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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Out (or in?) of town

Just wanted to drop a line and say I'll be away while we're travelling back home to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We get on the airplane in about four hours, and then will return on Jan 1st. Therefore, updates are unlikely during that time (not that I've been terribly active anyway...).

Quick word about Conine--there's a reason he was available for two minor prospects. I agree with others who have said they'd rather have a go with Eduardo Perez, but the Reds could do worse I suppose... But the talk about him getting outfield time is confusing to me, especially before the Griffey injury, as we already had a full roster out there (dunn, griffey, denorfia, and freel).

If Griffey's injury keeps him out at all next year, I have to expect that Denorfia would be our starting center fielder, with Freel getting decent playing time there in his ongoing role as uber-utility guy. Heck, that's how it should be even if Griffey's good to go! :) I think Denorfia is a good bet to give us a ~0.375 OBP with better power than Freel, all the while playing plus defense in centerfield--that's quite a valuable player!

I am worried about Griff. He generates a lot of power with his hands, and I think his hitting is already on the decline. What we saw last year from him may be about all we can hope for from him this coming season--he turned 37 on November 21. He can still be a valuable hitter, but '05 might turn out to be his last year with a 0.500+ SLG. My biggest hope is that he'll rediscover how to take a walk next year; that 0.316 OBP last year was the worst of his career. We need him back in the 0.350 range...maybe he should get his eyes checked? :)

Friday, December 15, 2006

On the Almarez's departure

Like many around the Reds' blogosphere, I'm feeling a bit uneasy about the Reds' front office right now.

First, the Larry Barton departure. Ok, fine, sounds like a case of different philosophies. Hope Barton does well in whatever he does next.

Then, no action at the winter meetings. I have no idea what was said and negotiated at the meetings, so maybe Krivsky showed restraint (for the first time?) and didn't do a bad deal. ... Even so, the team needs a revamping, and is unlikely to win anything next year at its present state while our division rivals are getting noticeably better.

Then, they re-sign Dave Weathers. Granted, he was the best pitcher in the bullpen during the last two months of last season. But he's also 37 years old and was signed to a two year contract following a year in which he had the worst hr/9 rate of his career, his worst walk rate in the past 6 years, and his worst strikeout rate in the past four years. Frankly, as valuable as he was last year, I think it was time to let the guy walk.

Then, to make space for Weathers, they release Brandon Claussen. Claussen, a former stud prospect who will still be just 27 on opening day, was injured last year, and yet put up a 14.9 VORP season as a left-handed starter only the year before. Surely he's at least worth a go in the bullpen?

And now, long-time Reds' front-office man, and now former director of player development, Johnny Almarez, has resigned. Despite amicable press releases, Almarez provided material for a scathing article by Hal McCoy in the Dayton Daily News, again citing differences with Wayne Krivsky. It's so bizarre that Marc Lancaster, who in my memory has never been more than mildly critical of a member of the Reds organization, wrote this:
After a series of unreturned phone calls to Wayne Krivsky all day, I got home from the Crosstown Shootout to find a message from him on my answering machine. The gist:

"The statement’s going to stand on its own and that’s just the way it’s going to be."

So there you go.

I didn't get too worked up about the Larry Barton story last week because it read like a classic case of sour grapes, as if Krivsky was somehow obligated to make whatever moves Barton thought were correct. This situation is different, though. Almaraz leaving -- and it was completely his choice, I'm told -- raised plenty of eyebrows around here and no doubt all around baseball. Couple that with the way this has been handled today and I think it's perfectly reasonable to question what's going on here.

Unfortunately, those statements below are the only answers the Reds have chosen to provide.
Now part of the reason Marc may be speaking his mind is that he apparently has a new gig in Tampa Bay, to which he'll be leaving shortly (we will miss you Marc!). But even so, this is just weird, and may indicate a problem in the Reds' front office. I'm not saying the Reds are experiencing something like what happened with really-bad-person-Bowden. But I'm bothered by what appears, on the outside, like the start of a "brain drain" out of our organization that may be caused by his practices as a general manager.

Look, I'm a fan. I want the Reds to win. I don't care all that much if the general manager is a nice guy, or if he gets along with his personnel. Billy Beane, by all accounts, sounds like a terrible person to work for if you believe what Ken Macha said after he was let go from the Athletics. But Beane has been highly successful in surrounding himself with smart people, and making smart decisions that keep his teams consistently competitive. So when I see respected front office personnel leaving the Reds, I worry. If something about how Krivsky is conducting himself is resulting in a working environment that is not conducive to making the moves necessary to help the Reds win, that's a problem.

Hopefully all of this is just getting blown out of proportion. Maybe what we're going to see as a result of all this are new people in the front office who can work more efficiently and productively with Krivsky. But I can't help but feel a bit nervous about my team's leadership.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jason LaRue to the Royals

Some rather belated coverage of the LaRue deal...

The Kansas City Star reported that the Royals expect to pay roughly $2.5 million of LaRue's $5.45 million salary next year (hat tip to Austin Kearns at RedsZone). That means the Reds are kicking in ~$2.95 million and LaRue in exchange for the Royals' player to be named later.

Recent Stats on LaRue:

LaRue's season was one of the most disappointing that I've ever seen. After a career year in 2005, LaRue stumbled into the season with a knee injury and never recovered, ultimately losing the starting catching job to another guy having a career year, David Ross. Based on most standard evaluations of player performance, LaRue was awful last year (-4.3 VORP). It's not unheard of for catchers to fall off the face of the earth at age 32, so many people justifiably feel that Jason is probably done.

But, as discussed here last summer, there are some really strange things about LaRue's batted ball data. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an absurdly low 0.220, which is far below what we'd reasonably expect from a MLB hitter--even when they're struggling horribly. Furthermore, his batted ball data are largely in line with what he did in prior seasons, his strikeout rate was down, his walk rate up, and even his HR rate is slightly higher than in prior season. Therefore, there's the distinct possibility that LaRue was swinging the bat reasonably well and just encountered some miserable luck last season. If you believe J.C. Bradbury's PrOPS statistic--and I (cautiously) do--LaRue's performance with the bat (batted ball data) would typically be sufficient for a career-best OPS of 0.861!

The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. I do expect that LaRue will bounce back, though probably not all the way up to the 0.800+ OPS range. He'll be 33 next season and has caught a lot of games over the years, so it's a bit much to expect he'll come anywhere near his '05 performance again. But I see no reason why he can't hit in the mid-high 0.700's next season (see his 2004 season, maybe with a bit higher OBP and a bit lower SLG), all the while providing a good throwing arm and (mostly) acceptable performance as a backstop.

That's not a bad pickup for a player to be named later and $2.5 million, so I think Kansas City did well for themselves in this deal. I have little doubt that this is the best the Krivsky could expect to get for LaRue after Jason's miserable season. But it might have been better to wait until next year, see if he gets hot, and then try to unload his contract. As it is, we're paying $3 million next year for a catcher who is not even on our team. If the basic rule of trading players is to buy low and sell high, the Reds didn't do well here.

Even so, I liked this deal better when it was made on November 20th, because it freed up a spot on the 25-man roster and seemed to guarantee that Javier Valentin would actually get some plate appearances next season. ... but then Krivsky signed Chad Moeller a week later. More on that later.

20,000 Unique Visits

On Baseball and the Reds recently passed 20,000 unique visits, nearly half of which (currently 9,883) are hits from returning visitors! I just wanted to say thanks for reading! I have a great time running this blog and I really appreciate everyone who stops in to read and comment--you help keep this hobby fun, interesting, and challenging! :)

Things have been a bit slow lately, and that's primarily because I've been involved in some other hobbies--not to mention a fairly demanding research schedule at work and a 6 month old at home. But I plan to put something together on the Reds' latest acquisitions and signings tonight or tomorrow. This Hamilton signing is really intriguing, though it could end up a disaster for the 25-man roster this season...

I'm sure it'll really start hopping around here as we get closer and closer to Pitchers and Catchers, and that's only two months away!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On McGwire's candidacy

I wrote this in response to Bill's inquiry over at RedLeg Nation, but thought I'd repost it here.

Here's Bill's question:


You're a HOF voter... do you vote for Mark McGwire or not? Why or why not?

And my response:

I do. I don't know if he took steroids or not. As far as I know, there's been no evidence presented that he did except that he refused to answer questions at the senate hearing. And I don't agree with "convicting" a guy on charges of long term cheating without evidence.

But even if there was evidence, he played in an era in which that sort of doping was permitted (or at least not restricted) and reportedly widespread. I'm not sure it's reasonable to try to correct baseball's mismanagement of the use of performance-enhancing substances after the fact. Do you want to throw anyone who used amphetamines out of the hall of fame as well? That goes back into the '60's. So, for me, it's about his performance as a player and nothing more.

And the performance is absolutely there. 583 home runs, career 0.394 OBP, career 0.588 SLG, career 0.982 OPS, 100.9 career WARP3. Six consecutive years with a 1.000+ OPS, during which he had 400+ plate appearances all but the last year. Yeah, for me, he's a hall of famer.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reds sign Mike Stanton

Alongside the Gonzalez signing, the Reds also signed veteran lefthander Mike Stanton to a 2-year, $5.5 million deal ($2.75 million/year). Stanton, 39, was originally signed as a 13th round selection by the Atlanta Braves in 1987, which is the same year that some of my current students (college sophomores) were born. He rose through the Braves' system very quickly, though he was converted to relief by the end of his second minor league season. He made his debut in just his third year of pro ball at age 22, and has been a late-inning lefty ever since. Recent stats:

A lot of people have compared the Stanton signing to that of Chris Hammond last winter. Hammon is another aging lefthander, and we all know how that turned out. But there's a big difference. When Hammond was signed, he had already shown major drops in his peripheral stats in the previous season, and that loss of skill caught up with him by June to the tune of a 6.91 ERA. Stanton, on the other hand, hasn't shown signs of slowing down. Yes, compared to the performances of his mid-early 30's, Stanton's strikeout rate has dropped. But it's held constant the last 4 years at between 6-7 k/9. And all the while he has been consistently effective, which is especially evident in his peripheral-based FIP stats.

The key to his success seems to be that he doesn't allow many balls to leave the yard via the home run. In fact, his HR/9 numbers topped 1.0 (the approximate league-average) only one year from 1999 through 2006. That's a great thing for someone who will pitch half his games in GABP. The only thing about this is that I can't figure out how he does it. His GB% indicates that he's more of a fly ball pitcher than someone who induces grounders. So hopefully this doesn't reverse next year--I doubt it will. Provided that he's able to keep his ageless consistency going, Stanton should be a nice addition to the ballclub, particularly against lefthanders.

Overall, I like the Stanton signing. The one thing that causes me to raise an eyebrow is that it's a two year deal, which is always a risk when the player involved will be 41 by the end of the contract. Nevertheless, left-handed relievers tend to have good staying power due to their relatively low usage, so I'm hopeful and optimistic that we'll get the full length of his contract out of Stanton. If so, we'll have a solid veteran lefthander who can replace the injured (though maybe not retired?) Kent Mercker.

A few words on LaRue

Tomorrow I'll try to relay some thoughts on the LaRue trade. My opinion of it will depend in large part on how much of his salary the Reds are paying next year. I've yet to see those figures reported anywhere, and I may wait to say much about this until those numbers surface. I will say that I fully expect LaRue to rebound next year. He might not be in 2005 form, but his PrOPS last season was still in the 0.800 despite his otherwise apparent struggles. I've written about LaRue's OPS vs. PrOPS oddities in previous articles, so I'll just refer you there for now. ... Also, I have to say, this has to be the most excited anyone has been about being traded to Kansas City in a long time. :)

More on Gonzalez

Joe Sheehan discussed the Gonzalez signing at Baseball Prospectus today (if you don't have a subscription, but it on your Christmas list!). Below is the relevant clip. As you'll see, he comes to a rather different conclusion than I did.
So what makes Gonzalez a good stealth signing? After all, he has been above a .300 OBP as many times as he's below that mark, and he's coming off his third straight year with a sub-700 OPS. That anemic bat wouldn't seem to make him a good choice as any kind of free agent, much less one to praise.

Gonzalez, however, is one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. While his numbers in Clay Davenport's system don't look good, Gonzalez consistently ranks among the top glove men in play-by-play systems or zone-based ones, such as the work of Mitchel Lichtman or Chris Dial. With the PBP systems largely in agreement on his value, I take those numbers more seriously than the Davenport ones. Gonzalez's defensive prowess elevates him from a replacement-level player to a slightly-below-average one, more than worth just shy of $5 million per season. He's one of the few players in the game whose defense really does make up for his offense.

Gonzalez may have a greater opportunity to help the Reds than he would on a normal team, too. The Reds don't have a strikeout staff (11th in the NL last year), and in particular, their bullpen is loaded with groundball guys. Gonzalez should help shore up a defense that has been among the worst in the game the past few years. The Reds still look to have major problems with outfield defense--and this signing is another reminder that the Reds no longer have Felipe Lopez at shortstop--but Gonzalez is a better player than his raw numbers indicate and should make them better in '07.
FWIW, I trust John Dewan's plus/minus scoring system more than those of Litchman or Dial. Both of those latter systems calculate fielding based on the number of balls hit into or through a particular zone on the field. While I think UZR (Litchman's system) is a bit more precise than ZR (which Dial then converts into +- runs saved), the Dewan plus/minus system is an improvement upon them. Instead of using zones for infielders, the Dewan system uses vectors, allowing much more precise tracking of where balls are hit and thus better evaluations how how often each particular type of batted ball is fielded on average. Furthermore, the Dewan system also takes into account how hard balls are hit and whether they are fly balls, line drives, or ground balls. So while it is moderately comforting to see the two zone rating-based systems giving Gonzalez's defense high marks, I'm not yet convinced. To be fair, however, I haven't yet purchased the 2006 Dewan plus/minus ratings (2006 leaders by position can be found in the Bill James 2007 Handbook, though I haven't yet figured out if it's possible to purchase all of the 2006 plus/minus stats).

Nevertheless, as before, I'd much rather Sheehan be right about this than me. The Reds really do need to get outstanding defense from Gonzalez for the signing to be worthwhile. And if he can provide that, I'll be very happy about this signing.

Update: JP at R&B has a more on Gonzalez, including a more detailed look using both Dial's and Dewan's stats. He also considers Gonzalez's performance starting and turning the double-play, which I did not consider. ... I'm still not convinced he's anything more than an average defensive MLB shortstop, but at least he's not below average. :)

Reds sign Alex Gonzalez

This hasn't been officially confirmed by the Reds yet, but they have apparently signed SS Alex Gonzalez, 29, to a three-year, $14 million deal ($4.7 million/year). He is the younger of the two MLB shortstops named Alex Gonzalez (the other played for Philadelphia last year). Gonzalez was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Florida Marlins in 1994 out of Cagua, Venezuela at age 17. He rose quickly through their system for his young age, making his major league debut as a late-season call-up in 1998 at age 21. In his time in the majors, Gonzalez has earned a reputation as an excellent defensive shortstop, and also a guy who has some pop in his bat as evidenced by the 23 home runs he hit in 2004. Recent stats: The remarkable thing about Gonzalez's lines, at least when I look at them, is that his OPS has remained almost perfectly constant in recent years despite the dramatic differences between his 2004 line and his 2005-6 lines. In '04, Gonzalez slugged 0.419, which is pretty decent for a middle infielder (though not as good as his solid 0.256/0.313/0.443 campaign of 2003). Unfortunately, his OBP was a miserable 0.270 in 2004. In '05 and '06, he was better (relatively) about getting on base and avoiding the stirkeout, but his power numbers dropped substantially. Whatever variant of Gonzalez we get next year, we're looking at a guy who is only a modest offensive improvement over a replacement player like Juan one win, at most.

But that's ok, this guy's supposed to be a defensive master, right? Well... it's true that his fielding percentage is quite good for a shortstop (career 0.970), making no more than 16 errors in any of the past 5 seasons. But his range is thoroughly average. His 2003-2005 3-year total under John Dewan's fielding system was -1 plays made over 3755 innings. Similarly, Clay Davenport's fielding system puts him at +1 runs saved over 422 games in the same time period. That's a far cry from Adam Everett's defensive prowess, and with minimally (at best) better offensive production.

Now I can deal with average defense from a shortstop if the offense is there. But unless he reverts to his classic-peak-at-age-26-to-27 form of 2003-2004, we're dealing with a guy who is barely producing above replacement level hitting. And, since he'll start the season at age 30, he might even be starting to slip defensively by the end of his new contract. I wouldn't mind having him as a cheap ~$1-2 million signee who might serve as a utility guy off the bench. But as a $4.7 million/yr starter over three years? I realize the market for middle-infielders is thin this year, but why can't Ryan Freel play 2B and Brandon Phillips play SS? Both are at least average defenders (and probably above-average), and are solid offensive performers. Investing in Gonzalez just doesn't seem to bring much return for the Reds. Except a weaker offense.

As usual when I criticize a player move, I really hope I'm wrong. But in this case, we're not dealing with a guy who has a lot of unknowns. Alex Gonzalez has a steady track record of just not being a very good player, on offense or defense. At least the Reds reportedly still have another $20 million to play with this offseason. Hopefully they can put it to good use. On that front, I'll profile the Reds' other unconfirmed signing, Mike Stanton, tomorrow.

Transaction Ketchup: Reds sign Bubba Crosby

The first free agent acquisition of Wayne Krivsky's first real offseason wasn't the most exciting move he's ever made. But did he get someone who is nonetheless useful? Well...

Bubba Crosby, now 30, was a first-round selection out of Rice University by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998. He had an unbelievable season that year, hitting 0.394/0.504/0.828 (1.332 OPS!) and being ranked as a first-team All American outfielder. ... Granted, that's not the last time he hit well. But after that sort of performance and his high draft slot, you can't help but feel his professional career has been a disappointment. It took him three seasons to get to AA (at age 25), and it wasn't until age 27 that he broke the 0.900 OPS mark as a professional ballplayer -- and even then it was in hitter-friendly AAA Las Vegas. There was talk at the time that he might be a late bloomer. Unfortunately, he hasn't hit since, albeit with limited playing opportunities. Recent stats:
I will say that Crosby does walk at a reasonable AAA. But he hasn't had a batting average above 0.280 or a slugging percentage above 0.400 since 2003. Part of the reason might be that 2003 was the last time Crosby had a decent number of at-bats in a season, but thus far Crosby has shown very little ability to hit at the major league level. And, at 30 years old, there's little reason to think that he will start hitting now. On the plus side, he does seem to have modest speed and the ability to use it well.

So not much offense. How does he field? I don't have 2006 fielding stats yet, but the fielding bible (2005 stats) rated him at -2 plays in 144.2 innings in center field in 2005 (-19 plays/season) and -2 plays in 100 innings in right field (-27 plays/season). I think this is a case where low sample size makes extrapolations a bit dangerous, so I'd take those as indicating roughly average/just below average both positions. Clay Davenport's fielding stats generally support this, and put him as an average/just above average defender. So he won't hurt us defensively, but he's not special out there either.

Now I'm not going to ride Wayne Krivsky too hard for this signing. After all, he only spent $400k on this guy, which is only $10k above the minimum. We can always release him. But I'd rate Crosby as #6 in our outfield depth right now. Obviously Griffey, Dunn, and Freel top the list, although the Reds like to avoid giving Freel a real job, so I'll pencil him in as the #4. That puts Denorfia as the right fielder, and he clearly deserves this real shot as a regular. And Norris Hopper is my #5 outfielder, as he has skills (contact and speed) that should make him useful off the bench. So I'm not really seeing how Crosby is any kind of upgrade, or even where he fits in. Nevertheless, odds are very strong that he'll make the opening day roster. As long as he doesn't start over Denorfia--or even platoon with Chris in the outfield--I won't freak out too much.

I'll conclude with this quote from the 2005 Baseball Prospectus Annual on Crosby, just because I find it really funny: "Winner of the Columbus Shuttle Frequent Flyer Award, Crosby didn't get to do much besides pinch-run, sub on defense, and fetch Joe Torre his pre-game cup of herbal tea. He's not vastly overqualified for any of those roles."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Advice for posting stats?

I'm having a miserable time posting stat tables on this site, so I thought I'd solicit those reading this for help. Here's the rundown of what I've tried:
  • Until recently, copying-and-pasting from Excel into blogger has worked great. Now, however, I'm finding that only the lines for the rows are showing up. Column lines are not, which makes many of my (cramped) tables hard as heck to read. This seems to be a browser issue, as it happened once I upgraded to the latest FireFox. But I need this site to be readable by any browser, so that's no help. I've tried every manipulation of the table html code I can think of, and nothing seems to be working.
  • I've also tried using the "pre" & "/pre" html tags to just post preformatted text (see below). Unfortunately, blogger seems to remove any spaces I leave in this text when I post a message. So that's no good either.
  • I've also tried taking a screen capture of the table in excel and then posting that graphic to this site. Unfortunately, blogger resizes any images I post here once they get wider than half a screen length. Most of my tables are fairly wide, which makes them all-but-unreadable.
  • I've also borrowed a page from Joel Luckhaupt at (as an aside, congrats to Doc Scott and JP on their new site) and used EditGrid. This looks terrific (see here), but unfortunately I am unable to edit these posts once I publish them due to some sort of bug with the blogger software. And none of the other online spreadsheet programs seem to have the ability to imbed a small table into a website like editgrid does.
So, anyone else have any ideas? Thanks if you do. I'm sending this request to blogger as well, so if they get back to me with anything I'll post their solution here.

Transaction ketchup: Gil for Woody

And now for the fun stuff.

Tonight, I'm going to try to give my take on the Reds' other transactions. In order to keep all this organized and to make future linking easier, I'm going to give each transaction a separate post. So, first off, let's look at the one least likely to impact the Reds next year. :)

Acquired IF/OF Jerry Gil from the AZ Diamondbacks for RHP Abe Woody

Gil is 24, and signed as an undrafted free agent in 1999 by the D-backs out of the Dominican. Stats:

Gil is apparently a good defender (Krivsky indicates his "natural position" is at shortstop), and has shown impressive power for a middle infielder. He also has some modest speed, which never hurts. But my goodness, talk about a lack of patience. His walk rate in '05 and '06 was lower than his home run rate!! I'm not saying that every hitter has to be a patient-type individual, but unless you're slugging 70 a year, you sure as heck should be walking more often than you homer. His OBP is suffering as a consequence, breaking 0.300 only once over the past three years--and then, just barely. His K-rate is fairly high as well, so it looks like he's mostly just a swing-at-anything kind of guy. I have doubts about whether he'll ever be able to adjust to MLB pitching. But he's apparently an athletic kid, and we didn't pay all that much to get him. So what the heck.

Who did we send? 24-year old RHP Abe Woody. Stats:

Woody was a 31st-round selection of the '05 draft, but has pitched well in pro ball as a reliever. He made the jump from rookie ball to high-A in 2006, and continued to pitch well. His biggest asset appears to be his ability to induce the ground ball, though he struck men out at a good rate this year. But he was also a 23-year old pitching in high-A ball as a reliever, so I'm not going to get too worked up about him.

Friday, November 17, 2006

BP's take on Reds Top Prospects

Kevin Goldstein has posted his top-10 prospects list for the Reds (subscription req'd for full document). No real surprises in the list, especially among the top 3 (Bailey, Bruce, and Votto). He wrote this about #1 prospect Homer Bailey:
The total package: a classic Texas power pitcher whose heat sits in the mid-90s, touches 98 mph, and he backs it up with a 12-to-6 curveball that is an absolute sledgehammer. His changeup is solid, and he's aggressive to the point of arrogance-–he's damn good and he knows it.
In addition to Bailey, Goldstein predicts that Joey Votto will also make his debut sometime next year, even though he will certainly start in AAA.

Other interesting observations:
  • Travis Wood's stuff took a hit this year, especially noting a 2-5 mph drop in velocity on his fastball, as well as very iffy control. Success was still there, but there's cause for concern about his future.
  • Milton Loo is apparently very good with the ukulele
  • Calvin Medlock, who I've never heard of and was not in his top-10 list, was a 39th round pick in 2003, but has advanced steadily and struck out 70 batters in 63.7 innings in AA last year, with a 2.97 ERA. Despite being small, he throws in the mid-90's and has a good changeup.
Finally, Goldstein gave a ranking of all 25 and under year-olds in the Reds system, majors included. Edwin Encarnacion ranked 3rd behind Bailey and Bruce, with Brandon Phillips and Bill Bray coming in #6 & 7 behind Votto and Stubbs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Transaction catch-up: the departed

There are a number of players who have left over the past month via free agency/waiver claims:

Andy Abad (free agent)
Rich Aurilia (free agent)
Grant Balfour (waivers claim by Brewers)
Ryan Franklin (free agent)
Eddie Guardado (free agent)
Todd Hollandsworth (free agent)
Sun-Woo Kim (free agent)
Joe Mays (free agent)
Chris Michalak (free agent; Signed by Nationals)
Dane Sardinha (free agent)
Scott Schoeneweis (free agent)
Jason Standridge (waiver claim by Mets)
Dewayne Wise (free agent)

A few names I'd like to chat about:

Rich Aurilia

I haven't yet announced my picks for the Reds 2006 Hitter of the Year, but Aurilia may well be the guy I pick. Following his resurgent 2005 campaign, most pundits (myself included) expected him to decline back to his '04 numbers. Instead, he improved dramatically, hitting 0.300/0.349/0.518, and perhaps most importantly, was just about the Reds' only offensive weapon in September. Not only that, Richie played all four infield positions, including a surprising (given his career prior to 2006) number of games at first--a position where he performed splendidly.

While he ultimately resigned with the Reds after leaving as a free agent in 2005, I have a feeling he's gone for good this year. A middle infielder coming off a year in which he hit 23 homers (in only 440 AB's) and batted an even 0.300 is a hot commodity, so he'll demand some quality money this year. But I don't think he'll earn that money, as I just can't imagine him coming close to doing what he did this year again in his career. Given his age (turned 35 in September), the Reds should just let him go. But we'll miss that production next year.

Edit: Red Hot Mama came to the same conclusion after reading a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Grant Balfour

It's a shame to see Balfour go. He has been rehabbing an injury for the past year with the Reds, so it's hard to say what his status is--given the Reds' apparent comfort with losing him, the impression is that he's not recovering very well. Nevertheless, prior to the injury, Balfour was a promising reliever who had posted good strikeout numbers:
Team         IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2003/MIN 26.0 10.4 4.8 1.38 0.284 4.15 4.51
2004/MIN 39.1 9.7 4.8 0.92 0.292 4.35 3.99
I have a warm spot in my heart for Aussie's, so I hope he's able to recover.

Eddie Guardado

For just over a month this year, the Reds had a legitimate closer. It was wonderful. But Guardado had a bum arm when he arrived--this was well known to the Reds--and by the beginning of August he was pretty much done. Eddie turned 36 in October, and is having surgery to repair his arm. I'm not even sure if he'll pitch next year. But he's probably not worth bringing back for anything more than the minimum plus incentives. And I doubt he'd sign for that.
Team         IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2004/SEA 45.1 9.0 2.8 1.60 0.203 2.78 4.44
2005/SEA 56.1 7.7 2.4 1.12 0.272 2.72 3.91
2006/SEA 23.0 8.6 4.3 3.13 0.309 5.48 7.24
2006/CIN 14.0 10.9 1.3 1.29 0.342 1.29 3.06
Jason Standridge

Standridge is a guy who we've seen a fair bit the last few years since he was signed as a free agent in mid '05. As a former first-round pick, his career has to be viewed as something of a disappointment, though he did perform modestly whenever he was around:
Team         IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2004/TB 10.0 6.3 3.6 4.50 0.281 9.00 9.50
2005/TEX 2.1 8.6 4.3 0.00 0.619 11.57 2.72
2005/CIN 31.0 4.9 4.6 0.87 0.315 4.06 4.91
2006/CIN 18.2 8.9 6.9 0.99 0.291 4.82 4.96
At his best, Standridge is a high K, high BB, low HR kind of guy. He could still be useful. But having just turned 28 the past year, he's unlikely to get any better, and could decline quickly if he loses whatever stuff he has. I won't stay up at night fretting about having lost him.

Dane Sardinha

It's also a bit shame to see Sardinha go. He's been the prototypical all catch, no hit-type catcher since being our second-round selection in 2000. He did manage to hold his own on a steady diet of promotions in his initial years with the Reds, but tailed off miserably this year, declining from a 0.262/0.294/0.404 line in his first year in AAA (2004) to a 0.175/0.231/0.231 line this year at the same level. Hopefully he can catch on somewhere and rediscover something in his swing that can earn him a backup catcher role in the bigs. But it was time to say goodbye.

Minor League Free Agents

Finally, here are this year's minor league free agents (copy and pasted from Marc, 'cause he rocks):

C Ryan Jorgensen
C Rafael Motooka
1B Earl Snyder
2B William Bergolla
2B Matt Kata
3B Habelito Hernandez
SS Javier Colina
SS Aaron Herr
SS Gary Patchett
SS Hector Tiburcio
OF Gary Varner
RHP James Abbott
RHP Giancarlo Alvarado
RHP Joel Barreto
RHP Tim Bausher
RHP Jeff Bruksch
RHP Josh Hall (signed by Nationals)
RHP Jake Robbins
RHP Edward Valdez (signed by Nationals)
LHP Chad Bentz
LHP Jan Granado
LHP Richard Stahl

In truth, only a few names I know anything about in that list. Jorgensen and Kata were both Krisvky acquisitions this past year, neither of which did anything surprising in AAA. Bergolla is a guy who some people really like. He's never hit a ton, but he's held his own despite steady advancement through the Reds' minor league system. He only turns 24 in February, but has 6 years of professional ball in the United States under his belt. And, by all accounts, is a wonderfully slick fielder. He'll have no trouble finding somewhere to sign, but hopefully the Reds can make him an offer and get him back.

I am sorry to see Josh Hall go. He missed all of 2004 with an injury, but battled his way back to AAA this year after doing well in AA. He'll only be 26 next year, so he still has a year or two of improvement years available to him. The Nationals did well in picking him up--he very well could be contributing in the majors by mid-next year. Stats:
Team         IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2005/CIN-A+ 29.0 6.5 4.3 1.55 0.383 6.83 5.44
2005/CIN-AA 112.1 7.4 2.8 0.56 0.307 3.53 3.31
2006/CIN-AA 116.2 5.3 2.6 0.85 0.299 3.39 4.12
2006/CIN-AAA 35.0 5.7 3.6 0.77 0.272 4.11 4.26

With all that unpleasantness behind us (I hate watching gobs of players disappear), I'm looking forward to checking out some of our recent acquisitions. New trades and signing analysis coming up next...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Transaction catch-up: the coaches

Hi. Been taking a bit of a break from baseball lately. I needed it--invested more into this season than I have in any season since the onset of adulthood. :) But the winter meetings have arrived, so I better get caught up on the transactions in case Krivsky trades away the team again.

First up, the coaching:

Hitting Coach
Chris Chambliss was fired as hitting instructor. Despite previously being credited with the Reds' outstanding offensive prowess over the past several years, and especially with Adam Dunn's resurgence after his miserable 2003 campaign, Chambliss is the fall guy for the Reds' offensive implosion in September (3.3 r/g). While I don't think that coaches just "go bad," it sometimes is good to have a fresh perspective. Hopefully that is what Brook Jacoby, the replacement hitting coach, will bring to the Reds.

Many of the comments from Jacoby since his signing have been about Adam Dunn and his desire to have Dunn cut down on his strikeout rate. And that's fine. Obviously, contact is a weakness in Dunn's game. But here's the thing: Dunn's problem this year wasn't his strikeouts. It was his unbelievably miserable slump in August (0.700 OPS) and especially September (0.598 OPS). So if the only focus is on strikeout rate, and not on figuring out what happened to him the last two months and trying to get him back to his 2004-2005 form, they're already on the wrong track. ...But that's just what they were talking about at the press conference, so it doesn't mean all that much.

Pitching Coach
Tom Hume will be relegated back to his bullpen coach activities. I'm a bit surprised by this, as Hume seemingly did a good job, with much-improved seasons by Bronson Arroyo and Eric Milton, among others. Overall, the Reds improved by 81 fewer runs allowed in '06 vs. '05. So hopefully Hume won't mind heading back to the bullpen.

Vern Ruhle will be reassigned within the team, perhaps as a a roving pitching instructor/advisor like the position he held prior to when he took over for Don Gullett in '05. Almost certainly, this is a move to give Ruhle a position more in keeping with the health challenges he may be still facing.

The Hume/Ruhle replacement was recently named. Dick Pole. ... Needless to say, my wife has informed me that I am an incredibly immature person, because I still find that funny and it's already a week later. Anyway, name issues aside, Pole has strong endorsements from Greg Maddux and others, which counts for something--especially given that Maddux pitched for Leo Mazzone all those years.

It's hard to know what effect either of these decisions will have on the team next year. They both sound like fine people, and hopefully can help some of the guys out a bit. Unfortunately, unless a guy coaches for a team for a long period of time so you can assess players before, during, and after they play for him, I don't see how one can make much of an objective decision about this using stats. So I'm happy these decisions to Jerry and Wayne, so long as we don't start hearing nonsense like Adam Dunn needs to swing at more balls out of the strike zone. :)

More posts to come as I catch up. :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More on the CBA and the draft

A few days ago I wrote up an initial recap/comments about the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players. There was one section that left my a bit confused: what the effects were of the changes to the draft. Fortunately, today Kevin Goldstein published a very good article explaining these changes and their ramifications. I'll summarize and comment on some of the changes here.

There are two substantial changes to the draft rules:
  • The signing deadline for all non-college seniors has been moved up from just prior to the following year's draft to the August 15th immediately following the June draft.
  • Teams are now compensated if they do not sign a player. If it's a first- or second-round pick, teams receive the identical pick the following year. Third-round picks also get a compensation pick between the third and fourth rounds. So, for example, if the Reds had not signed 1st-round pick Drew Stubbs this year, they would receive the 8th overall pick in the '07 draft under these new rules.
The first item has two primary effects. First, long holdouts are now a thing of the past. If a team and its drafted player can't come to an agreement by August 15th, the player returns to the draft pool. While we may still see players go unsigned, this prevents the extraordinarily long holdouts that have frustrated teams and fans alike over the past few years. This takes one negotiating tactic off the table for high school and non-senior college players, so it might result in lower bonuses being paid out. At least that's the hope. I like this change, as it changes negotiations from potentially a long battle to an immediate decision to be made. And that should help teams focus more on player development and scouting, rather than negotiations with its prospects.

The first item also has the substantial effect of eliminating the draft-and-follow procedure. In the past system, lower picks were often for risky players. Teams could draft them and would hold exclusive rights to that player for an entire year, giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not they wish to sign them. Those players wouldn't even be permitted to speak with any other teams during that time. Eliminating this practice effectively means that teams will need to be pretty certain they wish to sign a player when they draft them. That seems to me to be much fairer deal for the players, and probably allows teams to be a bit more streamlined in their draft activities. But it also may mean that we'll have more mistake signings than in previous years, and we may end up missing out on more of the high-risk, high-reward players that previously would be under our control.

Nevertheless, the item that seems to have the biggest impact in these changes is one that I hadn't seen reported in previous articles: compensation for unsigned draftees in the first three rounds. This is huge. In the past, if a team didn't sign a player in the first few rounds, that represented a major missed opportunity. Now, teams are insulated from that loss, because they have the equivalent opportunity to sign a player at the same draft position the following year. This takes a major card out of the hands of the players, and I expect it will absolutely reduce signing bonuses because teams now have a very solid plan B should a player be hard to sign. So from the perspective, it's a very good deal. Teams will still try to sign their draftees, but failing that task is now far less damaging than it used to be.

The major drawback of the new compensation rule, however, is that it does open the opportunity for abuse. Should there be a particularly weak draft year, or should a team be a bit strapped for money (see the JimBo's 2001 selection of Jeremy Sowers), they can draft a (very unfortunate), not sign him, and know that they'll receive the exact same pick the following year. Meanwhile, that player effectively loses a year from his career. While most sources that Goldstein cited seemed to think it won't happen, as teams are generally under a crunch to get immediate returns from their first three picks, I think it is bound to happen now and then unless some effort is made to police this potential abuse of the system.

Nevertheless, I still like both of these changes a great deal, as they should reduce signing bonuses and help teams get their players signed and playing ball. And, from the perspective of a baseball franchise or its fans, that's the whole point of the draft.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Details on the new CBA

Maury Brown has authored a series of articles here, there, and everywhere about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement which has been agreed upon, though not yet ratified, by both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association. While this has been said everywhere, it is remarkable how well the two sides worked together this go-around. No strike dates, no combative press conferences, no nastiness of any kind that we got to see. It may be impossible to stress how important it was to baseball's continued growth that there was no hint of a public dispute between the millionaires and billionaires.

First, for a general overview of the new agreement, I'll refer you to Brown's article at his new (free) Biz of Baseball website. He breaks it down into a number of categories. I want to give a brief comment on each component of the CBA, so I'll follow his lead below:

Revenue Sharing
Brown has an analysis of this online today for Baseball Prospectus subscribers. I admit that I don't really understand it all... but the main result of this process, as I understand it, is that revenue sharing has been adjusted to increase the incentives for teams to increase their revenue. Teams with increasing revenue over the 5-year period of this new agreement will be able to keep a larger amount of their new revenue than they would have under the previous agreement. And the best way to increase revenues is to increase the on-field team performance; therefore, the expectation is that this adjustment will mean that teams will invest more into player contracts and player development, rather than their owners' pockets.

For a team on the rise like the Cincinnati Reds (they have to be on the rise, don't they?), this could mean very good things through 2011. Of course, the flip side of all of this is that if you lose revenue over the five-year agreement, you're going to be feeling that revenue loss more than you would have in the prior agreement. So the Reds just need to make sure they keep gaining revenue. So win, dammit.

Competitive Balance Tax
I always thought that this tax was the limit to revenue sharing in baseball, but I apparently was wrong. The news here is that the threshold for when teams must pay this tax increases substantially over the next five years, moving from $136.5 million this year to $148 million in '07, and increases 5% each year to $178 million in 2011 when the agreement expires. That's a pretty hefty increase. Of course, the Yankee's end-of-year player payroll was an estimated $199 million, so maybe that doesn't matter, as it still will impact the worst offenders of payroll disparity. And that's all this tax is really designed to do.

Minimum Salary
Minimum salary for MLB players increases from the current $327,000 this year to $390,000, and gets a cost of living increase each year thereafter. That moves the marginal MLB team payroll (the minimum possible MLB payroll for a 25-man team) up from $8,175,000 to $9,750,000 next year. That's a $1.575 million increase, which more or less hits all teams across the board. Not a huge spike--I think that the Reds may have spent that much on players that they released this year--but small market teams who must rely on developing players for payroll reasons will feel this hike the most.

Draft Pick Compensation
Unlike prior reports, draft pick compensation for lost free agents has not been abolished, though it has been restricted. The number of type-A free agents that exist in the majors is decreased from 30% to 20%, Type-B free agents are no longer as costly (in terms of pick compensation) to sign, and Type-C free agents no longer entail compensation. The purpose of all of these adjustments seems to be to give incentives to teams to sign free agents--or not to let free agents leave in the first place. Nevertheless, I think the summed effect here is that small-market teams lose out on a valuable resource.

Amateur Draft
On the upside, there is apparently an improvement in the amateur draft system. The date by which a non-college senior must sign with the team that drafted them is moved up to August 15th of the prior year. Apparently this takes a big bite out of the bargaining power that these players can put on teams in terms of salary bonuses, based on this quote by badforthegame Scott Boras:
"On the draft side, high school players, particularly those who cannot attend college, are left with very little leverage."
Why this is, I'm not sure. Maybe someone can explain it to me? I haven't been able to find anything more detailed on this issue. I'll post more on this when Maury Brown does (I hope) his detailed analysis on this issue at BP later this week.

Free Agents
The various deadlines that restricted how long a team could negotiate with a free agent who had been on their team the previous year have been eliminated. I see this as a very good thing for small-market teams. Previously, if a team didn't arrive at an agreement with a player by January 8th, they could not field that player until mid-May of that year. While those rules were in place to avoid unfair bargaining practices, this allows additional flexibility for small market teams that are actively weighing their options near the end of the offseason.

Overall Themes
The overarching theme here is that that MLB expects player salaries, payrolls, and overall revenues to continue to increase. Baseball has a lot of cash right now, which is generally a good thing as it allows the industry as a whole to be generous and help pull up its weaker members (small market teams) with revenue sharing. I do have concerns that this could set a precedent that may be difficult to overcome in 2011, especially if baseball is unable to keep up the growth it's currently seeing. But the years under the previous agreement saw a U.S. economy that has been shaky to say the least, and have featured performance-enhancing drug scandals that raise questions about the legitimacy of on-field performance. And yet, baseball's business has been booming despite it all. Hopefully this will continue, and this new agreement will work to the Reds' advantage as they push forward under new management.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thoughts on the series

This year's World Series was a strange one....and ultimately not a very good one. I say that not because the Tigers lost or because the Cardinals won, but just because it wasn't very compelling. Part of the problem was that the Cardinals, who, according to a variety of stats employed by Nate Silver, are statistically the worst World Series Champions of all time--just edging out the '87 Twins. They absolutely have some genuine stars -- any team with Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Scott Rolen, and (even though he's declining fast) Jim Edmonds is definitely one that I could get interested in. But the rest of their team really underperformed this year...or just wasn't good to begin with. And I prefer to watch good teams in the World Series, not sub-par teams who use starting pitchers with 5+ ERA's in three of the five series games.

But the thing that bothered me more about this series was that the losing team, Detroit, played miserably. I'm not just talking about the 5-game offensive slump of all Tiger hitters not named Inge or Casey. Their defense, which had been so noticeably brilliant in the first two postseason series, not to mention the regular season, was plagued by an unbelievable series of screw-ups. All told, they made 8 errors in 5 games. I'm not one to get too caught up in errors as the end-all in defensive stats, but that's absurd for a team that led the majors in run prevention. And it's not something you expect to see from a league champion. There were other problems as well. Granderson falling down in the outfield allowing a double...Zumaya throwing to third (and throwing it away) instead of starting a 1-6-3 double play...Tigers pitchers not being able to find the strike zone...

It just wasn't good baseball. It'd be one thing to have a hard-fought series in which the underdog over-performs by outplaying the better team to win. But in this case, the Tigers just imploded, and the Cards managed to play decent enough baseball to win.

There are a few things that I'm happy about. Pujols got a ring, so no one will be able to bring that up against him when we elect him to Cooperstown in ~15 years. Sean Casey got to play in the World Series at least this once, and did himself proud. And, of course, the Yankees were no where to be seen. But I'll definitely be hoping for something more enjoyable next year -- and maybe, just maybe, that'll include the Reds!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wow - The Kid Molina Delivers

Watching the game tonight. I've been pretty apathetic about this series, as I don't really like the Mets by general principle, and the Cardinals are in the post-season only because they were the least bad team in the NL Central. But this has been a heck of a battle all night, and has been a lot of fun to watch. One of the players I like the most on these teams is that kid Molina, just because I've always enjoyed watching superb defensive catchers. So it was pretty fun to see him swing big in the top of the 9th.

'Course, valentin just got on base to lead off the bottom of the 9th via a bloop single. I almost hope they tie it up just to keep this game going. :)

Hmm... base hit by Chavez. That one still wasn't hit that well.. But Floyd is a scary hitter in this situation. They're talking a bunt, but I can't imagine that would be the play at this point. I mean, you need two runs, how can you waste the out with a power hitter at-bat? Even if he is injured. Whew, first pitch he was going for the jack. Definitely not a bunt. :)

Floyd's gone. Double play gets them out of it now... Though that's a tall order with Reyes at the plate.

Line drive to center field for the second out. Still isn't over, as LoDuca's a quality hitter, and Wainwright is proving hittable tonight.

3-1 count....Oh my, bases loaded with the walk, and Carlos Beltran is up. At the least, New York won't be able to say that they didn't have a shot.

Strike one down the middle...Strike two fouled off the foot...Takes the strike!

Wow. So the 2006 Cardinals, the worst team they've fielded in the last three years, is going to the World Series. They beat an all-pitching, no offense team in San Diego, and they beat an all offense and relief, no-starting pitching team in New York. But my prediction is that Detroit is going to clean their clocks. Detroit has three starters that are on par with Carpenter, an unbelievable bullpen, and plenty of sock in their lineup. The Cards can only get lucky for so long.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tigers take the first two

I'm really enjoying this Athletics/Tigers series. Two fun, exciting, young teams with a mix of still-good/excellent veterans thrown in to balance them out. A few random thoughts:
  • I'm in awe of the Tigers pitching staff. Can you imagine having three guys--Verlander/Rodney/Zumaya--that can all throw 100 mph, along with plus offspeed/breaking pitches? Plus two "other" young starters like Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman to go along with those guys? And that's not even including Kenny Rogers' excellent season. ... And there's there's that kid they drafted this June, Andrew Miller, who might turn out to be the best of all of them when he arrives either next year or the year after. Amazing. And very scary for the AL Central. I just hope that they can all stay healthy, because they've got the makings of an Atlanta Braves-style dynasty right now.
  • Todd Jones is still a solid and dependable pitcher, but you have to think that using him in the closing role instead of Zumaya is going to bite Leyland sometime during the playoffs. When Thomas came up tonight, I really thought that the A's were going to pull off the two-out rally. Of course, I will say, in Leyland's defense, that the ability to bring in Zumaya any time during the 7th-8th innings is quite a luxury, as you can get him in there during the game-critical situations when your other pitchers are in trouble. Then you can just turn it over to Jones to start and finish the 9th. I argued the same thing about the Reds' Coffey/Weathers combination in May of this year--and in many ways, Coffey carried the Reds' pitching staff through the first two months of the season when used in this role. I hope Coffey can rediscover something this offseason and come back strong for us again this year. His September was good, at least.
  • Milton Bradley had a heck of a night. I've always liked the kid, and I hope performing well on this kind of stage helps him gain the confidence to get past some of his chronic emotional issues. He's always had the talent to be an excellent ballplayer. He strikes me as the kind of guy that could peak a few years later than others due to all of his talent/injuries/issues, so his best years may still be ahead of him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cory Lidle's plane crashes in New York

Reports from New York indicate that Cory Lidle's small 4-seat plane crashed into an apartment building this afternoon. Four were confirmed dead, though no specific word has been given about Lidle's well being...though it doesn't look good.

Lidle pitched for the Reds during the first half of 2004. He wasn't great -- 5.32 ERA over 24 starts -- but he did eat 149 innings for a miserable Reds team that season. His trade to the Phillies that year brought Elizardo Ramirez to the Reds, along with Javon Moran and Joe Wilson.

Thoughts go out to Lidle's family.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Payroll efficiency - how should you invest your money?

Maury Brown has an excellent article up today at Baseball Prospectus (subscription) investigating team efficiency in terms of payroll dollars per win in 2006. He compared each team's marginal payroll (2006 opening day payroll minus the hypothetical payroll of a 25-man team all making the league-minimum $327,000/yr) to each team's marginal wins (wins above an 0.300 winning percentage, which is supposed to be replacement-level team performance). As you might expect given their relatively low $61 million opening-day payroll, the Reds did pretty well according to this rubric (4th in the NL, 9th overall).

The best teams overall were Florida (at a ridiculous $200k/marginal win), followed by Minnesota, Colorado, and Oakland, all of which were in the $1.1 to $1.2 million/marginal win range that seems to set apart the most efficient ballclubs from the rest of us. After those four teams, there's a substantial jump up to San Diego at 1.5 million/marginal win. The Cubs were by far the most inefficient team in the major leagues, winning only 66 games despite a $94 million payroll (an atrocious $4.9 million/marginal win). The Yankees were second worst--they won 97 games (tied for most in majors), but spent $195 million to do it ($3.8 million/marginal win). The highest payroll in the top-10 overall most efficient teams belonged to the Detroit Tigers, who had an $83 million payroll this year, but won 95 games for a cost/marginal win of $1.6 million.

So, was there a formula about how to build an efficient ballclub in 2006? To take a quick'n'dirty stab at this question, I compared the contributions of team offense (runs scored) and team defense (runs allowed) to their cost/marginal win totals. Here are the results:
There is no clear relationship between runs scored and payroll efficiency as measured by cost/marginal win. However, you see a different story when it comes to runs allowed -- the most efficient teams tend to be those teams that allow the fewest runs. This effect is significant (t=2.30, P = 0.029), though it should be emphasized that the relationship is not very strong and leaves a lot of unexplained variation (R2 = 0.16).

These results -- despite admittedly being a bit superficial -- do indicate that efficient teams tend to be those with good pitching and defense, and that offense has next to no effect on payroll efficiency (or, to put it another way, efficient teams have offenses that differ little from those of inefficient teams). Taken a step further, the suggestion is that the most efficient use of payroll is to invest in your pitching.

To investigate this further, I pulled team WPA (Win Probability Added) totals for each major league team from This allowed me to break down, within each team, the relative contributions of hitting, starting pitching, and relief pitching to a team's cost/marginal win ratio. Once again, hitting showed absolutely no relationship (P=0.99, R2 = 0.00), but there was a bit more to the relationships between starting or relieving and cost/marginal win:
While there appears to be a slight effect on the bullpen, it is nonsignificant (t = -0.72, P = 0.48, R2 = 0.02). The stronger effect is among the starters. Efficient teams in 2006 were those teams that had the best starting pitchers, as measured by their contributions to team's wins through WPA. The effect was significant (t = -2.8, P = 0.008), and explained a reasonable, though still fairly small, amount of the variation in cost/margin win (R2 = 0.22).

The conclusion from this quick study seems to be that teams should invest in starting pitching above all else. Nevertheless, I'll throw out a substantial caveat: many of the most efficient teams got excellent performances from very young, very cheap starting pitchers. The Marlins' staff (Willis [4.3m], Olsen [327k], Johnson[327k]) is a prime example, as is the Twins' (Santana [8.7m], Lariano [327k], Bonser [327k]) and the Athletics (Zito [7.9m], Haren [550k], potentially Harden in the playoffs [1.3m]).

So it's not necessarily the case that efficient teams are investing their money in their starters. Instead, they could be developing young starters -- and that the presence of good, young starters has such a large effect on winning that it drives the effects we're seeing with the payroll efficiency numbers. To really tease this apart, I'm going to need to do some additional work -- in a future post, I will try to revisit this by investigating actual payroll distribution (starters vs. bullpen vs. hitters) and seeing how those payroll decisions influence overall payroll efficiency.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tigers kick Yankee butt

The Reds have not been in the playoffs since 1995. In contrast, the Yankees have been there every year since 1995. This has really altered my approach to the offseason. There is no team in sports that I hate more than the Yankees. I hate everything they stand for. I hate their money, I hate their attitude, I hate the media's focus on them, I hate their effect on the game, I hate their success, and I hate their fans. So each year, whenever the Yankees get close to elimination, I find myself unable to think about anything else.

So tonight, instead of watching one of the two National League playoff games (I'm a National League baseball fan, through and through -- DH is boring), and instead of working on my upcoming season Reds stat recap, I'm sitting here glued to every pitch of the Yankees/Tigers game. Thus far, Jeremy Bonderman has thrown 6 shutout innings and the Tigers are ahead 8-0. I can't step away -- I'm so freaking excited!

I wouldn't put anything by that Yankees lineup -- it's the best lineup I've ever seen -- but you have to like the Tigers chances right now, as they are the best run-prevention team in the majors.

Some running impressions (I'm watching on Tivo tonight, so please, no spoilers):
  • I love that Andy Van Slyke and Don Slaught are coaches for Jim Leyland's Tigers. It really speaks to Leyland's history as a major league manager. I don't always agree with his decisions, but there's no question he's been at the helm of some very appealing teams over the years.
  • Sean Casey has been reminding me of his old (good) self tonight, especially with that rip down the right field line.
  • I love watching teams that can play genuine defense. The Tigers just look so solid, with great range in the outfield and good action in the infield. Craig Monroe has made one good, and one freaking amazing catch tonight. Nice to have a left fielder who can go get 'em like that. The Padres have something similar with Dave Roberts in left.
  • Bonderman seems to be inducing a lot of ground balls, which has resulted in a lot of chances for double plays -- although the balls have been hit so softly that they haven't been able to turn them.
  • I had hoped to see Zumaya tonight -- is he the hardest thrower of all time? -- but I'll just have to make sure I see another Tiger game during the playoffs.
  • After a bit of a last-minute rally at the hands of Posada, the Yankees are finished for the year. I'm officially happy with the 2006 playoffs. And the Tigers, with their young starters and impressive bullpen, look like a pretty darn good playoff ballclub.
  • Congrats to Marc Lancaster, a Detroit native, for finally getting to see his team performing and winning in the playoffs. Hope they win it.