50 2 $11.00 $15.71
rodney (10) 0.3 0.30 $5.50 1 $5.50 $18.33

Combined, every reliever on that list, over the life of those contracts, produced 25.8 WAR. Teams paid these relievers a total of $343 million over 35 player-seasons, or $7.6 million a year. 25.8 wins divided by 36 seasons is 0.72 wins per year. Teams are paying $7.6 million a year for 0.72 wins a year? I respectfully suggest that -- aside from Jeff Francoeur -- closers are the worst investment in MLB, even accounting for their higher leverage appearances.

(And if you take out the singular Mariano's 6.9 wins, teams paid $298 million for 18.9 WAR, or $15.77 million per win. #Fail)

Back to my friend's query. What happens with Kerry Wood? If I'm a GM I stay far away from any reliever who wants more than $5 million a year. Yes, even Mariano going forward. Relievers get hurt. They flame out. They're flaky. Some are even violent, right Omar? It's folly to claim that any closer is worth $10 million a year. What will *some* GM pay Kerry Wood? I'm guessing about 2 years for $8 million a year, to be a closer. And that will be an awful contract the instant it is signed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The All-Roy Team

We're nearly two weeks into the Two Roy era in Philly. I'm frankly shocked that nobody who a Google search turned up has put together the MLB All-Roy Team. (Apologies to Cistulli's All-Joy Team.)

One look at the All-Roy team explains why Phillies GM Ruben Amaro traded away Cliff Lee so he could later employ Roy Oswalt. As befits the high-level analysis permeating today's MLB, here is the statistically significant takeaway from today's post: The last team to employ two Roys on the same roster won the World Series.

To be fair, this team does not consider any of the prestigious Royces such as Clayton, Ring, and, of course, Lint. Without further ado, let's start with the pitching staff since it inspired this post.

SP1: Roy Halladay
A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer if he retired today, Halladay finished first or second in AL pitcher Wins Above Replacement in six of the last eight years. His NL 2010 is on pace to make it seven of the last nine. Halladay's first name fits him well. The name "Roy" originated as a nickname for someone with red hair or a reddish complexion.

SP2: Roy Oswalt
Oswalt's numbers suffer in comparison to Halladay's, but the long-time Astro finished in the top-five of Cy Young voting five of his first six years in the majors. His reputation would benefit from a strong second-half performance that propels the Phillies into the playoffs.

SP3: Roy Smith
Smith earned a World Series ring by pitching 16 innings for the 1987 Twins, although he saw no postseason action. He picked up a win in his only start that year. The native of Mt. Vernon, NY (birthplace of Denzel Washington and former home of the author) started 49 games for the Twins in 1989 and 1990. But an ERA+ of 96 in those two seasons foreshadowed that he'd be out of the league after he put up a 5.60 ERA for Baltimore in 1991.

SP4: Roy Patterson
"Boy Wonder" pitched for the White Sox during the dead-ball era. How dead was the dead-ball era? Patterson's 2.63 ERA in 1907 signaled his demise, as it was seven percent worse than league average. According to the Baby Name Wizard, "Roy" peaked as a boy's name in the 1890s, when it was the 19th most-popular name.

CL: Roy Face
Face was a diminutive (5'8") righty and one of the first to use the forkball. He didn't reach the majors to stay until age 27, but he dominated for more than a decade out of the Pirates' bullpen in the '50s and '60s. Fun With Useless Stats: Face was 18-1 as a reliever in 1959.

RP: Roy Jackson
Jackson's best year came for the 1982 Blue Jays, when he threw 97 innings, striking out 71 and walking 31 over 46 relief appearances and two starts. He appeared in 280 games, only 18 of them as a starting pitcher, in his 10-year big league career.

RP: Roy Corcoran

Included more for his having pitched recently than for pitching well, Corcoran put up a 3.22 ERA for the 2008 Mariners, which masked an unhealthy 39/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In '09 he got lit up to the tune of a 6.16 ERA with 17 walks in 19 IP. Now 30 years old, he's struggling in Triple-A for the Astros.

C: Roy Campanella
An 8-time All-Star and 3-time MVP, Campanella debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.

1B: Roy (Squirrel!) Sievers
Sievers led the American League with 42 homers and 331 total bases for the 1957 Washington Senators, a team that also featured .167-hitting center fielder Dorrel Norman Elvert (Whitey) Herzog. That team must have spent all its energy coining nicknames because they lost 99 of 154 games.

2B: Roy Smalley

The second Roy on the 1987 World Champion Twins, Smalley played all over the infield like a mid-'80s Omar Infante. Sorry: "All-Star Omar Infante." And like Infante, Smalley was a one-time All-Star, when he hit .341/.424/.535 the first half of 1979.

SS: Roy McMillan
Your prototypical all-field, no hit shortstop, mostly for the 1950s Reds. McMillan played 16 seasons in the big leagues despite a career OPS+ of 72. His glove was thought of so highly that he received down-ballot MVP recognition in seasons he posted OBPs of .306, .308 and .305. McMillan knew how to take a walk but just couldn't hit for average: he averaged 51 bases-on-balls per 592 plate appearances.

3B: Roy Howell
The 4th pick of the 1972 draft, Howell got a cup of coffee in September 1974 with the Texas Rangers as a 20-year-old third baseman. Over the next two years he provided league-average offense but not much in the way of glovework (49 errors in 245 games). After starting the 1977 season 0-for-17 (with 2 walks!), Texas traded Howell to Toronto, where he hit .302/.374/.430 the rest of the way. Howell made his only All-Star Team in 1978 with a .298 first-half batting average. He would go on to play 11 MLB seasons, retiring at age 30 with a career .261/.321/.389 line.

LF: Roy White
White peaked just before the late George Steinbrenner brought Catfish and Reggie on board. White's age-24 to -32 seasons produced a solid .278/.370/.418 line. Then White became an ice cube in the drink stirred by Jackson's straw. When the Yankees won the World Series in 1977, White produced a 109 OPS+ as a 33-year-old left fielder. The following year White became more of a utility guy behind Lou Piniella as the Yanks repeated. He was out of baseball by 1980.

CF: Roy Thomas

Another Roy from the deadball era, Thomas led the National League in walks for the Phillies seven times from 1900 to 1907. More deadball fun: Thomas' career OBP (.413) was 80 points higher than his career SLG.

RF: Roy Cullenbine
Cullenbine played for six teams in ten MLB seasons, including the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Brooklyn Dodgers. Like Roy Thomas, Cullenbine liked to take a walk. His 1941 OBP (.452) was second in the AL to some guy named Ted Williams.

So that's the All-Roy Team. In case you're disappointed at the paucity of modern Roys on the squad, take heart: The Mets have a 24-year-old southpaw at Triple-A named Roy Merritt. He's been a decent reliever this year, with a 3.22 FIP over 80 innings. He may have a future as a LOOGY given his 8.9 K/9 and zero home runs allowed against lefties this season. If the Mets can get Merritt to the bigs and get Ike Davis to change his name to Roy...