Table of Contents

Monday, December 19, 2011

How much does Mat Latos matter?

Mat Latos
Image via Wikipedia
I'm still thrilled about the Latos deal.  I know I'm probably more down on Alonso than most others, and for that reason I'm probably wrong.  But the main loss I see in the deal is Grandal.  I love Grandal, but that's an acceptable price for an outstanding pitcher of Latos's age and contract.  It bears repeating: the contract is a huge deal.  Without it, Latos is a top-30 pitcher (maybe top-15).  With it, he's one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball.

The Reds' rotation is currently looking like this:
1. Latos
2. Cueto
3. Leake
4. Bailey
5. Arroyo I guess.
6. Wood/LeCure/Chapman

Latos and Cueto make a very good #1/2, and Leake/Bailey are solid mid-rotation starters if they can last the season.  Arroyo's sort of a disaster, but at least his xFIP was still in the mid-4 range last season.  I still think Wood can contribute something, and wouldn't be surprised to see him take Arroyo's job by the end of the season.

To me, this is an average to above-average rotation.  If coupled with good offense and good fielding, this should result in an above-average Reds ballclub.  And if they get to the playoffs, I feel pretty good having Latos and Cueto going 1 & 2 in the rotation against most rotations in the league.  And that's even acknowledging that I'm pretty skeptical of Cueto's 2011 season.

Does this trade make the Reds good enough to make the playoffs, though?

Last year, the Reds went 79-83 in what was a very disappointing season.  Baseball Prospectus's adjusted standings, however, has them at between 82 and 83 wins depending on which set of data you use (83 wins based on runs scored/allowed, or component stats...82 if you include strength of schedule).  While obviously the win that's on the books is what matters for last season, I tend to think (with some data to back this) that estimated wins are a better forecaster of future team performance.

Let's be simple-headed here.  Latos is essentially slotting in for what was replacement-level performances from Volquez and hopefully some of Arroyo's dreadful outings.  If we assume the rest of the team will perform as it did last year (it won't), and that Latos performs at his typical 3-4 WAR level next year, we can reasonably expect that this deal improves the Reds from an 83ish win team to an 86-87ish win team.

Is that enough?  The Brewers (90-93 wins by BPro-adjusted standings) and the Cardinals (88-90 wins) are both losing big pieces this offseason.  I expect that the Cardinals, at least, will replace Pujols with above-replacement production.  And there's a decent bet that the Brewers will do the same.  The Cardinals lose more by losing Pujols, but then they also are gaining a starter next year in Wainwright.  Therefore, I think that we can ballpark that both teams will drop 4 wins or so off their BPro estimated standings pace

This puts all of three of the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers in the 85-88 win range.  So we're back to a three team heat to start the 2012 season.  That's where I thought we'd be last season, so this is nice to see.  I guess.

To get the Reds to the point that they are the realistic favorites, however, they really need to add another significant piece.  Unless Mesoraco breaks out in a huge way (and it has to be huge to be an improvement, given how good Hernnadez/Hanigan were last year (~4 fWAR!)), I just don't see a position where the Reds stand to get better next season.  And declines are pretty likely at a few positions: hell, Phillips was a 6-fWAR player last year, which is awesome but quite likely his peak.  The most obvious candidate position for an upgrade is left field, though I will say that you can do worse than running Chris Heisey out there.

I don't know how realistic it is that the Reds could add someone who could make a big difference.  I don't think there's room in the budget for an impact signing, and free agent prices seem kind of crazy to me this offseason (3yr/$31.5 M for Michael Cuddyer?  Wow).  And in terms of trades, who do the Reds have left to deal after this deal?  I can see a team being interested in Travis Wood, but how much will they pay for him?  And is that return enough to ditch the Reds best insurance option in the rotation?  I'd be fine with trading away Juan Francisco or Billy Hamilton, but I think the Reds like them as much as any other team could be expected to.

My guess is that what we have is probably the team we'll see on opening day.  That's a team that can compete.  But I don't think they can be ranked as a favorite.  And frankly, I have this feeling that this team is held together by a shoestring.  I don't see a lot of depth to withstand injury here.  So, we'll hope for the best and see what happens.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A late look at the new CBA

The Major League Baseball logo.Image via WikipediaJust some thoughts on the new CBA, going item by item.

Astros move to the AL West, Interleague all season long.

I'm sort of "meh" on this.  I think Interleague is tremendously overrated by MLB.  Aside from the big ticket match-ups (Mets/Yankees, Cubs/ChiSox, ...  dare I say Cleveland/Cincinnati?), most of the series are no better attended than any other.  As a pure fan, though, I generally enjoy interleague.  I like seeing new teams and players throughout the year.  I do not like facing the Astros 18 times per season.  I haven't checked it, but my hope is for a more balanced schedule within the league with the addition of interleague.  Something tells me that's not what they have in mind, unfortunately, as that would mean less Yankees/Red Sox games.

From an analyst's point of view, one thing I always like about interleague is that it serves as a good way to weight the leagues against one another.  The AL has been dominant since roughly 2005 (before that, the leagues were close to even), and despite the constant protests to the contrary by the excuse-makers, I think it serves as the best measure of the league disparity that we have.

Also, I'm sorry for the Astros fans.  They're already a bad team.  This is not going to go well for them.

Expanded Wild Card system, both teams play in a 1-game playoff for access to the postseason.

I love this.  Love love love it.  I like the extra team in the playoff, though that's not the main point.  What I love about it is that this puts a huge premium on winning your division.  Previously, the wild card was essentially equivalent to winning a division.  Sure, you don't get home team advantage, but you aren't assured that anyway if you win your division.  Now, if you don't win the division, and you capture a wild card, you are subjected to an crazy, single-game playoff that determines whether you get to play in the real postseason.  This is far more of a wild card, and a far worse option than it previously had been.

Furthermore, despite the massively increased uncertainty that goes with a wild card, it also puts the wild card teams at a considerable disadvantage.  Most of the time, you would expect that the teams will have to throw their best starting pitcher in that single-game playoff.  This means that a wild card team, like, say, the Cardinals, won't be able to throw their ace as often in the next series.  In a five-game division series, we might be talking only one appearance.  That's a major disadvantage.

No more type A and type B free agent.  Now, compensation requires teams to offer a salary equal to the average of the top 125 players in the prior season.  

This is great.  First, the type-A/B system used on an absolutely horrible ranking system.  It was based, for example, on things like RBI's, stolen bases, etc, and varied by position.  That it goes away is a great thing.

Second, it removes a substantial penalty for signing mid-tier free agents.  A team like the Reds was unlikely to sign a free agent that would result in only a small upgrade but required compensation, as you might lose more out of your lost pick than you gain by signing a player.  This is good for signing teams, and is also good for the players themselves.  Some legitimately good players (Orlando Hudson a few years ago comes to mind) haven't been able to get a decent contract because part of signing them requires a team to give up draft picks.

Third, it still offers protection to small market teams who lose big money players.  When Joey Votto walks a few years from now (assuming they don't trade him), the Reds can still get compensation for his departure if they offer him a halfway decent contract.  This is the main point of free agent compensation, and my feeling is that this new system will work far better.  And there's still protection for top-10 picks, which means that teams in the bottom third the prior year have a slight advantage when it comes to signing top-tier free agents, in that they won't lose their first round pick.  That's great.

Teams that go over slot in the amateur draft will encounter a taxation system, based on the degree to which they go over slot.  And no major league contracts will be offered.

This is stupid.  Stupid stupid stupid.  The amateur draft, even after the rise in singing bonuses we've seen the lats few years, is still a drop in the bucket compared to other expenses of a major league team.  What this new adjustment fixes is that it reduces the degree to which the draft can be leveraged by small market teams as a means of procuring talent.  Going over slot, offering major league contracts, etc, are all ways that small market teams can add extra talent in an economically advantageous manner.

What this basically means is that, for the same amount spent in the draft last year, amateur players will get less money and poorer contracts next year.  That means that more players will opt to go to college, or pursue another sport, because the incentives aren't as good for baseball as they once were.  I see the main effect of this change a reduction in the talent coming into MLB.  I really don't understand how that can be good for the game.

MLB minimum salary goes from 411k to 500k.

It's a small thing, but it's almost certainly the case that 500k is still too little.  From the player's standpoint, this is a gross underpayment for services rendered.  But as the fan of a small market team, the fact that minimum salaries are still "only" a half of a million dollars means that the Reds have a shot at a contention against richer teams.  I'm reluctant to see that change for selfish reasons.

Instant Replay includes home run calls (as before), fair/foul calls, and trapped ball calls

Yay.  I'd like to see it expanded further, but these are baby steps.  We just need a tv/tablet viewable on the field, though...this running into the dugout thing is awkward.  Some of those umpires really should not run on camera.

Blood testing for hGH

As far as I can tell, this is a complete waste of time, money, and privacy (can privacy be wasted?  It makes sense to me).  I've yet to see a credible scientific study demonstrating that hGH has meaningful performance enhancing effects.  In fact, in acromegaly, which is caused by pathologically elevated hGH levels in adults, we actually see a weakening of muscles.  The data just aren't there--it seems to essentially be an extremely expensive placebo.  And the more expensive a placebo is, the more "effective" it will be.  If you want to ban it, fine--if nothing else, taking it is probably unhealthy.  But until there's scientific evidence that it actually has performance-enhancing effects, I don't see a reason to test for it.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I'm done, at least for this year

Cincinnati Reds Statue of Liberty, promotion f...I feel liberated.  Image via WikipediaA little over a month ago I wrote an impulsive little post describing some of my internal struggles with being a baseball fan, and especially being a fan of a particular team.  Baseball is a game designed to break your heart.  It builds you up, gives you false hope, and then crushes you.  I mean, look at what the poor Pirates fans are dealing with right now with their 10-game losing streak.  The point of the post is that investing emotionally in a team is a tough thing to do, and is usually a thing that will end up causing one anguish.  But I pledged to keep trying.

The Reds have gone 10-12 since the All-Star break, with nearly a third of those victories coming in one series against the Giants.  They've lost series to the Mets (swept!), Astros, and Cubs over the past two weeks.  It's been a rough haul.  It's only a couple of games below .500 in that stretch, but it feels much worse.

I think the one that finally broke me was the Mets.  Part of it was that I was at a work conference that week, so I had the awesomeness of what's going on in my scientific field contrasting with the misery of fandom staring me in the face all week.  And part of it was that it was the Mets, who I still haven't forgiven for 1999.  And part of it, I think, is that it was just time.  The Reds have done nothing to discourage me of this since that Mets series, despite the fun sweep of the Giants that weekend.

As it is, the Reds are 9.5 games out of first place.  There are still two very good teams in front of them.  They are, for all intents and purposes, out of the race.

I still think they are better than they've shown.  I'm going to continue to root for them to get back to .500 by the season's end.  And I will continue to try to do my little series preview bits for Red Reporter whenever I can.  But at this point, I've decided that it no longer matters to me personally if they win or lose.  I'm pulling my emotions out of it.

Instead, I'm going to watch the players I like, and enjoy some of the new faces we'll see.  I'm looking forward to seeing Sappelt play (couldn't watch the game today, though I was glad to see he picked up a hit), and I can't wait to see Devin Mesoraco next month.  There's still a lot to look forward to with this team as they build for a run in 2012.

If you haven't quite given up hope yet--good for you.  Don't let me dissuade you from that.  I'll be back with you next year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Answers for Reds Blogger Roundtable

This week, Blog Red Machine has organized a roundtable discussion of sorts that included many of the major Reds blogs.

Anyway, the nature of the beast dictated that many of the answers that I submitted were never published.  If they published everything that everyone submitted, the post would be too long.  So, since the original pieces have already run, I decided to publish all of my answers for those who may be interested.

The National League Central Division

1. I am of the opinion that the Pittsburgh Pirates are the division’s biggest surprise and that our Reds are the biggest disappointment. Would you agree or disagee? If you disagree with either, please state why.
The Pirates are hands-down the biggest surprise.  Unfortunately, I think they're unlikely to continue their success. But it's nice to see Pirates fans having fun in July for once.

The Reds have been disappointing, no question. But I think they are tied for disappointing-ness with the Cubs. I think most had the Cubs around .500 this year--not in the hunt, but respectable. Instead, they've been nothing short of dreadful.

2. What one player that plays for an NL Central team do you feel is the most underrated player within the NL Central and why?

Can I cheat and go local with Drew Stubbs? All I hear about when I watch broadcasts is his strikeouts. And they're frequent, no question--the Reds knew that they would be when they drafted him.  I see people talking about sending him down to AAA. But even so, his hitting line of .252/.323/.391 is better than league average (wRC+ of 102) in the lower offensive environment we're experiencing, and he plays outstanding defense in center field. FanGraphs has him as a 2 WAR player while B-Ref has him as a 1.6 WAR player already this season.
I think Drew Stubbs certainly has some room to grow on his performance this season, especially in the power department. But even as he has been this year (and last!), the guy has put up above-average major league numbers. I don't think that's the current perception.
If you want non-Reds, you can pick one of the other NL Central Center Fielders: Andrew McCutcheon, Colby Rasmus, or maybe even Marlon Byrd!
3. For the first half of the season, if you had to select an MVP just from the teams in the NL Central, who would that be?

There are about 7 guys that I think have a good case, but I'll go with Andrew McCutcheon.  He leads the division in both fWAR (fangraphs) and rWAR (at baseball-reference).  I'm a little skeptical of the WAR data, as I don't know if the fielding numbers that you see at FanGraphs or B-Ref are real.  In past seasons, his UZR, TZ, etc, have not been good.  But even so, he's leading the division in oWAR (WAR, ignoring the fielding), plays a premium defensive position, and is arguably the biggest reason that the Pirates are where they are.

4. And what about a Cy Young type candidate from those in the NL Central...Is there one?
There are a bunch of guys in the mix as tops in the division, but none of them holds a candle to Roy Halladay or his ilk. I'll go with Shaun Marcum in the Central, though. While Greinke got more press when he arrived, Marcum has been outstanding this year. He gets more than his share of strikeouts, doesn't walk anyone, and even hit a home run in his start last weekend. And he does all of it despite only having an upper-80's fastball. Also in the running: Johnny Cueto, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter and maybe even Kyle Lohse?

5. Finally, who is the division favorite for the remainder of the season and why...

There is no clear favorite.  BPro's playoff standings have the Cardinals odds to win the division at 46%, with the Brewers at 40%.  The Reds, meanwhile, have division-winning odds of 11%.  Interestingly, the Reds have the highest 3rd-order winning percentage in the NL Central (barely).  But their current win deficit, coupled with the fact that they're so close in quality level with those other teams, makes it pretty tough to compete.

I think the Brewers' rotation is being underrated in those rankings.  Greinke, in particular, is a major puzzle, and I think is likely to have a monster second half.  I don't see any team competing with that rotation, their offense is top drawer, and they even seem to be catching the ball better this year than in years past.  That's the team to beat, as I see it.  

That said, I also think the Reds have a run left in them.  Four games back is just not that big of a deficit, and Walt has done some interesting things at the trade deadline.  

Baseball In General

1.  No question that year after year we see at least one ASG starter voted in due to his popularity with the fans. And this year more than ever, we see many players pulling themselves out of the midsummer classic due to various reasons, ala the NFL Pro Bowl. Now, players that have no business playing are now participating. Is the ASG now migrating into a joke like the Pro Bowl?
It sort of depends on what you mean by "no business playing." Depending on the data you use, some guys can go from ridiculous selections to perfectly legitimate. Are you talking about performance in 2011? Most seem to think this should be the measure by which we judge worthiness, but I think it's ridiculous to put that much weight on 2-3 months of data.  Using only first half data means you're guaranteed to have guys riding lucky streaks into the All Star Game, which makes any complaints about worthiness seem silly to me. I'd prefer to at least use past calendar year stats (at least then we're not ignoring half of the players' work!), if not projections to pick the best players in baseball to represent in the game. But I realize I'm in a strong minority on that one.
As for guys bowing out, I really don't mind in the slightest. It's an exhibition game, and a player's season has to take precedence. No one should really care about who actually plays in the game or what actually happens anyway. I'd be concerned if one of my team's players played in the game out of some feeling of obligation when he really just needed to rest. The guys bowing out are doing their job.
2. Not many people like the fact that the ASG determines home field advantage for the World Series. What’s you best way to award home field for the WS?

I'd just give it to whichever team had the better regular season record, like they did from 1998-2002.  That makes it something that teams have to earn.  I also liked that wild card teams could never have home team advantage in the playoffs.  The current system is beyond stupid.

3. A big discussion was waged over that of interleague play. For or against and why...

I may be in the minority among blogger-types, but I've always enjoyed interleague. I like seeing new teams and players from the other league. And I enjoy playing the Indians every year. And it's fun to see teams have to adjust to a new set of rules for a handful of games, be it AL teams having to bench Travis Hafner and David Ortiz, or NL teams looking at their bench of defensive replacements and trying to find a DH in there.
Also, I love the wild card, and support adding a second one to the playoffs--especially if it screws up the wild card team's pitching rotation for the Division Series. And I think realignment is always fun to think about, although I didn't like the most recent proposal. But the DH sucks (see? I have some traditionalism in me!).
4. So it looks like the Los Angeles Dodgers could be yours in the not too distant future. Would you have a problem if Mark Cuban were to buy the team because apparently...a) he might be interested and b) baseball has not wanted him in the past. Mark Cuban as an MLB team owner. Thoughts...

People seem to love Mark Cuban because he lives a more public life than most owners and is apparently friendly to sabermetrics (at least, based on his basketball ownership this seemed to be the case).  I think most of the excitement about him is just hype.  He's clearly very good at manipulating public opinion.

I really don't have a strong opinion on him either way.  My goal for major league baseball would be to make sure that whoever is allowed to buy the team would buy it and run it as a viable business rather than breaking it into pieces and extracting all of its value like the McCourt's did with the Dodgers.  I'm not in a position to know whether Cuban would be good in that respect or not.  Probably.  But is he the best option for the Dodgers?  I have no clue.

5. You’re a GM of a team. You can make a deal for one player for your team, no restrictions. Who ya got and why?

Is this completely open ended, i.e. pick the player you'd most want in baseball and don't worry about who you have to send away to get him?  If so, I'll go with Evan Longoria.  He's probably the best (offense + fielding) third baseman in baseball moving forward, and his position has become unbelievably shallow.  And he has the most team-friendly contract in the history of major league baseball.  The guy is in his fourth year, and is making $2 million.  Next year, he's making $4.5 M.  He'll make a total of $12.5 million over the next three years, and then the Rays have three MORE years of very reasonable club options at $7.5 million, $11 million, and $11.5 million.  If you're going to build a team around a guy, get the guy who is both awesome at baseball and is locked into a deal that is waaaay below market value.

The Reds

1. We’ve all thought (or most of us anyway) that the Reds are just a move or two away from repeating as NL Central champs. What are those moves?
I think we're all going to have the same answer: starting pitching and shortstop. I don't know if Zack Cozart is going to hit--hope so, but he's not elite-level talent. I do wish we would have had a few months to figure that out. But shortstop has been a huge black hole in the line-up, and upgrading to someone like Jose Reyes could mean a 3 win boost to the Reds in just a half-season. That's an enormous upgrade.

The Reds could also use a top of the rotation starter. I think the Reds' rotation is better than it has shown thus far, so if it's going to be upgraded I think you really need a top-flight talent. A #3 starter isn't really a meaningful upgrade as I see it, because the Reds may well get that kind of performance in the second half from the guys they already have. Erik Bedard should be available, but he's hurt (though with a leg injury, not arm), expensive, and will only have a start or two before the trade deadline to show he's healthy.  
Rumors surfaced yesterday that the Reds are interested in Ubaldo Jimenez. I don't think the Rockies would be interested in trading him, as he's done well in Denver, has a good contract, and the Rockies should be good next year. But if he can be had, I'd give pretty much anything in the Reds' farm except for Devin Mesoraco for him. Would Leake/Grandal/Alonso/Frazier do it? I'm not sure, but I'd pay that for a guy like Jimenez. 8+ career k/9, 50% career GB%, and an acceptable walk rate? Yes please.
2. Most frustrating aspect of the 2011 Reds is...
The fact that their rotation has just not come together like it should have. This is a talented group of pitchers, and they have as a group underperformed both their projections and their peripheral statistics. I expected the Reds' starting depth to overcome their lack of an ace, but instead of a bunch of #3's we've had a bunch of #4-5's. That's the biggest difference between what they've done and what I expected to see this year. Maybe we'll get something else in the second half...hope so.

3. Assign a letter grade for the following (and yes, you can explain your grades):

a. Dusty Baker: B. I really don't hate the guy like so many seem to. I think he's a terrific clubhouse presence, and has done a good job of defending and supporting his young players throughout his time with the Reds. While I disagree with some of his moves, I haven't been consistently frustrated with something this year like in years past. I'd like to see Heisey get a lot more PA's than Gomes over the rest of the season, and I'd like Cordero to not pitch when the Reds have more than a three run lead (warmed up or not). But those are really my only complaints.

b. Walt Jocketty: B-. I don't like making moves for the sake of making moves, and Jocketty isn't someone who does that. I think they've done well in using a patient approach to handle both Volquez's struggles and Chapman's. Willis has looked like a good find, and I think the Reds' outfield situation has been a best-of-a-bad-situation thus far. He hasn't made any desperation trades (yet). I think you have to give him credit for building what he has, and sticking with it. But I doubt I'll ever understand what the heck took so long with Cozart. That move came at least a month late. I don't know if it really will matter, but it's frustrating. I also would hope we'll see him make a move soon to bring in some talent...this grade is based on the assumption that he will do something.
c. Bob Castellini: A. For the most part, he's cheered the team on and kept his bottom out of the front office's business. That's what I want from an owner.
d. the Reds fans: C. I'll just say despite it all, we're four games back people!

4. You’re Walt. Brandon Phillips: extension or no? Why?

I love Brandon Phillips. Good bat, good fielding, important position. So yes, I'd be interested in extending him. But the question is the price tag, right?

Without doing anything rigorous, I'd project Phillips to be something like a 3 WAR player next year in his age-31 season. If we do a five year contract extension, and apply a "standard" 0.5 WAR/yr aging curve, and include inflation, Phillips would be worth somewhere in the vicinity of five years/$60 M. That's a big chunk of change, but he's probably worth that price. Assuming there's room in the Reds' budget for it...

That's pretty similar to Dan Uggla's 5 yr/$62 M deal, of course. I'm sure that deal will be front and center in Phillips' negotiations, and so far, that's not going very well for the Braves (which might be good for the Reds). But Phillips is a very different kind of player than Uggla: Phillips has some power, but is also very athletic and gets a lot of value from his fielding. Hopefully he won't drop off a cliff like Uggla apparently has.

Even if not extended, I pick up Phillips' option. If he's a 3 WAR player next year, he's probably worth $16 M or so, and the Reds would "only" have to pay $12 M. It's a pretty obvious move, I think.
5. It’s highly unlikely Francisco Cordero will be back next season (and I suppose a decent portion of the fanbase is glad for that), who’s the closer for 2012 and going forward?

Who's available as a free agent? I could survive with Nick Masset or Logan Ondrusek as a closer, but ideally you'd like someone who has a bigger arm. Maybe the Reds could acquire someone like Matt Thornton...?

I'm sure the Reds will probably look to Aroldis Chapman to be the closer next year provided he doesn't stink in the second half. They shouldn't. See below.

6. Should Aroldis Chapman be in the minors working on becoming a starter (provided you did NOT say Chapman was the answer for #5)? Is the starter’s role where he would benefit the organization the most?

Yes.  If a pitcher has a shot to be a successful starter he should be used as such until such time that he proves he's incapable of doing that.  Even average starters are as valuable as most of the better closers.  Closers pitch during important times in ballgames, but the number of innings they throw is so small compared to the number of innings starters throw that it's really no contest.  If a closer throws 70 innings and a starter throws 210, the closer's innings would need to be THREE TIMES as important as the starter's.  We can measure that with Leverage Index, and, in general, closers' innings are roughly twice as important.  

Chapman should be starting.  That would give the Reds a guy who is capable of being a top of the rotation pitcher if he can find a change-up.  Don't the Reds have to see if that can happen?

7. A silly question, really. Who wins a Reds only HR Derby?

Bruce!  Votto's got tremendous power, but I think Bruce has him beat in terms of raw muscle.  I'd love to see this.  The Reds should do this sometime...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why fandom?

One of the things that came up in the Reds Blogger Roundtable today was a grade for the Cincinnati Reds' fans.  Generally speaking, the bloggers were not particularly complementary of ourselves.  Too impatient, too much complaining, bitching... etc, etc, etc.

That's probably all true.  I'm not sure that other fanbases are all that different, but I've seen a tremendous about of griping and complaining this year.  I've run across people who use their twitter accounts to do nothing but rant about the team, and put down anyone expresses anything positive about the team.  It really makes one wonder why they even follow the team when it clearly causes them so much anguish.

That's a question I've been asking myself lately.  Following Wayne Krivsky's firing in 2008, I sort of stepped back from the Reds for a while.  I'm always going to be a fan; the team is basically family, and being a Reds fan is a part of my identity.  But it's definitely the case that I didn't pay nearly as much attention to them on a day to day basis during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  I'm sure I checked the score every day, and watched the few games that came onto TV.  But I was spending at least as much time being a baseball fan as I was being a Reds fan.

Last year, it probably took until July before I really started to believe that this team might win.  That's when I started following every inning again.  And this year, I went all in with an package, which I have used to watch at least part of almost every game this season.

It's been a lot of fun.  But it's also been mind-bogglingly frustrating at times.  Maybe I don't scream quite as loud as some others, but when the Reds are losing it can put me in a pretty negative mood.  There are other things that I enjoy doing besides watching the Reds blow it...things that are pretty much guaranteed to make me happy and put me in a good mood.  So why do I bother?

I guess the answer is that the good times, when they happen, are just so incredibly good that they keep you around during the bad times.  It's sort of like an abusive relationship that way.  But when Jay Bruce hit that home run last September, I don't think I've felt that amazing since I saw Todd Benzinger jumping up and down after he caught the ball in 1990.  At least, not from a baseball game.  That's the kind of payout you're looking for when you emotionally invest in a team.  But when you do it, you also open yourself up to anguish when they utterly and completely fail.

As I write this, the Reds are now parked 4 games behind the Brewdinals.  I'm trying to gear myself up for the second half.  So I look at the numbers, and I see that the Reds' overall performance, as measured by run differential or their component statistics, is right there with those two teams.  And I know that a four-game deficit just isn't that much when there are still two and a half months of games left.  And that the Reds have some terrific depth from which they can deal to upgrade the team.  The Reds' losses have been painful lately...but a couple of big series, and they can be right back in this.

The question is, am I ready to go all in with this team in the second half?  I honestly don't know if I can.  But I'm going to try.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who is an All-Star?

Tuesday, I had a piece run at Hardball Times that used projections to pick the participants in the All-Star Game.  The premise is to get away from just using 2-3 month samples to select our players, and instead use projections to pick the players who have the most talent.

One alternative to doing this, which came up in a round-table discussion between myself and Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on this subject, is to instead choose players based on past calendar-year performance.  The advantage here is that it's a bit more straightforward: assuming we can properly measure everything that happens on the field (that's a big if!), all a player needs to do is produce better than the other players in the league at his position to get the nod.  We don't have to worry about aging curves and regression and luck.  Just produce, and you'll be rewarded.

Here's a comparison for how the three approaches would differ (and be similar), comparing my projection-based roster to one according to FanGraphs' WAR Calendar-Year splits, as well as Vince Caramela's first-half All Star selections.

American League

PositionTrue Talent All StarPast-162 G All StarFirst-Half All Star
CJoe MauerVictor MartinezAlex Avila
1BMiguel CabreraAdrian GonzalezAdrian Gonzalez
2BBen ZobristIan KinslerHoward Kendrick
3BEvan LongoriaT-Adrian Beltre & Evan LongoriaAlex Rodriguez
SSYunel EscobarAlexei RamirezJ.J. Hardy
LFJosh HamiltonT-Brett Gardner & Josh HamiltonJosh Hamilton
CFCurtis GrandersonCurtis GrandersonCurtis Granderson
RFJose BautistaJose BautistaJose Bautista
SPFelix HernandezJustin VerlanderJustin Verlander
RPMariano RiveraJonathan PapelbonJonathan Papelbon

While you see different names in many of the positions, if you go back and look at my THT article, every single one of the FanGraphs' WAR picks are within the top tier of the projections.  The same is true if you look at the FanGraphs' WAR leaderboards.  Most of the time, even when there's disagreement, the true talent selection is very close.  Heck, at 3B and LF, they were in a tie with someone else!

On the other hand, we do see some putative small-sample selections in the first-half All Star picks.  Alex Avila's an interesting player and has had a great first half, but he ranks 7th by projections and is in a tie for second by the past-162 splits.  Howard Kendricks' even more extreme, ranking 11th by projections (behind even guys like Nishioka and Jason Kipnis) and 4th by past-162 game WAR.

National League

PositionTrue Talent All StarPast-162 G All StarFirst Hall All Star
CBrian McCannBrian McCannBrian McCann
1BAlbert PujolsJoey VottoPrince Fielder
2BChase UtleyRickie WeeksRickie Weeks
3BRyan ZimmermanChase HeadleyTy Wigginton
SSTroy TulowitzkiTroy TulowitzkiJose Reyes
LFMatt HollidayMatt HollidayMatt Holliday
CFAndres TorresMichael BournMatt Kemp
RFJayson WerthMike StantonLance Berkman
SPJosh JohnsonRoy HalladayRoy Halladay
RPMike AdamsCarlos MarmolCraig Kimbrel
There were two fairly major disagreements here between the projections and the past calendar year picks.  First, Chase Headley at 3B by FanGraphs' WAR, who ranked 10th in the projeciton rankings (Zimmerman ranked 2nd by FanGraphs' WAR).  The second was Michael Bourn in CF, who ranked 12th in the projection rankings (Torres ranked 6th in the WAR rankings).  Beyond that, again, there was good agreement pretty much across the board.

Among the first-half All Stars, the biggest outlier pick is Ty Wigginton, but Chase Headley would be my selection based on the extra playing time this season if nothing else.  You can also complain about Lance Berkman, although he was effectively in a tie with Jason Werth for the projection's choice...and a lot of his merit comes down to how good (or bad) you think his fielding is.

In the end, I have no argument with people who want to use past-162 game splits.  In most cases where they disagree with projections, they do so within the margin of error in either measurement or projection (or both).  Where they disagree, however, I side with the projections.  They seem more obviously to be selecting players with the best talent, and those are the players that I prefer to see make it to the All Star Game.

But insisting on using first-half statistics to justify an all-star game roster?  There, I just don't get it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

BPro's nFRAA: 2008-2011 Averages

Data-dump post!

I pulled together three+ year (2008-2011) nFRAA averages for all players who have played in 2011 and have at least 150 PA's during that time span. The left side of the spreadsheet just reports those totals, and a per-season rate (per 700 PA's instead of innings, since that's how BPro lists it in their spreadsheet).

I also did a very unscientific "regression" of sorts on the data. The values reported at BPro are already regressed within each season based on their performance. However, if we're trying to infer something about talent level--which is the point of a 3-year average in my view--there is even greater uncertainty than with a performance/value estimate. Therefore, I've required that players effectively have 2.5 seasons of data here before we use their straight up 3+ year average. If they have less, I regress toward average in proportion to how much data we do have. Why 2.5 seasons? It's just a wild-ass guess, but it feels about right based on the data. If you don't like it, that's ok--this is why I'm reporting all of the data. You can use whichever per-700 PA stat you wish, or come up with your own way of making an adjustment. Just please be very wary of the raw per-700 PA numbers for guys with less than a few seasons of data.

One qualifier: I was a little sloppy in that I assumed all PT occurred at the player's primary position, as listed in BPro's table. Obviously, this is not true, and for some players it will result in erroneous estimates. For most players, however, I think it's probably close enough for my purposes.

Another: I'd hope this goes without saying, but please don't just use this as the be-all end-all estimate of a player's fielding performance. I would tend to be fairly skeptical of Jose Lopez's performances, for example, given how different they are from other measures and his reputation.  But it's good data, and worth considering as you evaluate a player's fielding skills.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Five tidbits from a road trip

I've been traveling to and from Disney World this past week, which explains my inactivity just about everywhere. I've been able to keep tabs on Reds games (mostly), but that's about it. Even neglected my daily ottoneu team for a few days...

Anyway, this morning I got a USA today at our hotel. Have to say, while I look at online box scores all the time, and I love all the additions that FanGraphs (for example) has added to them, there's nothing like looking through all 15 games' boxscores at a time like you can in a newspaper.

A few things caught my eye today (though none from the boxscores!):

1. Mike Lopresti had a nice column on the end of Dolphins stadium. I hadn't realized that the new Florida stadium will be accompanied by a brand change to the Miami Marlins next year. That's going to screw up my spreadsheets. Also, does it mean the Marlins' abbreviation will be MIA? 'Cause that's funny.

2. I'm thrilled that the Reds' sweep of the Dodgers coincided with losses by the Brewers and Cardinals.

3. It's June 17 and the Pirates are 2 games over .500. I don't believe that they'll contend, but a .500 season seems far more likely for them than I anticipated in the spring.

4. The Chris Snyder story is awful: wife attacked in traffic dispute while he's helpless in car due to back surgery. Sounds like she's fine, but that would suck.

5. Former Red Zach Stewart made his debut last night for Toronto. I think it'd be hard to argue that the Rolen deal wasn't successful already given that the Reds made the playoffs last year with a substantial boost from Rolen. But this is what the Reds gave up in the deal if you assume Eddie Encarnacion was replacement level. Did the Reds give up a middle-of-the-rotation starter? Or just a fringey #5 starter? Stewart had seen his stock rise a lot in the year before the deal, and I've been thinking that the Reds sold high on him. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Too bad the Reds won't face him this weekend with Toronto in town.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

2010 Reds Draft Review

Thundering Turtle at Red Reporter has an amazing review of the players that the Reds drafted this week.  I just wanted to take a shot at couple "visuals" of the draft, based on his work.

First, drafted players by position.  Key: P=SP, R=reliever, 1=1B, 2=2B, 3=3B, S=SS, O=OF, C=C.  If there's question, I listed a player by his "more valuable" position.  This includes a lot of pitchers who may be starters but are probably actually going to end up relievers.


I haven't looked at a lot of drafts this way, but this looks like a pitching-heavy draft to me (pitchers shown in red).  Here's the breakdown by position:

SP (P) = 20
RP (R) = 8 (including at least 3 of the first 10)
C = 2
1B = 1
2B = 4
3B = 4
SS = 3
OF = 8

1B's are generally only drafted if they can hit, so we don't have a lot of pure hitters in this draft (if any).  The #2 pick (Gabriel Rosa OF) and the #5 pick (Ryan Wright 2B) are probably the best--Wright is reportedly an offense-oriented second baseman.  In a sense, this is a good thing: guys that start on the left side of the defensive spectrum can move to "easier" positions if their bat develops, but 1B's do not move up.

What about HS vs College?  Here's a list on the pitchers:


So the Reds started with a high-school arm, but then definitely leaned college most of the rest of the way.  I think it's probably normal to draft more college arms over the full draft.  There were a few HS players taken late as possible over-slot guys.



The ? is Yordanyz Perez, a 27-year old Cuban outfielder.

The Reds seemed to go pretty even between college and high school in early rounds, lean college in middle rounds, and then go high-school in late rounds.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reds 1st pick is Robert Stephenson

Given their low draft position, I was hoping that someone would fall down to the Reds, and they in turn would pull a Pirates draft and sign their guy over slot.  That doesn't seem to be what happened here (though he may well require over-slot money), but it's not like the Reds were reaching either.

From what I've gathered, Robert Stephenson is a hard throwing right-hander with a good frame and three pitches: fastball, curve, change.  They showed a change-up on the Reds broadcast, and it had decent looking movement on it in on the hands of a right-hander, although it is reported his 3rd best pitch.  His MLB video only shows fastballs (as far as I can tell), and he reportedly sits 93-95 mph and has hit 97 or 98.  Reports are good on his control (given his age), and at least one person out there thinks that some mechanical tweaks can improve it even more.  Could be true, could just be someone talking...  Also unquantifiable is his makeup: 4.2 GPA*, reportedly works hard at baseball, is coachable, etc.

* For what it's worth, as an educator, I'm not a fan of the extra-credit-on-your-GPA classes.  I know some high schools do this for AP classes.  Others do it for A+'s.  I just find it annoying, because you really have no idea what's going on behind that GPA when someone's in the 3.7-3.9 range.  They might be taking "hard" classes, but getting B's.  That's not necessarily going to translate well into college.  But whatever.  At least in Stephenson's case, we know he did great.

All reports are that he's signable (if you pay him enough), so I expect the Reds to get this done.  Might take going a bit over slot, but I always support doing that when it's necessary to get good talent.


In general, I'm not crazy about HS pitchers from a risk standpoint.  But at the same time, that's definitely where the upside is these days.  The old Moneyball/Bill James mantra that HS pitchers aren't worth it is no longer holding true in the data, and for a pretty simple reason: signing bonuses are high enough now to convince the truly elite talent to sign out of high school, whereas they used to get comparable value from a college scholarship.*

* As an aside, this is precisely why a hard slotting system is a bad idea: the current system allows MLB to get the top athletes into baseball before they either go to college or have a chance to sign with another sport.

Kevin Goldstein has the philosophy that you draft for upside because most teams can't sign elite guys as a free agent, and trading for them requires you to give up similar amounts of talent.  There's a lot of truth in that.  And with the Reds picking at a franchise-record-lowest 27th overall this year, you're not going to find safeish, high upside picks at this point in the draft.  So rolling the dice and going after a high school arm with top of the rotation potential is an ok gamble to me.

Of course, I'm sort of making judgments in a vacuum here, as I don't follow amateur baseball at all, and I don't know what else was out there...I'm not really even qualified to have an opinion. ;)  But the last Reds' draft pick to completely bomb was Chris Grueler in 2002.***  If you look at the current Reds squad, their top picks since 2004 are a major part of what has gotten them to be where they are: Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, (soon) Devin Mesoraco, and Mike Leake.  They've clearly built up a track record, so I think they deserve to be trusted.

*** A careful reader would note that the Reds have taken two right-handed high school pitchers since 2002. One has been a modest success in Homer Bailey.  The other is Chris Grueler.  50% is pretty good performance on a HS arm, but that's what we're dealing with here.

Resources on Robert Stephenson (will add more as I go)
Marc Hulet:
Reds: Robert Stephenson, LHP (California HS): Stephenson doesn't currently have the ceiling of some of the other prep arms available but he's received first round consideration from teams looking for signability. He's said to have solid control but I don't like the all-out effort in his delivery. In one video segment on, his hat nearly flew off his head during his delivery - on more than one occasion. His curveball and changeup need a fair bit of work but his fastball can reach the mid-90s.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A WBC League (a whimsy)

Several years ago, I put together a custom OOTP baseball league file that was loosely based on the World Baseball Classic.  As I remember, it was a 28-team system (WBC teams, plus a bunch of others I added for fun), two leagues, 3 divisions each, and each team represented a different country.  It was awesome--custom team names, unis, logos, etc.  I think the file has probably vanished into the ether by now...

Anyway, with the news that the 3rd WBC has been expanded to 28 teams, I thought it would be fun to run through the exercise again.

The list of countries can be found in this's a difficult task to make it work.  The main reason is that the teams divide pretty obviously into three major geographic groups: Western Hemisphere (11), Eastern Asia/Australia (8), and Europe/West Asia/Africa (9).  That invites the creation of three separate leagues, with occasional interleague play to keep things interesting outside of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, odd-numbered leagues don't work well scheduling-wise, so I opted to move South Africa from the Europe group over to the Western group.  This is justifiable: South Africa is roughly the same distance from Israel (closest in "Europe" group) as it is to Brazil (closest in Western group).  Unfortunately, the most distant flight will be 1000 miles greater for South Africa under this system.  Sorry, South Africa!  If they opt to withdraw from the league, they would probably either invite a new Western country or just add a second USA team.

So, that gives us three leagues with two to three divisions of 4 teams each.  Here's the layout:
Eastern League
Imperial League
Colonial League
Pacific Division
New Zealand
Chinese Taipei
Eastern Division
Czech Republic
Caribbean Division
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
Asian Division
Western Division
Great Britain
Northern Division

Southern Division
South Africa

Here are the divisions visually:

Team Composition and Finances
  • To keep the nationalistic flavor of the league intact, teams would be required to have at least 5 players from the home country on the 25-man team roster.  The other 20 could be from anywhere (still want very high quality of play).
    • Eligibility for home country would follow rules similar to that used in the WBC (i.e. very permissive, but there has to be some legitimate claim).
    • Allowances for temporary drops below this number would be permitted in cases of injury.
  • Substantial revenue sharing would exist to subsidize the budgets of poorer teams.
    • TV contracts would be run entirely by the governing body of the league, and profits would be distributed equitably across teams.
    • The league would subsidize 10% of a player's salary when he signs with a home-country team.  If the TV contracts don't cover this, teams would need to pay into a revenue sharing system.
In-Season Play
  • Teams would compete within their own league, with an unbalanced schedule favoring division rivals.  
  • Because of the difficulty of travel, teams would face off in five-game series (Wed through Sun) throughout the season.  There would be two days off permitted between each series to allow for travel/acclimation.
  • The basic schedule guidelines would be:
    • 60 games within division (two rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away with each of the three teams within the division)
    • 60 games outside of division (six rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away, spread across 4-8 teams)
    • 20 games outside of league (two rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away, spread across three teams)
  • This gives us 140 games across 28 weeks.  That spans roughly 6.5 months, and so would be a tad longer than MLB's season (although with 22 fewer games because of the off-days).
  • The season would run from ~July through mid-January.  Teams in temperate countries, or countries with substantial wet/dry seasons, would need to play the majority of their home games when the whether is appropriate unless they build climate-controlled, covered stadiums (retractable roofs would be mandatory, of course).
Playoff Structure
  • Each division winner would be guaranteed a playoff slot.  That gives us 7 playoff teams for a traditional three-stage playoffs.  
  • The eighth team would be chosen from four wild card teams (based on best overall records of non-division winners), who would compete in a College World Series-style, two-losses-and-you're-out tournament in a single location (would rotate around the three leagues each year).  
  • The remaining playoffs would be typical best-of-7 series, again with two days off in between each game for travel.
Some notes & implications
  • Pitching rotations would be interesting.  I suspect that many teams would attempt to throw their ace starter in the first game and then on short rest in the 5th game during important series.  This could be done every third series to give the starter (alternately) three days rest, four days rest, and seven days rest.
  • Because the season is shorter, it would take a bit less skill to win a division than in MLB.  That said, the talent disparities may be greater among teams than in MLB because of the 5 home country player requirement.  I would expect better teams to win more often than not.
  • Some divisions will feature lower levels of competition than others.  The Northern, Carribean, and Asian Divisions should be very competitive.  The Imperial League divisions will probably be less so.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Musings on the World Baseball Classic Expansion

The World Baseball Classic is apparently expanding from 16 to 28 teams.  The wrinkle is that those 12 new teams, plus four of the mainstay countries in the last tournament, will compete in a "play-in" round during Fall 2012.  Four teams will emerge from this round to enter the main tournament in Spring 2013.

So, the teams guaranteed a spot in the Spring 2013 tournament are:
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
United States

They'll be joined by four of:
Chinese Taipei*
South Africa*
Great Britain
New Zealand
Czech Republic
* = played in 2009 WBC

The "play-in" teams will be divided into four pools.  I don't know how that is going to work, but here's a guess, simply based on time zone geography:

Eastern Europe
Czech Republic
South Africa*
Eastern Asia
Chinese Taipei*
New Zealand
Western Europe
Great Britain
Obviously the regional names are poorly chosen, as there are countries that don't fit.  But it helped me keep track of things to use a geographic name.  The biggest oddball is Canada, but I unfortunately don't see a way to put it in the "Americas" group with all of those countries being so close to one another.  Aside from that, it makes a lot of sense, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the WBC follow this very scenario.  It also has the advantage of having one "incumbent" team in each group.  Without knowing a lot about international baseball, I'd guess that they also would represent the putative favorites in each pool--although South Africa would seem to be the weakest of the bunch.  There was a small league (for a year) in Israel, and I'm pretty sure that Germany has some kind of semi-pro baseball league.

Anyway, I don't know how this will all shake out, but I enjoy thinking about stuff like this.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Scorecard - 5/29/11 Braves over Reds

Kept score.  It was a fun game to watch, except that the Reds didn't win it.  I don't know if Janish was safe either.

The general state of the Reds fan right now seems to be one of anger and frustration, with a tad of hopelessness.  I feel a bit of that, though at the same time I feel like the team is still showing signs of quality.  They still play good defense.  Their offense is still at least average.  And their pitching, I think, is better than the on-field results indicate.  It doesn't help that 2/5 of the expected rotation is injured (and roughly that ratio has been injured all year), and they're in the middle of this this streak of...what, 34 games in 35 days?  The team still has resiliency, and has good pieces all over the place.  The might just not have enough great pieces.

But all's not lost.  They're only (as I write this) 4.5 games out.  If Arroyo's back is ok, and if Volquez can indeed get at least back to competency, their rotation might finally start to stabilize.  Really, one good winning streak, and the Reds are right back with there with the Cardinals.  Right now, BPro's PECOTA projects the Reds to finish with 82 wins.  THT's Oliver has them at 88 wins.  I think that represents the most likely range of possibilities from here on out...though if they're out of that range, I think they're more likely to miss low than high.

As for me and this site, I think I may try to post here a bit more often for now.  It's fun to have my own place to ramble again, even if no one reads it.  But my main outlets will continue to be at Red Reporter and Rotographs.  Speaking of which, I have started doing series previews at RR.  Last week's was on the Braves, while today's is on the Brew Crew.  I also appeared in FanGraphs Audio last week.  Havin' fun...