Table of Contents

Saturday, February 24, 2007

So if they keep 11 pitchers...

John Fay (and others) reported a comment from Jerry Narron today indicating that they might (emphasis on might) carry 11 pitchers rather than the typical 12. I talked previously about the lack of space on the active roster for position players, and carrying 11 pitchers would seem to be a way to allow someone like Josh Hamilton or Jeff Keppinger to make the team.

But if the Reds will carry 11 pitchers, how does that affect competition? By my reckoning, here's what we're looking at:

1. Harang
2. Arroyo
3. Lohse
4. Milton
5. One of Saarloos/Ramirez/Santos/Belisle/Livingston/Wilson/Bailey

1. Weathers
2. Coffey
3. Stanton
4. Cormier
5. Bray
6. Majewski

...So while the 5th rotation slot is still up for competition, the bullpen looks locked if the Reds go with 11 pitchers. Of course, recent news about Majewski is not particularly good, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him start the season on the disabled list. So I guess that might mean that one of Belisle/Burton/Ligtenberg/Meadows/Shackelford might yet have a shot.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

2006 Reds Hitting Review - Addendum

This post makes a few additions/corrections to my 2006 Reds hitting review.

Clutch vs. Choke, Revisited

The goal of this part of the 2006 hitting review was to evaluate how the players' total offensive production, in terms of the total number of singles, homers, etc, they hit, compared to their game situation-specific impact on winning games as measured by Win Probability Added. Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I realized that the way I attempted to do that, via a comparison of VORP and WPA was flawed. The reason is that VORP corrects its offense estimates for position, such that players at low-offense positions will receive a higher runs estimate than players at high-offense positions. This is one of the great things about VORP, but in this case, since WPA doesn't make such an adjustment, VORP isn't directly analogous. Some players, like Brandon Phillips, have quite high VORP's due to their position, but their overall offensive production is fairly low compared to players like the similarly VORP'd Adam Dunn.

Therefore, instead of VORP, I'm re-doing this analysis using a simple version of Runs Created, RC = OBP * TB (THT's stats use a more complicated version of RC that includes information about hitting well with runners in scoring position--I didn't want to use that because I wanted any measurements of situation-specific impact in this analysis to be indicated solely by WPA). The only drawback of this approach is that Runs Created doesn't incorporate steals, but as we'll see, that would only worsen the situation for the relevant players.

Comparing Win Probability Added (WPA) to Runs Created gives this figure:
Trend line is the regression line between RC and WPA for Reds' players only. I can't easily get the data to calculate the league-wide regression line.

  • As before, Edwin Encarnacion and Ken Griffey come out as looking very "clutch." Their WPA totals were far higher than would be predicted by their more classic "scorebook" statistics, which determine Runs Created.
  • Rich Aurilia, Dave Ross, and Chris Denorfia also come out looking good in this analysis, though with substantially smaller residuals than we saw with EdE and Griff.
  • Brandon Phillips and Austin Kearns still look to have not been very good in terms of converting their production into wins for the Reds, but they are now joined by Ryan Freel, Scott Hatteberg, and Jason LaRue as players who "choked" last season.
    • I expected to see Hatteberg move down below the line now that he's not getting downplayed by VORP, but I'm honestly surprised that Phillips is still rated as poorly as he is.
    • Nevertheless, I had a much warmer recollection of Hatteberg's performance in high-leverage situations than these data indicate. Looking back at my monthly reviews, however, he only had one strong month WPA-wise (July WPA = 0.84; he won my "statistical hitter of the month" award), and this seems to have been negated by poor showings in May (-0.35) and September (-0.56). In other months, he had close to zero net effect on games.
  • For all the moaning about Adam Dunn's performance in the "clutch," his contribution to wins seems to be right in line with his production. ... Of course, a hit like this won't hurt one's WPA totals...
Walks vs. Strikeouts

What follows could probably be its own post, but I thought it was a nice complement to the bb vs. k-rate analysis I did in the hitting review:

I was doing some reading this evening in the Hardball Times 2007 Annual and ran across an article by Dave Studenmund that reported, in terms of runs scored, the average effect of walks (0.355 runs) and strikeouts (-0.113 runs; for those interested, he also reported these figures for other batted-ball outcomes). Strikeouts are, not surprisingly, the most negative batted-ball outcome. But I was struck by how much larger the relative benefit of a walk could be. Therefore, I thought it might be fun to look at the direct impact of walks and strikeouts on Reds players:

Orange bars indicate total estimated runs contributed by walking, blue bars indicate runs given up by striking out. Black dots represent net gain in runs, calculated as the difference between the two bars.

  • Despite giving up more than 20 runs via strikeouts over the season--which is very significant, and is worth ~2 wins--Dunn's incredible ability to draw a walk more than compensated for this, resulting in a net 17.8 runs scored via walks and strikeouts.
  • Hatteberg, of course, was amazing in this regard, with a high walk rate and yet the lowest strikeout totals of any Reds regular last season.
  • Freel's walk totals were third on the team last season. In contrast, his strikeout totals were second overall.
  • Despite having the lowest walk rate of any regular, Aurilia had the fifth highest net k/bb runs total because he doesn't strike out very often.
There's a way in which it's probably not that informative to directly contrast walks with strikeouts as I've done here, especially without reference to the other batted-ball outcomes. Nevertheless, it's a fun exercise, and I think indicates (once again) that while strikeouts are certainly bad things, their negative effect on the outcome of games is often exaggerated. Furthermore, the benefits of taking a walk are still underappreciated, at least by many fans and broadcasters.


Based on the advice and encouragement of my team, I've decided to give this advertising thing another go. I've started with the basic google adsense, but their payout is pretty low for my traffic rate, so I may try some alternatives in the coming weeks.

Please let me know if they get annoying, slow down the blog's load times (a major concern of mine), or otherwise become irritating. If it impairs your experience in reading this blog in any way, I want to know about it--I'm not in this to make any kind of profit. But if I can help pay for my annual baseball prospectus subscription renewal, it's probably worth doing.

I'll do my best to avoid cluttering up the blog too much, and will try to only include ads for things that you folks might be interested in (or, at least, not annoyed by).

Hopefully this time I won't run into Tony Womack Jersey advertisements again. :)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

2006 Reds Hitting Review

Before we all get seduced by whoever outperforms expectations in spring training when those games begin, I wanted to take a few final looks at the 2006 season. Today, we'll look at the hitting.

2006 Reds Hitting Recap
The 2006 Reds were a very different team from those that we knew the year before. While the offense was amazing in '05 (5.03 r/g, 1st in league), the 2006 Reds--following a brilliant April--were much weaker offensively, scoring "only" 4.62 r/g, which was good for just 9th in the 16-team National League in runs scored (749). They were second in the league in home runs (217) and walks (614), third in stolen bases (124), but were seventh in OBP, SLG, and OPS (0.336, 0.432, 0.768, respectively), and were near the bottom in batting average (0.257-15th), total hits (1419-13th), and doubles (291-13th).

The causes for this drop-off between years were many, though I would identify two primary factors that led to this change. The first, of course, was the trade of Austin Kearns, & Felipe Lopez for bullpen help on July 13th. And second, was a substantial drop-off in production from the two most important offensive threats on the '05 team, Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. These problems would eventually come to a head in September/October, when the Reds would score only 3.3 runs per game as they eventually finished 3.5 games behind the would-be World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

This graph shows the Reds' runs scored (red) and allowed (blue) over course of the year. The black line indicates their cumulative record each month. Runs scored fell below runs allowed the last three months of the season, which is reflected in the downward trajectory of their record during that time.

The Graphical Reds

I'm a big advocate of using a graphical approach in data analysis because I find that graphs often yield insights that are difficult to see when looking only at the numbers. Here are a few graphs that I found interesting when looking at the 2006 Reds' individual hitting stats:

On-Base Percentage versus Isolated Power:
Vertical and horizontal lines indicate league averages. Here, as with all subsequent graphs, I only included the 15 players Reds with 100 at-bats or more with the team. Kearns and Aurilia overlap in the upper-right, while LaRue and Phillips overlap in the lower-left. Isolated power = SLG - AVG.

This is a graph that has been used over at Hardball Times for quite a while (though usually it's used to analyze teams, not players), and I think it gives a nice overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the Reds' players. A few observations:
  • Those in the upper-right are the players that everyone wants: above-average ability to get on base (OBP), and above-average ability to get people around the bases (isolated power). The Reds had five of these players last season, though they traded away one mid-season.
  • During his career, Griffey has almost always been in the upper-right of these graphs. Last year, however, he had a very difficult time getting on base, posting the lowest OBP of his career. I know there were injuries involved, but he may have been starting to show his age.
  • Dave Ross was superhuman last year, eh?
  • Royce Clayton's lack of offensive value smacks you in the face in this graph, being the only Reds player who was deep in the bottom-left corner. What a supposedly "sabermetric" G.M. like J.P. Riccardi wants with him, I have no idea.
Strikeout vs. Walk Rates:
Horizonal and vertical lines are league averages. Encarnacion and Denorfia overlap near the center.

This one is more of an interesting diagnostic about hitter type than anything else:
  • There is a fairly tight relationship between walk rate and strikeout rate for most players (at least on the Reds, though this is a commonly-seen pattern throughout baseball):
    • Players who take more pitches and work the count are more likely to draw a walk, but are also more likely to strike out. Adam Dunn, of course, is the poster boy for this approach, though Dave Ross was just behind him last season.
    • Players who are less patient, like Brandon Phillips and Rich Aurilia, tend to have both fewer walks and fewer strikeouts.
    • Both approaches (Dunn v. Aurilia) can result in valuable offensive contributions.
  • Of course, then there's Scott Hatteberg. I always knew he was a unique hitter, but wow.
Update: Please see my 2006 Reds Hitting Review Addendum for an additional analysis comparing strikeouts and walks.

Value Over Replacement Player v. Win Probability Added:

Update: Please note that I'm no longer comfortable with the following analysis, and have revised it in the 2006 Reds hitting Review Addendum, posted 22 Feb. I'm going to leave it as it is, however, to avoid causing additional confusion.Regression line is the relationship between VORP and WPA on the Reds last season (I couldn't easily get the data to calculate the league-wide regression line). Freel and Hatteberg overlap near the center.

VORP is a widely-respected indication of overall offensive contribution, adjusted for position (shortstops score better than first basemen with the same offensive stats). It uses classical scorebook statistics like hits, doubles, home runs, walks, and stolen bases when it is calculated, and gives its values as runs produced above what you'd expect from a "replacement player" in that position (replacement players are players that would be easily attainable either through a mid-season free agent signing, minor league promotion, etc).

In contrast, WPA is a "new" statistic (ok, not really new, but it became very popular last season) that reflects the situation-specific player contribution to winning ballgames (a tie-breaking hit in the 9th inning has greater impact than a tie-breaking hit in the first inning). Both try to measure overall contribution to winning, but do so in very different ways and allow some interesting observations to be made:
  • Two Reds made contributions to winning ballgames that were far in excess of what you'd expect from their "scorebook" offensive stats that were used to calculate their VORP:
    • Griffey's contributions tended to come with drama, such as his 3-run home run to win the last home game of the season.
    • Edwin Encarnacion had a few highlights, but overall was just consistently good all year in high-leverage situations. I wouldn't expect to see much debate about whether he plays this year, regardless of his error rate at 3B (and I'll wager that he'll be better in that regard).
  • Kearns and Phillips seemed to do worse than you'd expect in "clutchy" situations. Phillips was very streaky. He was excellent in April (WPA=0.91), June (WPA=0.46), and August (WPA=0.14, but VORP = 14). But when he slumped, he did so badly and seemed to be an automatic out in important situations during those times (May WPA = -0.36, July WPA = -0.73, September WPA = -0.61). It'd be nice to see him avoid some of those disastrous months this year--he can be awesome when he's "on."
  • Aurilia sure was good last year, wasn't he?
Surprises and Disappointments:
Diagonal line indicates a perfect match between PECOTA's projections and what actually happened. Valentin and Lopez overlap slightly near the center.

Despite the disappointments of last season, the Reds also had some wonderful surprises. I wanted to try to illustrate this graphically, and this was the best I could come up with. I didn't always agree with PECOTA's projections, but they were generally close enough to my expectations that they seemed to make a good comparison. Observations:
  • The amazing seasons by Ross, Aurilia, and Hatteberg really pop out at you. Aurilia and Hatteberg had both had one of those rare, late-career surges that came close to matching anything they'd done in previous seasons, while Ross almost certainly had his career season last year after starting the season as the #3 catcher.
  • Phillips' season doesn't look quite as good, but his streakiness as well as his AVG-heavy batting line resulted in a season that wasn't quite as good as I think most of us remember it being.
  • Freel was right in line with his previous seasons. He shows up as a mild surprise here because PECOTA didn't like him last year (it's a bit better this year).
  • The enormously disappointing seasons by Griffey, Dunn, and LaRue are glaring in this graph.
Bad luck, or just bad performance?
Line indicates a perfect match between actual OPS and OPS predicted by batted-ball data from last season.

I'll finish up with this graph, which I'll use to try to explain some of the variation we saw last season.
  • PrOPS has been a stat that I've grown increasingly infatuated with after I spent part of my wife's child labor reading about it while we were waiting in the delivery room last May (no joke--she wanted me out of her hair, and I happened to have the Hardball Times 2006 Annual with me).
  • It predicts OPS based on batted ball data, and seems to be a good analog to defense-independent predictors of ERA for pitchers. Players that outperform their PrOPS generally do worse the next season, while players who underperform their PrOPS tend to "improve." Therefore, divergences between PrOPS and OPS might be chalked up to "luck."
  • Most Reds group pretty close to the line, which indicates that their performances are explainable by their batted ball data--that's a good thing. It means that there's some reason to think that Ross, for example, really was that good and wasn't just lucky last season (doesn't mean he'll repeat, of course).
  • Two Reds, however, Adam Dunn and Jason LaRue, had PrOPS's that were much higher than their actual OPS. This indicates that they were hitting baseballs in a fashion that would predict much better outcomes than we saw in their statistics. That's not due to peculiarities of these players either--in previous seasons, PrOPS has done a much better job predicting their OPS. Barring an injury, a decline in skills, or some radical change in approach at the plate, this graph hints that Dunn and LaRue might hit much better in this coming season. LaRue won't help us, of course, but Dunn is probably the key to the Reds offense in 2007.
  • Unfortunately, Griffey's disappointing season seems to be right in line with his batted-ball data.
Now that we've seen the graphs, I'll close with a selection of informative batting stats on the '06 season, sorted by value above replacement player (VORP):
Rich Aurilia 474 11% 7% 5% 3 100% 0.300 0.349 0.518 0.867 0.877 0.218 27.4 1.27
Adam Dunn 673 29% 17% 6% 7 100% 0.234 0.365 0.490 0.855 1.001 0.256 23.5 1.19
Brandon Phillips 571 15% 6% 3% 25 93% 0.276 0.324 0.427 0.751 0.772 0.151 22.6 -0.14
David Ross 284 26% 13% 7% 0 --- 0.255 0.353 0.579 0.932 0.967 0.324 22.6 0.89
Edwin Encarnacion 447 17% 9% 3% 6 67% 0.276 0.359 0.473 0.832 0.839 0.197 17.0 1.95
Scott Hatteberg 530 8% 14% 2% 2 50% 0.289 0.389 0.436 0.825 0.870 0.147 16.9 0.05
Ryan Freel 511 19% 11% 2% 37 77% 0.271 0.363 0.399 0.762 0.758 0.128 16.4 0.09
Ken Griffey Jr. 467 17% 8% 6% 0 --- 0.252 0.316 0.486 0.802 0.870 0.234 16.0 1.82
Austin Kearns 360 24% 10% 4% 7 88% 0.274 0.351 0.492 0.843 0.851 0.218 15.7 -0.30
Felipe Lopez 390 17% 12% 2% 23 79% 0.268 0.355 0.394 0.749 0.775 0.126 14.9 0.25
Javier Valentin 199 15% 7% 4% 0 --- 0.269 0.313 0.441 0.754 0.837 0.172 4.5 -0.18
Norris Hopper 45 9% 13% 2% 2 50% 0.359 0.435 0.462 0.897 0.841 0.103 3.4 0.10
Juan Castro 100 13% 5% 2% 0 0% 0.284 0.320 0.421 0.741 0.745 0.137 1.7 -0.31
Chris Denorfia 117 18% 9% 1% 1 50% 0.283 0.356 0.368 0.724 0.692 0.085 1.1 0.08
Tony Womack 22 14% 18% 0% 0 --- 0.222 0.364 0.333 0.697 0.756 0.111 0.2 -0.01
Brendan Harris 11 36% 9% 9% 0 --- 0.200 0.273 0.500 0.773 0.820 0.300 0.2 0.04
Brandon Watson 0 --- --- --- 1 100% 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.0 0.03
Andy Abad 5 0% 40% 0% 0 --- 0.000 0.400 0.000 0.400 0.773 0.000 -0.3 -0.03
Todd Hollandsworth 74 26% 8% 1% 0 0% 0.265 0.324 0.397 0.721 0.653 0.132 -0.4 -0.53
Cody Ross 5 40% 0% 0% 0 --- 0.200 0.200 0.200 0.400 0.366 0.000 -0.6 0.02
Ray Olmedo 48 8% 8% 2% 1 100% 0.205 0.271 0.318 0.589 0.718 0.113 -1.6 0.25
Quinton McCracken 57 16% 7% 2% 2 100% 0.208 0.263 0.321 0.584 0.716 0.113 -2.1 -0.52
Royce Clayton 160 20% 7% 1% 6 67% 0.235 0.290 0.329 0.619 0.689 0.094 -3.8 -0.32
Jason LaRue 218 23% 12% 4% 1 100% 0.194 0.317 0.346 0.663 0.861 0.152 -4.3 -0.85
Dewayne Wise 38 16% 0% 0% 0 --- 0.184 0.184 0.237 0.421 0.534 0.053 -4.6 -0.36

Still to come...2006 Reds Pitching Review, 2006 Reds Fielding Review, and my own awards for the Reds' Best Hitter, Best Fielder, and Best Pitcher of last year.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lincoln and Lincecum

I've been a bit hard on the Reds for taking a pass on Tim Lincecum in last year's amateur draft in favor of Drew Stubbs (0.252/0.368/0.400 in rookie ball). Lincecum has been nothing but brilliant for the Giants (31.7 IP, 58/12 k/bb, 1.73 ERA across A- and A+ ball last season), who took him two picks after the Reds, and there is even word that he might compete for a spot in the rotation this season. He's look awfully good in the Reds' system right now.

Nevertheless, Kevin Goldstein reported in today's baseball prospectus that another of the top college pitchers in the draft, Brad Lincoln, is feeling "irritation" in his elbow and may be sidelined for up to a month. That's far from a career-ending injury (hopefully), but it's a good reminder (to me, at least) that there is significant risk in taking college pitchers who have had heavy inning loads like Lincoln or Lincecum. College hitters are far more reliable...I just wish I had more confidence that Stubbs is going to hit well enough to make it to the majors and be at least a decent hitter.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reds sign Kerry Ligtenberg

Last week, the Reds signed former surprise Atlanta closer Kerry Ligtenberg, 35, to a minor league contract. Ligtenberg is best known as the sideburned reliever who came out of no where to save 30 games at age 27 for the 1998 Atlanta Braves--saving them from Mark Wholers' implosion that season. Though he didn't maintain his position as closer after that year, Ligtenberg carved out a very solid five seasons of relief for the Braves and Orioles from 1998 through 2003 (he missed 1999 due to injury). He ran into hard times in '04, however, and has spent most of 2005 & 2006 in the minor leagues.

Recent stats:
2003/BAL 59.1 7.2 2.1 1.37 0.281 3.34 4.30
2004/TOR 55.0 8.0 4.1 0.98 0.366 6.38 4.20
2005/ARI-AAA 50.0 9.0 1.3 0.72 0.320 3.24 2.66
2005/ARI 9.2 4.9 3.9 3.91 0.347 13.97 9.07
2006/CHC-AAA 58.0 6.8 0.9 1.24 0.301 3.57 3.79

When he's right, Ligtenberg has shown excellent control and the ability to strike guys out at a high rate. As is often the case with relievers, his hr/9 rate has been up and down throughout his career, though he's had many years with homer rates in the 0.6 to 0.9 range (career hr/9 = 1.06). The last three years, at least when he has appeared in the majors, Ligtenberg has been excessively wild...but this hasn't shown up at all in AAA. Part of that must be the opposition, but he still be able to post good walk rates in the majors. It's also worth noting that Ligtenberg's bad season in 2004 may have been, in part, due to some bad luck. Kerry had a 0.366 BABIP that season, and his peripherals, despite the 4.1 bb/9 walk rate, result in an FIP of 4.20.

Ligtenberg had a good year in AAA last year (though his K-rate was down significantly...), and might be a guy who could help us later this season. Nevertheless, given the competition for that last spot in the bullpen, I'd be surprised to see him make the opening day roster. If he goes to Louisville, however, and pitches well, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him in May or June of this season. Hopefully, he'll have a good year for us.

Redleg Nation interviews Gary Roller

I'm sure most people who visit here have already seen this, but Bill from Redleg Nation posted an outstanding interview with Billings Mustangs GM Gary Roller about his role with that club (the Reds' rookie affiliate), and some of the players they had last season.

It's an extremely interesting (if very long) read, and I'm excited to see Reds bloggers getting involved in interviewing interesting people in the Reds' organization. Chad from RLN told me that they're planning to do a lot more of that this season. I'm really looking forward to that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evaluating managers -- Miley vs. Narron

Ryan Van Bibber over at Beyond the Box Score has undertaken a process that is probably one of the holy grails of stat-based baseball evaluation: evaluating the impact of a manager. He uses the case study of the Reds' 2005 season, in which Narron took over for Miley mid-season. An excerpt:
Cincinnati, however, had exactly what I was looking for as the ax fell on Dave Miley on June 20, 2005, after 70 games, and Jerry Narron got the call for the 93. It's not a dead-even split, but it's close enough not to be skewed by minor league replacement players. The tumultuous 2005 season endured by the Reds became my starting point.
Van Bibber looks at batting and pitching lines to see how the managers impacted team performance. There's no question that the Reds performed better under Narron (46-46) that year than Miley (27-46), most notably thanks to a tremendous improvement in the pitching during the second half. But it's really difficult to attribute those changes to a manager, especially in the way he's trying to do it here.

For one thing, there's no attempt at a control. One approach that might be useful would be to example typical variation between first half and second half performance in teams, and see whether the Reds diverge significantly from the range of variation that is typical. Teams regularly play differently in the two halves of the season (look at Houston the last few years), and often do so without notable changes in personnel or even strategy. I'm not sure that the Reds are out of bounds in this case.

For another, there's are additional confounding factors. Player composition changes (this was acknowledged), resulting in underperformers getting benched or disabled and giving other players a shot. Also, in the case of the Reds, staff changes also occurred. Most notably, Don Gullett was replaced by the late Vern Ruhle as pitching coach at the same time that Miley was fired, and, if anything, Ruhle should probably be credited with any coaching that improved the pitching in the second half.

To be fair, Van Bibber will continue this work in a subsequent post that will look more at the specific tendencies of the managers and try to quantify how those might affect team performance. I'll be interested to see what he does.

I may try to do some managerial evaluation at some point. I think it is possible to do, but I think the effects of managers & coaches are probably fairly small and thus require a large sample size (multiple seasons) to identify differences. Furthermore, I think it's very important to try to first understand typical variation in team & player performances, and then try to quantify how managers and coaches might cause a shift. Not an easy thing to do, as we have a hard enough time understanding player performance! Nevertheless, it's possible to do if you make some assumptions and use appropriate methods (regression could help here). I'll put it on my idea list of things to pursue in the future.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Injury Risk Reds

Today, Will Carroll released his annual report (subscription) of who is the most injury-prone of all major league starters. On the Reds, as you'd expect, all of our oldest players were highlighted as being very much at risk, whereas our younger guys should be low risk. There were a few surprises though. Most notably, Bronson Arroyo was identified as being at high risk for injury. I'm not sure what the basis is for that. He was, as I mentioned in my analysis of his signing, among the league leaders in pitcher abuse points. But Harang actually was ranked higher than Arroyo on that score, and yet was identified as a low-risk player. Neither pitcher has a history of injuries... Arroyo is a bit older than Harang, but not enough to cause that huge of a disparity. Carroll does identify body type and mechanical profile (meaning smoothness of delivery, I suppose), so maybe that was the cause?

Another surprise, to me, is that Dave Ross was identified as high risk--whereas Jason LaRue, now with the Royals and a few years older, was a low risk player. I'll be interested to see if Carroll will comment on this in his future articles, as I see no reason why we'd expect Ross to be injury prone. If anything, he should be ahead of the curve because he spent a lot of time on the bench before breaking through last year--and thus hasn't caught nearly as many innings as a guy like LaRue. I'm expecting Ross to regress as a hitter this year, but I certainly wouldn't predict an unusually high risk of injury.

Update: Carroll did, in fact, identify what made Ross a high risk player. Apparently, it's based on projected playing time:
Ross is another of this year’s "playing time reds." With Jason LaRue moving on and Javier Valentin forgetting how to hit, Ross might get 120 games of catching. If that’s closer to 100, the team would be better from a risk standpoint, but that’s not necessarily the best split from a winning standpoint.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Reds extend Arroyo

Not wanting to play favorites following the Harang deal, Krivsky & Castellini gave 29-year old Bronson Arroyo a two-year extension as a reward for his excellent season last year, extending him though 2010 with a club option for 2011. The move comes as a surprise to me, as I had thought Arroyo was literally counting the days before he could leave our little town (if a guy in Phoenix can claim Cincinnati as his own, despite not having lived there in 11 years) and get back to a larger city, ideally Boston.

Arroyo, who had been signed to play at below-market value by Boston a few months prior to the trade, gets an extra $25 million added to his salary in the extension, which now is (I think...I'm seeing inconsistent figures in the media) worth ~$8.3 million/year on average, not including the option season. It must mean a great deal to Arroyo to receive this kind of contract extension, especially after the rather backhanded way he was treated by the Red Sox. But is it a good deal for the Reds? I raved about the Harang extension (in hindsight, perhaps too strongly, though I still like it a lot), but while I'm certainly not upset about this deal, I'm not tremendously excited about it either.

Arroyo was a revelation last year, skyrocketing from being the odd man out in Boston's rotation to becoming arguably the ace of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff. In fact, he was so good that many in Cincinnati were understandably miffed when Arroyo failed to garner any real support for a Cy Young nomination. So the questions are, a) was his performance an indication of genuine improvement, and b) can he continue this level of performance in the future? Let's look at his recent stats:

2004/BOS 178.7 7.2 2.4 0.86 0.281 4.03 3.64 3.87 27.7 45%
2005/BOS 205.3 4.4 2.4 0.96 0.270 4.51 4.41 4.57 18.7 40%
2006/CIN 240.7 6.9 2.4 1.16 0.262 3.29 4.14 3.98 64.9 39%

The first thing that jumps out at me when looking at Arroyo's line from last year is that his peripherals look an awful lot like his 2004 (age 27) line. In fact, his walk rate was identical and the strikeouts occurred at about the same rate, while he gave up home runs at a considerably higher rate last year vs. 2004 (probably a GABP effect, at least in part). His 3.29 ERA looks outstanding, but that may be due to being fairly fortunate. He had a very low 0.262 BABIP (even by his standards), and Arroyo's peripherals predicted an ERA in the 4-4.1 range.

So, from the perspective of his peripheral stats, his performance last season doesn't look all that out of line the abilities he's shown in prior years--it was probably just a bit lucky. That's not to denigrate him as a pitcher. He's shown in two of his three full seasons that he's capable of being a quality big-league starter. But he's probably not going to be posting a low 3's ERA again without similar good fortune.

Nevertheless, a pitcher who can routinely post ERA's in the high 3's or low 4's while throwing 200+ innings a year could easily be worth ~$8.5 million/year in today's market (compare that to, for example, Eric Milton's contract). So can Arroyo be that guy? Sure, absolutely, I think he can be. But I have two concerns.

First, Arroyo's 2005 numbers still bother me. I've never heard a good explanation for the abysmal drop in his strikeout rate that season, nor for his recovery in '06. Watching him pitch last year (and I'm far from an expert in this sort of player evaluation), Arroyo's success seems to be largely based on his ability to locate his curveball, as that seems to be his out pitch--so perhaps he somehow lost his feel for it. If he can get the curve over when he needs to, he'll be successful, but if he loses his ability to strike players out again, he and the Reds will struggle, especially if he continues to give up the long ball like he did last year (he is definitely a fly ball pitcher).

Second, I'm concerned about whether age will be an issue. I don't want to overstate this, but Arroyo will turn 30 later this month and will be 33 years old during the 2010 season. He didn't throw a ton of innings early in his career, and didn't secure a permanent role in the majors until age 27, so his arm might hold up better than the typical aging curve would predict. Nevertheless, pitchers do tend to decline after age 30, and a loss in velocity may hurt the effectiveness of his curveball as an off-speed out pitch. To add to this point, even though I don't put a ton of stock into long term predictions, PECOTA predicts Arroyo's ERA to be 4.36 in 2007, 4.51 in 2008, 4.72 in 2009, and 4.73 in 2010.

Furthermore, Arroyo led the league in innings pitched last year (240.7) and was 6th in baseball in pitcher abuse points. Unlike Harang, Bronson isn't a big guy (though I always forget that he is 6'5") and, as Joel pointed out, he does have a somewhat herky-jerky delivery. Therefore, even though he proved to be amazingly durable last season, I think the Reds really need to watch how they use him in the coming seasons if they want him to remain effective throughout the course of this contract.

Altogether though, I'm ok with this this move. Harang and Arroyo are a great nucleus to build a rotation around in the coming years. And a few years from now, a rotation of Harang, Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and maybe Johnny Cueto could be really fun to watch.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

One Billion Bulbs

Ok, I swear I'm not going to make this blog a soap box for my politics. But I really want to do a brief post about this site: One billion

Their goal is to encourage individuals to change one billion of their old incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. You can register and document any bulbs you change to aid them in their goal.

Changing an incandescent bulb to a compact fluorescent bulb can result in notable savings to your electric bill, reduce the hassle of routine bulb changes (they last 5-10 times as long as normal incandescent bulbs), and can help lower greenhouse gas emissions. And you don't have to do anything other than unscrew your old bulb and screw in the new one. My wife and I started changing over our bulbs about a year ago, and we've been extremely pleased with the results. I've added a advertisement to the bottom of my sidebar in case you'd like to check it out later.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reds sign Harang

In a spectacular move, the Reds signed Aaron Harang, who will be 28 years old when the season starts, to a 4-year contract, with a 5th year as a club option. With a total value, not including the option year, is $36.5 million, which works out to ~$9.1 million a year.

Now, consider these recent signings of starting pitchers:

Barry Zito - 7 years @ $18 million/yr
Daisuke Matsuzaka - 6 years @ $17 million/yr (if you count the negotiation fee toward the salary)
Jason Schmidt - 3 years @ $15.7 million/yr
Roy Oswalt - 5 years @ $14.6 million/yr
Vincente Padilla - 3 years @ $11.25 million/yr
Gil Meche - 5 years @ $11 million/yr
Jeff Suppan - 4 years @ $10.5 million/yr
Ted Lilly - 4 years @ $10 million/yr
Jeremy Bonderman - 4 years @ $9.5 million/yr

What's amazing to me about this list is that you could argue that Harang is a better pitcher than any of these guys. I'd probably take Bonderman given his age, and Oswalt does have a longer track record of success. .. And, of course, who knows what Matsuzaka will do, if anything? But Harang at least matches up well to all of them, and is significantly better than many of them.

To me, this deal is nothing short of a gift by Aaron Harang to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati. I honestly can't believe he signed for this little. I'm sure he could have at least made $12 million/year if he had gone to the free agent market next year, and probably could have topped $15 million.

Ok, to justify those claims I just made, let's quickly look at Harang's recent stats:
2004/CIN 161.0 7.0 3.0 1.5 0.301 4.86 4.83 4.65 9.1 45%
2005/CIN 211.7 6.9 2.2 0.9 0.303 3.83 3.85 3.83 38.9 40%
2006/CIN 234.3 8.3 2.2 1.1 0.312 3.76 3.73 3.54 50.2 42%

Even though Harang is a fly ball pitcher, he has managed to keep his home run allowed rate at about league average thanks to his excellent control (2.2 bb/9 last two years) and excellent stuff (8.3 k/9 last year). Last year, he led the league in strikeouts, wins, innings pitched, and complete games. Harang has been a late bloomer, but he's had two excellent seasons in a row, is still only 28, and will still "only" be 32 when the Reds have to make a decision on their option year. As long as he can keep his strikeout rate up in the 7-8 range, which is where it's been the past three years, Harang should be a highly effective pitcher. And even if a few years from now he loses something on his fastball and his strikeouts drop into the ~6 range, he should still be a quality pitcher thanks to his control. It is a fantastic deal for the Reds.

My one concern is his workload. Harang has proven to be very durable, but the Reds need to be careful about having him pitch in excess of 220 innings now that they have a made a long-term commitment to him. Last year Harang was third in baseball (Arroyo was 6th) in pitcher abuse points, which do correlate to probability of major injury. Most notably, Harang had 18 starts (out of 35) in which he threw over 110 pitches, with one ridiculous start in which he tossed 135 pitches. An injury is the one thing that could make this deal go sour, so I'd like to see the Reds be a bit more careful with him moving forward.