Table of Contents

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reds send Lohse to Phils for Maloney

Today the Reds traded Kyle Lohse to the Phillies in exchange for LHP Matt Maloney.

Lohse has been an intriguing pitcher this year thanks to his Jekyll and Hyde routine, but his inconsistency actually may have resulted in him being more valuable than someone putting up comparable numbers via more consistent starts. His bad starts obviously have been near-unwinnable, but those excellent starts of his have made up for that by giving the Reds a great chance to win.

Lohse is certainly not an ace, but he's been valuable in our rotation this season and should give the Phillies an additional win or so down the stretch. Lohse's '07 VORP (9.2 runs) ranks fourth among the Phillies' starters behind Cole Hamels (29.9), Jamie Moyer (12.1), and Kyle Kendrick (11.2). With Freddy Garcia out 'til mid-August and Jon Lieber out for the season, Lohse should really solidify the back end of the Phils' rotation. Whether it will be enough to catch the Mets...who knows?

Trading Lohse does make sense for the Reds. As a Scott Boras client, he will probably get at least a Gil Meche-level deal, as he has a better track record than Meche ever did. And that kind of deal would not be an efficient use of money (though the Reds do have to find the starting talent somewhere, and if you can save one place, you can afford to overpay somewhere else if it improves the ballclub). Furthermore, I'm skeptical about whether Elias would rate Lohse among the top 40% of starting pitchers--especially given his bad numbers in the first half last year--which is what would be required for the Reds to get any kind of draft pick compensation if they let him walk.

So from that perspective, this deal makes sense. What about the guy the Reds got in exchange?

Matt Maloney, 23 yrs, LHP

Maloney was the Phillies' 3rd-round draft choice in the 2005 draft out of U-Miss. He has advanced each year since '05, and is currently having a nice season in AA. Baseball America ranked him the 9th best prospect in the Phillies' farm system this year, while John Sickels ranked him 6th (B- prospect). BPro's Kevin Goldstein also ranked him 6th this past offseason, but gave him the Philles' Pedroia/Clippard award a few months ago (awarded to players whose stats make them look better than they are likely to be), citing concerns about whether his poor command and mid-to-high 80's fastball would be enough to succeed at higher levels.


2005/PHI-A- 21 37.0 8.8 3.6 0.49 0.324 4.86 3.89 3.17 6.36 -5.8 32%
2006/PHI-A 22 168.7 9.6 3.9 0.27 0.261 2.88 2.08 2.75 5.00 17 46%
2007/PHI-AA 23 125.7 8.2 3.2 0.93 0.284 5.01 3.94 3.79 --- --- 41%
Maloney thus far has posted good strikeout numbers and excellent home run-allowed numbers in his minor league career. His walk rate has certainly been worse than average, but it has been better this year. The concern, if his stuff is not particularly good, is that his strikeout rate may decline dramatically as the quality of hitters improves. Furthermore, while not extreme, he generally seems to be a fly ball pitcher (~42% mean fly ball rate), which leads to concern that his nice homer rate may not be indicative of particular skill in keeping the ball in the park.

Still, while his numbers this season have taken a hit compared to what he did in single-A last year, he has continued to be effective. Next season, at AAA-Louisville, we'll get a much better idea of his ceiling when he faces that level of competition. If he can continue to improve his walk rate and eventually get it below 3 bb/9, he may have enough stuff to contribute in the starting rotation at the major league level. If not, he still may have some future as a reliever, given the fact that he's a lefty. Given Krivsky's apparent emphasis on scouting over stats (at least, that's my impression of his emphasis), I have to hope that they see more in Maloney's potential than Goldstein does, and that's why they went with him--Krivsky's comments certainly seem enthusiastic about the kid.

Just for comparison, here are peripherals for two other lowish-end young Reds' left-handers at A-, A, and AA levels (update: Following Fay's lead, I've added Zach Ward, given that he was who we sent to Minnesota for Lohse last July):

Phil Dumatrait
Class A - 21 yrs - 8.1 k/9, 3.5 bb/9, 0.4 hr/9
Class A+ - 22 yrs - 6.3 k/9, 5.0 bb/9, 0.4 hr/9
Class AA - 24 yrs - 7.9 k/9, 4.1 bb/9, 0.3 hr/9

Bobby Livingston
Class A- - 19 yrs - 8.5 k/9, 1.6 bb/9, 0.2 hr/9
Class A - 20 yrs - 5.3 k/9, 1.4 bb/9, 0.5 hr/9
Class AA - 22 yrs - 6.0 k/9, 2.0 bb/9, 0.5 hr/9

Zach Ward
Class A- - 22 yrs - 7.4 k/9, 3.0 bb/9, 0.2 hr/9
Class A+ - 23 yrs - 7.5 k/9, 2.1 bb/9, 0.3 hr/9

Based on these numbers, Maloney looks a fair bit better than Dumatrait (better k-rates and bb-rates). And he's a much different pitcher than Livingston, though their overall performance levels have been somewhat similar. Maloney has had much higher strikeout rates, but also much higher walk rates. In general, I prefer prospects that have higher strikeout rates, as that indicates better overall stuff. You just hope that they can learn better command.

Maloney also compares favorably to Zach Ward, who I was disappointed to see the Reds lose last season in exchange for Lohse. While Ward has the edge on walk rates and home run rates (though Ward has very good GB%'s, indicating those HR-rates may remain as he moves up), Maloney has had a consistent advantage in strikeouts--and has done it at a younger age each step along the way.

So Maloney isn't a nobody. Based on the numbers, he's a better prospect than Livingston or Dumatrait ever were, and has to be considered to have a leg up on the same-aged Ward at this point as wel,l given that Maloney is a level above him. That might not be saying much, but the point is that he's definitely worth more than a bag of balls, and might be a good back of the rotation starter for the Reds in a few years. Overall, what we have is a deal in which a rental pitcher who is probably worth a win over replacement over the last two months was exchanged for a guy who has a legit shot as a back of the rotation starter in two years. It sounds like a pretty fair exchange.

Still, I can't help feeling a bit disappointed with this return for Lohse. With someone like Linebrink bringing Will Inman and two other pitchers just last week, I thought we might be able to get a little more for him. But it's hard to know for sure what the market for Lohse was, especially with his reputation for inconsistency and being a head-case. And I probably have tended to overvalue Lohse in his time with the Reds, and I think Linebrink was probably overvalued by the Brewers in that deal. So in the end, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a pretty fair exchange--a decent return for Lohse, even though it's probably not a great return. Hopefully it'll pan out for both parties.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Enquirer mentions OPS, BABIP, RC, VORP!

Earlier this week, I mentioned I'd been having a lot of really interesting e-mail conversations. The result is a terrific set of articles in today's Enquirer by John Erardi. Also contributing to the articles was Slyde of Red Reporter fame, and Greg Gajus (who I don't really know). I'll have more on them later tonight, but for now, here are the links:
Major kudos to John Erardi for seeking us out, and being so open to not only listening to, but really trying to understand our ideas. He did a wonderful job.

Update: For some reason, the online version of the Case for Keeping Dunn article has been truncated from its original version posted this morning. That's a shame, as much of the good stuff was below where they cut it off. Here's the original in its entirety, via RedsZone:

The Reds, statisticians say, are poised somewhere between being in contention in the next two years and being the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Blow the expected Adam Dunn trade, they say, and the Reds would be the Pirates - unless Homer Bailey and prospect Joey Votto become stars, Josh Hamilton and prospect Jay Bruce become All-Stars and Ken Griffey Jr. defies the aging/injury process.

"The Reds must pitch and defend better to win," we keep hearing.

But here are the facts: If the Reds trade Dunn, there will be only two ways they could get into contention: 1) by replacing most of his offense and pitching and defending much better, or 2) by replacing all of his offense and pitching and defending reasonably better.

The math: To get into contention next year, the Reds must score at least 50 more runs than they allow. The runs scored/runs allowed stat can predict to within five victories either way how many games a team is going to win. The very best teams (95-plus wins) will score 100 more runs than they allow.

Given everybody's present pace, the Reds will score about 770 runs this season. The problem is that at the current rate, the Reds will allow about 815 runs. That ratio projects to a 77-85 win-loss record. The team needs to flip that ratio to make things interesting next season.

So, how do the Reds do it?

If they trade Dunn, they will need considerably more output from guys like Hamilton, Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips. If the Reds get that output, they barely will be able to make up for the loss of Dunn's offense.

Then - and here's the point - the pitching staff and defense would have to allow 130 fewer runs to have a shot at 90 wins, which is a reasonable number for winning the National League Central Division.

However, if the Reds keep Dunn and the other players improve as much as hoped (Freel and Hopper wouldn't get as much playing time as they would if Dunn weren't here), then the Reds would need to reduce their runs allowed by only 60 to reach 90 wins.

That would be a much easier bill to fill via free agents and minor trades.

How hard is it to improve pitching and defense by 60 runs vs. 130 runs? Let's explain it by the commonly understood concept of earned-run average. To save 60 runs in a season, the pitching staff would have to drop its ERA by .37; to drop 130 runs, the ERA would have to drop by .80. The Reds' team ERA is currently 4.70; saving 60 additional runs (assuming all are earned) would mean the staff ERA would need to drop to about 4.33. That's a reasonable improvement to make via free agency and some better performances from individuals already on the pitching staff and/or defense.

But improving by 130 runs would require the team ERA to drop from 4.70 to 3.90. That's not impossible, but it would be an enormous improvement. The last time the Reds staff had an ERA of 4.40 or lower was 2002 - not that long ago - and they were at 4.51 just last season. But the last time they had an ERA of 3.97 or lower? The strike year of 1994, although they were close in 1999. (Is it any surprise that only a strike and one loss to the New York Mets, respectively, kept the 1994 and 1999 Reds out of the postseason?)

To understand how much individual pitching will be required to reduce the runs-allowed by 60 vs. 130, one must understand a sabermetric principle called VORP (value over replacement player). Replacement players are defined as the expected performance of a journeyman "scrub" pitcher - say, a waiver-wire claim or a non-prospect called up from Triple-A - so VORP describes the improvement in runs saved over what that the journeyman pitcher should save.

Even adding the best pitcher in baseball last year - Johan Santana of the Twins - to the Reds staff would save the Reds just fewer than 80 runs; Santana had a VORP of 79.6 runs in 2006.

Here are the top pitchers, as measured by VORP, in 2006:

79.6 VORP - Santana, 233.7 IP, 2.77 ERA.
72.4 VORP - Roy Oswalt, 220.7 IP, 2.98 ERA.
68.9 VORP - Brandon Webb, 235 IP, 3.10 ERA.
68.0 VORP - Roy Halladay, 220 IP, 3.19 ERA.
67.8 VORP - Chris Carpenter, 221.7 IP, 3.09 ERA.
64.9 VORP - Bronson Arroyo, 240.7 IP, 3.29 ERA.

So, as you can see, none of these pitchers - by themselves - would improve the Reds by 130 runs just by being inserted into the rotation ahead of whoever the Reds' No. 5 starter would be next season.

Even if the Reds could do that, they'd still need to add a lot more talent to make up the 130-run deficit. (In case you're wondering, a plus-30-runs pitcher is someone who gives you 200-plus innings pitched with a league-average ERA. Think Dave Bush of Milwaukee or Zach Duke of Pittsburgh last year.)

But a 60-run improvement? That's doable. With some progress from the Reds' bullpen pitchers and by adding a good starter or two - say Bailey puts together a nice season, and the Reds add another starter in the offseason - pitching could improve by 60 runs.


The common misconception is that the Reds won't suffer a big loss in their offense if Dunn is traded. His relatively low RBI totals for a 40-HR-a-year man often are cited as evidence that he is not a run producer. But a statistic called runs created, which attempts to estimate the total number of runs a player contributes to a team's offense irrespective of the actions of others on their team, indicates that Dunn is, indeed, a major run producer.

Put aside what you think you know about the part that an individual player's batting average, home runs, RBI and runs play in a team's ability to score runs. A hitter's real job is to put runs on the scoreboard, no matter who scores them or drives them in.

Loosely defined, runs created is a statistic that attempts to convert all the contributions of a player's offense into the currency of runs. Hit a single? That's worth, on average, a certain fraction of a run. A double is worth more runs than a single, and a home run is worth more than that. Walks and stolen bases also are included, and outs generated at the plate or by getting caught stealing are subtracted from the total. The net result is an overall view of the total contribution of a player to the team's total runs scored.

The Reds had scored 470 runs as of Tuesday. Dunn led the team with 65 runs created, which accounts for 14 percent of the team's total runs scored. Griffey was second with 64 runs created, and from there it dropped to Phillips (56 RC; 12 percent) and Scott Hatteberg (44 RC; 9 percent).

Dunn's critics cannot logically argue that he's a lousy RBI man unless they know how many guys are on base in front of him. And one thing the critics might not know is that of the top 10 RBI men in the NL, only two (Prince Fielder, 244 runners, and Miguel Cabrera, 238 runners) have done more with less than Dunn (246 runners). In contrast, Andruw Jones' 65 RBI are largely because of the 317 runners he has had on base in front of him - 29 percent more opportunities than Dunn has had.

The math: When it comes to run production, Hamilton (if he stays healthy) might be able to replace Dunn offensively.

But who would replace Hamilton? Hopper and Freel? Realistically, the two would account for 50 fewer runs than Dunn and Hamilton. The Reds might get as many as 15-20 of those runs back with improved defense in left field (removing Dunn's negative fielding and adding Hopper's "plus" fielding) and maybe you could add 10 more if Freel returned to 2006 form (a huge "if" because Freel is older than you think and hasn't been that good defensively in the outfield this year).


If the Reds insist on trading Dunn, they must quickly "replace" his offense, whether it be from the trade itself or elsewhere (free agents, other trades, etc).

Whom should they pursue? A young, go-get-'em center fielder who is a better hitter than Freel/Hopper and a better glove than Hamilton, the statisticians say. That way, the Reds can move Hamilton to right field and move Griffey to left. That way, they will upgrade all three defensive positions and not lose as much offensively by trying to replace Dunn with Freel and Hopper.

But nothing says the Reds have to trade Dunn. And if they can't get at least 80 percent of his value, they shouldn't.


It would make more sense to trade Griffey than Dunn because Griffey's trade value is higher. But the Reds are understandably interested in keeping Griffey because of his drawing power.

In keeping him, they risk Griffey's offense dropping off next season because of his age and recent track record with injuries. Or course, there's no guarantee he'll drop off next year; the way he's played this year is reminding people just how special a player he is. But at some point, one has to start expecting decline from the 37-year-old Griffey - especially when you're a team trying to improve rather than trying to maintain the status quo. He's a perfect player for a team trying to get into the playoffs - he's very productive right now - but he isn't a perfect player for the Reds, who might have a tough time making the playoffs before 2009.


The Reds prospect with the silver bullet might be outfielder Bruce - but probably not by next year. The Reds must be able to replace Dunn in 2008 if they expect to compete.

Reds acquire Cantu, Cumberland for Medlock, Shackelford

Today the Reds announced a trade involving four minor leaguers. Let's look at what the Reds got and then at what we gave up:

What the Reds Got

Jorge Cantu - 25 yrs, RHB, 1B/2B/3B
Cantu's an interesting player if there ever was one. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Devil Rays at age 17 in 1998, he progressed fairly quickly through their minor leagues given his age, and made the somewhat surprising from high-A Durham to the big league club in 2004 (he had reached AA by age 19, but never hit well enough to stick). Surprisingly, despite the huge jump in levels, Cantu held his own while with the big league club...and then surprised even more with a strong 2005 season in which he hit 28 home runs while maintaining an 0.286 average.

It's been downhill from there. Injuries held him back a bit last season, though he showed big drop-offs in performance when he did play. And this season has been a nightmare. He lost his second base job to B.J. Upton and was sent to AAA to start the season, but then was called up--and very rarely used--for two months following Akinori Iwamura's injury. He's been in AAA for only about a week after being optioned on July 20.

2004/TB-A+ 22 391 16% 4% --- 0.312 0.302 0.335 0.576 0.274 0.911 --- 0.5 67
2004/TB 22 185 24% 5% 23% 0.391 0.301 0.341 0.462 0.162 0.803 0.670 0.0 26
2005/TB 23 630 13% 3% 21% 0.289 0.286 0.311 0.497 0.211 0.808 0.831 0.2 84
2006/TB-AA 24 33 27% 3% --- 0.190 0.194 0.212 0.387 0.194 0.599 --- 0.0 2
2006/TB 24 448 20% 6% 20% 0.283 0.249 0.295 0.404 0.155 0.699 0.753 -0.3 46
2007/TB-AAA 25 99 21% 8% --- 0.304 0.244 0.303 0.356 0.111 0.659 --- 0.0 10
2007/TB 25 65 25% 8% 19% 0.279 0.207 0.277 0.224 0.017 0.501 0.622 0.0 4

2005 was Cantu's best season in his still-young career. He showed excellent power, especially for someone spending a lot of time at second base. But his OBP was woeful, reflecting the fact that he walked in only 3% of his at-bats. This greatly reduced his overall value, and is somewhat reminiscent of what we see from Brandon Phillips--though even Phillips walks 4-6% of the time. Even so, his batting average and power allowed him to contribute 80-some runs to the ballclub, which is nothing to scoff at.

In 2006, even when he was able to play, Cantu was a shadow of his former self. His strikeout rate rose by 50%, which severely affected his batting average. At the same time, his power production also dropped, with his isolated power falling by 0.056 points. PrOPS indicates that he may have been a bit unlucky, as does his BABIP, which is a bit lower than you'd expect from someone with a 19.5% line drive rate. But the same thing could be said for his 2005 campaign, so that clearly wasn't the main problem. The one silver lining is that his walk rate doubled.

He has basically been riding the bench all season, so there's not much we can say about his numbers this year--though he has not hit well. Still, comparing his '05 and '06 numbers, I almost wonder if an effort to become more patient also resulted in Cantu being less able to avoid the strikeout, and that's what has killed his value. Therefore, it's possible that a key to his future success might be being more aggressive--and less patient--at the plate.

Defense (UZR data--2007 data through first half):
Year pos expOuts runs_range runs_fldErr runs_othErr runs_total G runs/150G
2007 1B
-1 0 0 -1 5
2004 2B
82 -2 -1 0 -3 33 -13
2005 2B
176 -9 -1 0 -10 71 -20
2006 2B
246 -23 -2 0 -25 100 -37
2004 3B
25 0 -1 0 -1 13 -9
2005 3B
115 -17 -2 -1 -20 62 -49
The short of it is that Cantu has been a liability in the field at both second base and third. He makes errors at a high rate, and has shown bad range at both positions. Splitting time between these two positions in '05, he cost the Rays about 30 runs overall, which severely cuts into the 84 he generated on offense. Last season, he cost the Rays about 25 runs at second base in less playing time, while only contributing 46 with the bat. Yikes.

The Devil Rays have apparently tried to move him to first base to better hide his defense. The problem with doing this is that he goes from being a potentially plus-hitting middle infielder to a below-average hitter at first base. Rosecrans reports that he has played some outfield in the past, so left field might also be a destination that might work for the kid. But replacement level in left field is only slightly lower than replacement level at first base, so that doesn't help him much either.

Tidbit: Cantu apparently has his own blog, but he hasn't updated it since last August.

Shaun Cumberland, 23 yrs, LHB OF
Shaun was drafted in the 10th round of the 2003 draft out of high school, and has steadily risen through the Devil Rays farm system. Unfortunately, he hasn't really hit even reasonably well since 2004:
2004/TB-A- 20 176 13% 6% --- 0.379 0.329 0.375 0.439 0.110 0.814 --- 1.1 28
2005/TB-A 21 481 21% 8% --- 0.317 0.268 0.326 0.422 0.154 0.748 --- 0.3 62
2006/TB-A+ 22 571 23% 7% --- 0.316 0.258 0.319 0.396 0.138 0.715 --- 0.9 70
2007/TB-AA 23 382 18% 7% --- 0.290 0.251 0.306 0.359 0.108 0.665 --- -2.7 36
...and even in 2004, his BABIP was unusually high, indicating that much if not all of that 0.375 OBP he showed was the result of luck. From 2005 onward, his fairly high strikeout rates have kept his batting average down, and he hasn't walked enough to compensate. On the positive side, he showed some modest power in '05...but has since seen that power drop each of the last two seasons. Cumberland also is fairly fast, as evidenced by the 20+ steals he posted in '05 and '06, but he has been caught enough to keep those steals from being much of a net positive (SBRns above is the estimated runs contributed by SB's and CS's, granting 0.175 runs for a successful steal, and deducting 0.467 runs for a getting caught--run values are from The Book). This year, his attempted steal rate has dropped significantly, as has his success rate--maybe he's had a leg injury or something? I haven't checked.

What the Reds gave up.

Calvin Medlock, 24 yrs, RHP Reliever
Medlock was the Reds' 39th-round selection in the 2002 amateur draft out of Junior College. He's not a particularly big kid (5'10", 195 lbs), and obviously wasn't thought of that highly when he was drafted. But he has done nothing but excel since he signed.
2004/CIN-A 21 94.2 10.6 2.0 0.5 3.15 2.57 2.20 0.285 4.37 17.3 --
2004/STL-A+ 21 46.2 9.0 4.3 1.6 7.01 6.36 4.89 0.301 8.31 -12.6 --
2005/CIN-A+ 22 108.2 8.2 1.8 0.5 3.49 3.06 2.72 0.295 4.27 15.6 38%
2006/CIN-AA 23 63.2 10.0 4.0 0.6 3.42 2.97 3.14 0.306 4.72 8.6 49%
2007/CIN-AA 24 47.2 11.3 1.0 0.6 2.67 2.64 1.84 ---
--- --- ---
2007/CIN-AAA 24 14.0 10.9 8.4 0.0 6.43 6.43 3.56 ---
--- --- ---

Medlock has been a consistent strikeout pitcher in the minor leagues, be it in the rotation ('04 and '05) or in the bullpen ('06 and '07). He also has done a great job of keeping the ball in the park, though that looks, on the surface, to be more a function of his strikeouts than of being a particularly good at inducing ground balls (though my data are limited on that). His control has been more spotty. Last year, his walk rate was a bit high, but the previous season and this season (in AA, at least), he his walk rates have been outstanding.

All in all, he looks like a very solid relief prospect to me, at least based strictly on his numbers. And based on the reports in Baseball Prospectus's Annual that he can deal in the 90's, and complement it with a good change-up, the stuff sounds like it's there too. So it seems quite likely that Medlock could compete for a spot in a major league bullpen next spring, especially if he can get his recent control issues straightened out in his next outing or two.

Brian Shackelford, 31 yrs, LHP Reliever
Shack was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 1994 by the Florida Marlins in the 21st round as an outfielder, but made the switch to pitching in 2002 after he failed to master hitting above low-A ball. The Reds picked him up along with Jeff Austin for a pair of minor leaguers the following March, and he's been pitching in their system ever since.

2004/CIN-AAA 28 73.0 7.8 5.2 0.7 3.82 3.58 4.27 0.263 5.28 13.0 --
2005/CIN-AAA 29 32.2 5.9 2.8 0.3 5.31 5.23 3.23 0.333 3.94 0.7 57%
2005/CIN 29 29.2 5.2 2.8 0.6 2.77 2.43 3.85 0.226 4.79 9.1 45%
2006/CIN-AAA 30 29.2 7.1 4.3 0.0 1.85 1.82 3.06 0.326 4.30 9.1 46%
2006/CIN 30 16.1 8.4 5.6 2.2 7.27 7.16 6.43 0.292 6.31 -1.8 37%
2007/CIN-AAA 31 32.2 3.9 3.6 0.0 5.59 4.96 3.54 --- --- --- ---

Shackelford became a fan favorite in 2005 when he came up mid-season and did a nice job as a situational left-hander. Unfortunately, he never ranked high enough on the depth charts to get much playing time last year or this year, though I argued for using him instead of Cormier about this time last year.

Overall, Shackelford has shown average to below average strikeout and walk rates, though he typically does a nice job of keeping the ball in the park--he hasn't allowed a home run the minor leagues since 2005! Unfortunately, he's getting a bit long in the tooth to be considered much of a prospect, and this year has shown a dramatic drop in his strikeout rates. So how much longer he can be useful has to be considered in doubt.

Additional aspects to this deal

The Reds apparently do receive some cash in this deal, which I'm sure is at least enough to offset Cantu's league-minimum salary. Furthermore, the Devil Rays are to receive "future considerations," which could potentially mean another player at some point.

My Take
I don't see much of anything to be excited about with Cumberland, so Cantu is the only booty here. And the most attractive thing about him is that he is still young, and already has shown decent performance in the major leagues in the past. So maybe he'll somehow put it together and be a nice source of power off the bench or as a part-time starter. Unfortunately, his defense at 2B and 3B has been atrocious, which means that his future probably lies at either first base or left field. And at those positions, his power-only offense looks, at best, average...and probably well below average. Still, in a limited role, I can see him proving useful.

In terms of the cost that it took to get him, I can't get too upset about losing Shackelford. But Medlock seems to me to be a legitimate contender for a bullpen spot next year, and goodness knows they could use some new arms out there. He still might not have made the staff out of spring training next year, but he absolutely would have represented some quality organizational depth as we opened the season.

So I don't like this deal very much. It's not that I hate Cantu or even that I see this as a lopsided deal in terms of the talent being exchanged. The issue I have is that Medlock is precisely the kind of player that I'd like to see the Reds hoarding right now--he's young, clearly has some talent, and could provide a boost to the bullpen as early as next season. I'm not saying that the kid is a future closer by any means. But it won't surprise me if he's performing well in a middle relief or set up role in the near future. And that's clearly something that the Reds need. Furthermore, it bugs me that this deal seems to be have moved the Reds away from, not toward, the goal of improved pitching and defense, even if only a small amount.

But I'm not going to get that upset about it the grand scheme of things, it's a pretty small deal, and probably isn't going to make or break the Reds now or in the future.

As long as the Reds don't go and do something stupid like start Cantu in front of Encarnacion or Votto, of course.

Baseball Cube has current stats (beta)

While Baseball Reference has been getting a lot of the press this season thanks to its new Play Index features, '07 stats, and organization depth charts, The Baseball Cube is still the site I use most often when looking up individual player stats. The reason? Minor league stats. Many of the new players we see on the Reds have a longer track record in the minors than in the majors, and those stats can help us understand how they'll perform in the big leagues. And until another site starts publishing major and minor league statistics in their player records, I don't see myself moving on from the Cube for this purpose.

That's why I was particularly excited to notice that the Baseball Cube is now posting updated 2007 stats to its player records! This includes not only current major league statistics, but also minor league statistics. This is incredibly helpful when trying to understand mid-season deals like the the Cantu deal this evening (more on that in a bit). So kudos to Gary at the Baseball Cube for this addition--it is "only" in beta right now, but seems to be working great...and is just insanely helpful.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Encarnacion Smiles!

Earlier this week, in his Q&A column, Hal McCoy wrote:
Q Can Jeff Keppinger unseat Edwin Encarnacion at third base? Luke, Sophia, W.Va.

A Unseat? Don’t you mean put Encarnacion into a seat in the dugout? I don’t see Keppinger as an everyday player. He is good at moving around — two starts at third, one at second, one at third. Just once wouldn’t you like to see Encarnacion smile or act as if something excites him that isn’t green with Benjamin Franklin’s picture on it?
So when I saw this picture in the Enquirer from yesterday's game, I just had to post it!

Well, at least he looks excited. So Hal McCoy's wish has been granted! Woohoo!

Update: With a hat tip to Doug, Eddie showed emotion once again tonight when he hit a game-winning single! Hal must be beside himself!
Updated again: From C. Trent's blog, Pete Mackanin on Encarnacion: "It was good to see Encarnacion hit that moon shot home run and the big hit. I’ve never seen anyone so happy." (emphasis added)

Top Photo by AP/Tom Uhlman, with a mild bit of doctoring by me
Bottom Photo by AP/Tony Trimble, untouched and prestine

Updated AGAIN: Redlegnation noticed Eddie smiling AGAIN! And this time, it really was a smile! No question about it!

Link Dump: Enhanced Gameday, etc.

I never seem to get around to doing link-dump posts any more, but there's a lot of fantastic stuff out there worth mentioning. Here's a few things that I've saved in bloglines for a grab-bag post like tonight's.

Enhanced Gameday is What The Cool Kids Are Doing

The biggest thing to come up in the baseball statistics world this season is the use of MLB's Enhanced Gameday pitch location data. With techniques pioneered by Joe Sheehan at Baseball Analysts (not the one from BPro), and now taken up by many of the top analysts from around the web, it's resulted in some really wonderful descriptive work. Here are some highlights:
  • John Beamer took an early look at the reliability of these data. This continues to be a major issue (see Walsh's most recent article below), though there's still enough to the data to be very useful.
  • Dan Fox did one of the nicer overviews of the sorts of information you can get with these data in this article.
  • John Walsh has investigated pitch types and tried to identify different pitches by the their velocity and movement in-flight.
  • Fox took a closer look at the Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, and then followed it up by examining whether certain hitters or pitchers get the benefit of the doubt from umpires (answer: yes, they do).
  • Sheehan did a fascinating study on Jake Peavy and Danny Haren, and showed how the enhanced gameday data could be used to show how their pitch selection varied between low and high leverage situations (no shocker, but they throw more offspead/breaking stuff in high-leverage situations).
  • Most recently, Walsh has looked at umpires and their accuracy in describing the strike zone (they actually do better than I expected).
  • Just today, Fox followed up with a second look at umpires, this time breaking down how much variation exists among umpires (probably about +- 6 pitches), and then documenting that umpires tend to call many more strikes than is appropriate when a hitter has an 0-2 count.
  • Sheehan wraps up my highlights by posting a graphic depicting how BABIP (batting average on balls in play) varies on pitches hit in different parts of the strike zone. Great stuff--looks like you can often bust lefties up and in, but righties are probably better pitched down and away.
Analysis of Pitching Mechanics

Carlos Gomez has continued to post interesting analyses of pitching mechanics. My favorite is the one from today on the D-Train--check out, especially, the second graphic showing that Willis's speed to the plate has steadily decreased over the past two years. I don't know how meaningful that is, but given how much he's struggled, one has to wonder...

Coles Back in Baseball

Ex-Red Darnell Coles is now managing in the Nationals system, and did a nice interview with BPro earlier this month. Coles was an interesting case of how a prospect can miss:
  • Imagine that you have a 23-year old third baseman who was a former #6 overall pick, and had put up huge numbers in AAA (0.318/0.426/0.607) two years earlier before being derailed by injuries the previous year.
  • And then, in his first full season with your club, he hits 0.273/0.333/0.453 with 20 homers, 45/84 bb/k in 521 AB's. Decent little debut for a 24-year old, right? I'd be modestly excited about him.
  • Well, he then goes on to hit so anemically (0.181/0.263/0.309) that he loses his job as a starter the next season, and you ship him off to Pittsburgh mid-season.
  • He gets a shot at starting only one more season over his career (at age 27), and hits badly (0.252/0.294/0.359).
  • He never again secures a starter job, except for one fun jaunt in Japan at age 34 before returning to Colorado to end his career.
Anyway, it's good to see him back in the game. Hope he does well, even if he has to associate himself with JimBo.

Jacobs Field Adding Solar Power

While the actual impact of this on their ecological footprint might not be huge, Jacobs Field announced last month that they are adding a large solar array to their parks' electrical power systems. This array will be sufficient to power the 400-some television sets scattered around their park. I'd be more excited if they could use it to power the lights on the field, but still, kudos to them (and Ohio's Department of Development) for ongoing efforts to become more "green."

Reds Minor Leaguers Having Success

Doug Gray has been doing some terrific work on Reds minor leaguers of late, pointing out recent surges by Danny Dorn (who I'd never heard of...), as well as '06 first-rounder Drew Stubbs. What I really love about those two articles is their use of graphics to help depict changes in performance. This sort of analysis, coupled with ongoing reports of minor league games, continues to make his site the place to go for insights on Reds' minor leaguers (with supplements from Redleg Nation, of course, especially for their exciting spotlight player series).

Meanwhile, Jay Bruce is widely considered among the top 5 (or better) prospects in baseball (could he make the big league team out of spring training next year?). Furthermore, Josh Roenicke (crazy-high strikeout numbers) and Justin Turner have recently gotten some attention from BPro's Kevin Goldstein. Finally, in injury news, Travis Wood's shoulder problem is apparently nothing more than tendonitis (thank goodness), though Homer Bailey's groin pull was bad enough that it was causing him to shift his mechanics enough to "feel it" in his shoulder (eek!).

The Linebrink Deal

I was thinking about this Linebrink deal, in which the Padres netted talented pitching prospect Will Inman, among others.

Linebrink has been very good out of the pen over the last many years with San Diego. But there's a way in which this deal reminds me of the Cormier deal last year. I'm not the only one either, though Nate Silver's comparison is a bit more harsh. Here are Linebrink's peripherals over the past four years:

2004 (28 yrs) - 9.9 k/9, 3.1 bb/9, 0.95 hr/9, 32% GB
2005 (29 yrs) - 9.3 k/9, 3.1 bb/9, 0.53 hr/9, 38% GB
2006 (30 yrs) - 8.4 k/9, 2.7 bb/9, 1.11 hr/9, 39% GB
2007 (31 yrs) - 5.2 k/9, 2.9 bb/9, 1.88 hr/9, 39% GB

Ok, so the surge in his homer rate might just be a matter of being lucky earlier in his career, as he's consistently been a fly ball pitcher in his career. But his strikeout rate was waaay down this year after a modest drop the year before. In case you're wondering, here's his ERA, FIP, and BABIP over those seasons:

Year - ERA - FIP - BABIP
2004 - 2.14 - 3.17 - 0.257
2005 - 1.83 - 2.56 - 0.265
2006 - 3.56 - 3.76 - 0.285
2007 - 3.80 - 5.64 - 0.234

From everything I'm seeing here, Linebrink has declined this year, even though his ERA has barely shifted--mostly thanks to that shiny 0.234 BABIP this season. If I was a Brewers' fan, I'd be hoping that Melvin has some really good scouting data that is leading him to believe that the strikeout rate will get back up to its levels last year...or else the Brewers may have just given away a fine prospect--plus two other players--for a guy that is substantially worse that the relievers they already have. Will Carroll says that they're banking on pitching coach Mike Maddux's ability to repair pitchers--I wish them luck, but needless to say, I'm a bit skeptical.

Edit: Apparently, Linebrink is a Class-A free agent. That shifts the deal a bit more back in Melvin's direction. But it may be that the two draft picks the Brewers receive when Linebrink leaves at the end of the year will be the primary benefit Milwaukee gets from this deal. Not really what you're looking for when you're trying to win your division.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I've been working on a lot of stuff related to the site lately, but unfortunately that hasn't resulted in as many posts here as I like. Here's some of what I've been up to:
  • Trying to master the techniques used to regress statistics to the mean, especially how to determine how much one should regress any particular stat, relearning things like intraclass correlation coefficients, etc.
  • Trying to apply those techniques to create detailed, regressed park factors that I'm working up for all MLB stadiums. I want to go beyond the typical runs and home runs park factors we see usually, and have them be more sophisticated that what is posted at ESPN.
  • Having some really interesting and in-depth e-mail conversations about which I'll be talking more about in the coming days.
  • Trying to keep track of all the trade rumors involving Reds players. ... And yet at the same time ignore them until we hear an official announcement.
  • Trying to remain calm as Jeff Keppinger--a guy I really like as a reserve infielder--is given AB's that should be going to the still-struggling and yet still very talented Edwin Encarnacion. I just don't get what the Reds are doing with that kid.
  • Reveling in the clutch-god that is the Latin Love Machine:

Photo by AP/David Kohl

Monday, July 23, 2007

Brewers Profile

I probably shouldn't be posting this, as it just went live last week. But since they're in town, I thought I'd post another link to my profile on the Brewers at The Hardball Times.

Go Reds!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

June/July UZR Splits - Check out Eddie!

Earlier this week, Mitchel Litchman was kind enough to update his UZR defensive statistics through the All-Star break. By comparing them with the previous set he released at the end of May, we can get an idea of how Reds have performed since May defensively.

Why is this interesting? Well, a few reasons. One, I've never had the chance to look at how player defensive performance varies over the course of a season. Players sometimes say that defense doesn't go through slumps like offensive performance does. Is that true?

The other reason is that some Reds players got off to horrendous starts this year defensively, most particularly Edwin Encarnacion. Since his return, however, we've heard that he's been better. Do the numbers show that? Let's look at the data:

Reds defense since the end of May:
Name Pos. Expected Outs Range Runs Error Runs Total Runs
Conine, Jeff 3 9 0 0 1
Hatteberg, Scott 3 26 -1 2 1

Castro, Juan 4 5 2 0 2
Phillips, Brandon 4 88 -3 1 -2
Freel, Ryan 4 0 0 0 0

Keppinger, Jeff 5 0 0 0 0
Castro, Juan 5 3 -1 0 -1
Freel, Ryan 5 3 0 0 0
Encarnacion, Edwin 5 44 6 -1 5

Castro, Juan 6 9 0 0 0
Gonzalez, Alex 6 83 -1 1 0

Hopper, Norris 7 13 4 0 4
Hamilton, Josh 7 0 0 0 0
Dunn, Adam 7 61 -3 1 -2

Hopper, Norris 8 19 2 0 2
Wise, Dewayne 8 6 1 0 1
Hamilton, Josh 8 76 -1 0 -1
Freel, Ryan 8 5 -2 0 -2

Hamilton, Josh 9 0 0 0 0
Hopper, Norris 9 12 0 0 0
Griffey, Ken 9 75 -8 1 -7

  • Edwin Encarnacion leads the team in defensive runs saved since May!!! Let me say that again. Edwin Encarnacion leads the team in defensive runs saved since May!!! Eddie's totals in the first half come out as -1 range runs, -3 error runs, for a total of -4 total runs saved above average. Given that he was at -9 runs (last in baseball) at the end of May, that's just fantastic progress. As someone who really likes Eddie, this is thrilling to see. The data indicate that he's doing it with range, which gives me confidence in these numbers. It doesn't contradict the fact that he still has work to do on the consistency of his fielding, but he's finally showing some real progress out there. I don't know if he can keep it up, but I'm finally feeling some hope again that he can at least be average at the hot corner moving forward.
  • We've talked about what a great defensive season Norris Hopper has had thus far. According to UZR, most of that excellence has happened since the end of May (-1 overall before May, +6 since). As I mentioned in the redlegnation thread, he probably wouldn't keep up his pace in left if he were to play there every day. But even so, I really like Hopper as a 5th outfielder.
  • Phillips, on the other hand, hasn't been as good as he was during the first two months, preventing fewer than average runs (though not severely). Maybe he needs more consistent rest? Or he just had a few bad days.
  • Ryan Freel continues to get beat up by UZR, even though ZR has been pretty pleased with Freel this year. I think the overall message is that he's basically average out there. Which is disappointing.
  • Hamilton's actually held his own in CF since May (-1 runs--and he's likely made up for that one run with his arm), and he had the bulk of the playing time out there in June and early July. That's encouraging. I'd still rather have someone with superb range out there, but an average defensive CF with the offense that he has brought to the table is pretty dang valuable.
  • Griffey was rated at -3 range runs through May 31, and -8 range runs in June and early July. I had hoped he'd be better out there than he has been. I'm sure this is still better than if he were playing center, but his -13 defensive runs in the first half cuts pretty deeply into his 31.7 VORP on the season... Doesn't negate his offense, obviously, but it definitely hurts.
I'm hopeful that we'll continue to see periodic updates to UZR so that we can continue to look at defensive splits over the season for Reds players. I'll also look at THT's ZR stat splits in the in the July review. We'll see if the improvement for some Reds players seen here are reflected in those data as well.

Remember, these are small sample sizes, so use them in the same way that you use monthly offensive splits. They indicate how players have done, and can sometimes be used to indicate a change in player performance that might continue...but at the same time, they're probably less reliable for prediction than seasonal totals.

Photo by AP/Alan Diaz