Some thoughts on replacement level players

January 18, 2008

I’ll bring the discussion that John Bai started on LL over to HR. The topic is Freely Available Talent (or Replacement Players) v. Average players.

A few thoughts:
1. Success is defined in wins and losses, not wins per dollar spent. The second is rigged in favor of teams that spend less money.
2. Superstars rarely hit the open market. When they do they can pick and choose where they want to do. Most of the time they don’t want to go to losing teams (A-Rod being the exception).
3. Freely available talent is freely available for a reason. Greg Dobbs is an excellent example of this. Dobbs actually had a decent season last year, but who saw that coming? Except for Pat Gillick. In order for the Mariners to get a shot at such a player, another team must first decide they are of little value.
4. Billy Beane is a savant. Just because he is exceptional at pulling rabits out of the hat, doesn’t mean that the average GM, can be expected to do this on a regular basis.
5. Freely available talent matters more to small budget teams. Teams like the A’s need to get more out of every dollar than do the Mariners in order to get the same win/loss record.
6. This is a seperate argument than the one about prospects getting major league time. Replacement level players are from the Rick Short pool of AAAA ballplayers. Club controlled guys don’t factor into the freely available pool.

 Discuss…


Stick Your Head in the Sand

December 21, 2007

So, as I am sure is common knowledge at this point, the Mariners are signing Carlos Silva to a 4yr, 48m deal, and the Phillies signed Geoff Jenkins to a 2yr, 13m deal.

Let’s start with Silva. Silva projects by Bill James, Zips and some DIPS formula I have on my computer to be a guy with an ERA in the upper 4’s. He really is just not that good. His K:BB last year was 3.91:1.6, a lot of balls in play. The M’s defense was second worst in the AL last year (as measured by DER) and hasn’t really upgraded a ton. There is Adam Jones in left but older and presumably worse versions of Ibanez and Sexson to take away some of that improvement. The point of bringing up defense is that as USSM pointed out, he really isn’t a good fit for the Mariners. The park isn’t going to help him, the division isn’t going to help him, and the Seattle defense isn’t going to help him. If you’re going to sign below average pitchers, at least have some reason to believe (as with Washburn) that they might become average.

As I said, projections have Silva at an upper 4 ERA. A guy named Chone who writes a blog for the Angels has released some Minor League Equivalencies. Chone has a projection system that is up there with the rest and is a decently respected guy, so these equivalencies are probably pretty close to what any other MLE report will give you. These are the guys the Mariners have in their system that project to have an ERA under 5 based on last years Minor League stats:
R.A. Dickey 5.06 (I don’t even know what is up with that number being so high)
Jorge Campillo 4.01
Ryan Rowland-Smith 4.05 (as a reliever)
Justin Lehr 4.43
Robert Rohrbaugh 4.80
Ryan Feierabend 5.00

These aren’t to be taken as a declaration that Jorge Campillo is going to have a 4.01 era in the show next year. The goal is to show that between these 6 guys, one of them could have an ERA that is close to or even better than Carlos Silva. These guys are free; Silva is going to be taking in 12m a year. Why must this franchise so ardently resist youth? I don’t know the scouting reports on all these guys and I’m sure there are logical reasons to rule out one or two, but come on, give the kids a shot.

Geoff Jenkins annoys me, but I never got my hopes up to begin with. To start off with, as far as I know the M’s never said they were looking to upgrade their LF. Basically a guy on a blog said “get Geoff Jenkins and move Ibanez to first” and we all agreed it made sense. For whatever reason they were clearly dedicated to Ibanez in left so I really don’t think this was ever going to be a potential solution and we all should have known he wasn’t coming here. He would have been an upgrade. His offense is merely average, but he would have set off a great chain. Getting Ibanez out of left, getting Sexson off of first, and the slight improvement between Jenkins and Sexson/Vidro (whoever we could get rid of) would have probably netted a couple of wins.

Both of these indicate organizational philosophies that sadly are not likely to be corrected as long as the present regime is in charge of the club. Silva obviously doesn’t make sense. He is a below average pitcher who is really not helped at all by Safeco and spectacularly more expensive than any number of options (I listed in house guys, Lookout Landing has a guy, there are probably more out there that are cheap and as good as Silva). Brent astutely said a while back that free agency is paying for what you cannot develop, and the M’s are paying.

Jenkins made so much sense. He was cheap, born in Olympia, clearly an upgrade at multiple positions. The organization though decided that Ibanez wants to play left, so he gets to, regardless of if it hurts the team. The franchise overlooks potential improvements for the massive value it apparently finds in known commodities. It’s been a frustrating off-season.


The Price of Failure

December 20, 2007

With news that Silva is heading to the Mariners and the rumors of Jenkins to the Phillies, it only seems appropriate to discuss the consequences of failure. These signings cannot be viewed without looking at the recent histories of both franchises.

 

Seattle has not made the playoffs since 2001 and they haven’t made a big deadline deal to improve the team since 1997. All of this comes while being one of the most profitable franchises in all of baseball. Seattle won’t become a destination for players hoping to make the playoffs until they start making the playoffs. Seattle is a remote outpost and when the club isn’t winning things like the lack of national attention and

 

Philadelphia has only made the playoffs twice since 1993 but one of those two appearances was last year. Making the playoffs in recent history is very attractive to players at the end of their careers hoping to help a contender. Philly is an east coast market and

 

So what comes first: solid free agent signings or the playoffs? Success leads to more success and failure leads to more failure. For every player who is only concerned with getting every last dollar out of the free agent market, there are more players who are concerned with other things than money. Let’s examine these two contracts.

 

Carlos Silva probably signed with the team that offered him the most money (as Washburn did). Occasionally teams make players offers that are so good financially that they cannot refuse them. The Yankees, for example, use money of overcome most objections that players have to wearing the pinstripes.

 

But money doesn’t grow on trees and can’t buy you everything. $1 of Philly money has more value than $1 of Mariner money. Don’t believe for a second that a 2 year 13 million would have gotten it done with Jenkins. He’s never made the playoffs and two years with Philly gives him a chance at making it to the World Series before he retires. Father time isn’t going to be kind to Geoff so this is his last shot at being a starter on a playoff caliber team. Is Seattle making the playoffs in the next two years?

 

The blog-o-sphere can’t demand that the Mariners build for the future while at the same time insisting they sign players to bargain contracts. The sales pitch for teams trying to acquire players like Geoff Jenkins takes place in the months of September and October. Win and these players will be happy to come to Seattle. Lose and they will go somewhere else.


An Interview with John McLaren

December 18, 2007

Also posted at Prospect Insider 

 

I received a copy of John McLaren’s interview (thanks Jason) with the press at the winter meetings. McLaren takes a lot of guff from the fans here in Seattle and without a doubt this interview will give plenty of ammo to those who aren’t fans of Mac.

 

The first piece of information that can be pounced on was a response to question on Jose Lopez:

 

“I’m a Jose Lopez Fan. A few things got turned sideways for him last year. We just want him to play with passion every night. He’s got good ability. The rap on him was his defense, and I think he was one of the top defenders at 2nd base fielding percentage-wise, and we were very happy these and we just want to maximize his concentration at the plate and it the field to make him the best player he can be, which is going to make us a better team. That’s the only thing I am going to convey to him.”

So McLaren has cited passion and fielding percentage in the same paragraph, awesome. Taken at face value, these comments are horrible. In his defense, McLaren isn’t the kind of guy who is going to call out any of his players out by name. The sin here is not citing fielding percentage, but being too nice to play in a high stakes game.

 

On running more next season:

I think Betancourt has got the capabilities of being a 20-plus stolen base guy, and I know Adam Jones does too. I know with Ichiro and – I’m going to see if we can get more stolen bases. We had a pretty good percent last year, 81 and 30. We need to get up in the 120’s. Anaheim has more speed than us, we need to utilize our speed more. 

McLaren goes on to say that Ichiro could steal 80 bases next year. If the fantasy baseball league you participate in is a 5×5 that uses steals, it might be a good idea to look into someone like Yuni Betancourt for a cheap source of steals. These comments are troubling because unlike many other statements by the skipper this one is lacks qualification. It would have been appropriate to say that he doesn’t want the team being crazy on the base paths but wants them to take the extra base. This also is a clue that McLaren will select a bench with plenty of guys who can steal a base late in the game. Expect the Mariners stolen base totals to spike in 2008 but the percentage to drop. This is not a net gain.

 

On a Richie Sexson bounce back:

We need him because losing some offense with Guillen and with Adam in rightfield, Richie comes back to being Richie, it takes a lot of pressure off Adam, and it helps us out a lot. And Richie has got something you can’t teach. That’s the power and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It would be a good sign, seeing him do that again.

John McLaren is a positive guy, but this was not a positive statement. If Richie Sexson returns to the 40 HR range that McLaren says he can, this is a huge opportunity for the team to get better. I don’t believe for a second that McLaren believes in his heart of hearts that Richie is due for a huge improvement.

 

On Swinging at Strikes:

You know what? We’re going to stress for the first day for Spring Training just to work the count. You know, I mean, I’m not big into taking pitches and all this, that and the other. I want to get into hitters counts and take advantage of it.  If you look at some of the hitters stats on like a 2-0 count, (a) couple of them are pretty ugly. These should be hitter’s counts and they should be hitting for a higher batting average. 300 plus in a hitters count because it should be the pitch you are looking for. 

Even though the walk is not invoked, it’s hard to find fault in a message of “wait for your pitch and hit it”. These statements were the most encouraging in the entire interview.

 

Mariner fans should forgive Johnny Mac for not being a Hall of Fame manager. This guy isn’t going to win the Mariners a bunch of games by playing hunches correctly for an entire season. His in-game strategy isn’t going to earn him 5 minute segments on Baseball Tonight to breaking down his “genius”. What McLaren will probably favor is speed and versatility on his bench. Also, lots of aggressive base running which will make the Mariners exciting to watch, but won’t translate into many wins (and probably a few more losses).


From Guillen to Jones

December 14, 2007

All current indications seem to point to the Mariner lineup staying nearly static from the past year with a lone exception. This is going to be a rudimentary, quick peek into what we might expect from that one change.

In 2007, Jose Guillen batted .290/.353/.460. He was pretty lucky to have done so, with a higher than expected BABIP, but that’s tangential to our intended discussion here since Jose Guillen’s 2008 performance is not what we are concerned with. According to The Hardball Time, Guillen played 1273 innings and snagged 234 of 273 balls in zone and 34 out of zone. Taking the league rates for rightfielders, the average rightfielder would have gotten to 237.5 balls in zone and 47.5 out of zone. Adding these up and you get that Guillen made 17 fewer plays than our expected average defender over the course of 1273 innings.

With the performance in 2007 established, we move on to the more difficult part; projecting our 2008 performance. This is going to come primarily from Adam Jones. Jones is the subject of a few favorable projections already, notably ZiPS which pegs him as a .276/.335/.477 hitter next year. While I am sure that seems tad optimistic, let us not dismiss it outright, but instead delve a little deeper and see where we feel afterwards. Jones is not the easiest projection since he has such a limited big league sample to draw from. Luckily, I prefaced this entire investigation by saying it would be rudimentary so any statistical qualms I have are easily ignored. Are you not glad that I have such flexible morals?

Here is what we do know about Jones 147 big league plate appearances, spread almost equally between 2006 and 2007. Jones posted a 26.9% and 27.3% line drive rate each year. That is a very very good number, almost certainly too good to sustain itself. If they were done in seasons long enough to qualify, those numbers would rank 7th and 3rd highest respectively among single season line drive percentages over the past four seasons. In other words, unless you think Adam Jones is going to be the best line drive hitter in Major League Baseball next year, that number is going to come down.

How far down? For that, we turn to Jones’ Tacoma numbers where we get the benefit of an additional 886 plate appearances over the same time span. Those figures were lower in Tacoma, hovering a few ticks above 20%. That is still quite good if he can maintain that level. I am unsure if anyone has looked at how line drive rates move between AAA and MLB so for now, let’s just leave it as is and project a 22% LD% in 2008. Applying a (little less than standard) +11% to go from LD% to BABIP (not that robust, but again, good enough for this), we arrive at around a .330 BABIP.

We’re missing homeruns and strikeouts in order to figure out an estimate for batting average. Strikeouts are fairly straight forward; Jones Ks in about 29% of PAs over the course of his career. That’s going to improve with time, but in 2008 I would not count on much, let’s call it 28%. Jones hits groundballs at about a 40% clip, leaving us with 38% flyballs. Of those 38%. Jones smacked about one out of every five flybals over the fence in Tacoma, significantly less in Seattle. For 2008, I expect something in the middle and call it 13.5%. So in a 100 at bat sample, we expect something like 28 strikeouts, a little over five home runs and 67 balls in play yielding a little over 22 hits. Add it all up and you have a projected .272 average. It is worth reiterating that .272 accounts for a regression in line drive rate, virtually no progress in reducing strikeouts and just an average home run per flyball rate. The latter two points, middle especially, Jones could easily surpass.

For walk rate, I am just going to assume he holds at his 2007 level of 5.6% and that he both gets drilled and lays a sac down once every 100 PAs. That means 6.6 free passes per 100 PAs and 92.4 atbats giving us an on-base percentage of .318. For slugging, we’ve already anticipated homeruns, and using an average of 2006 and 2007 at both Tacoma and Seattle yields expected rates of 4.2 doubles and 0.9 triples per 100 at bats next season. Subtracting 5.1 from the 22.1 non-HR hits gives us 17 singles and a grand total of 48.63 bases in 100 at bats. Putting it completely together we have a .272/.318/.486 line for 2008. That is pretty close to ZiPS. The power output seems high to me, but again, you expect high power from somebody striking out nearly 30% of the time so if you think Jones is going to struggle hitting for power in 2008, you have to acknowledge that he might adjust and start going more for contact thereby reducing his strikeout rate and upping his batting average and OBP.

Turning to defense, Jones in 2007 played 176 innings and snagged 31 of 34 balls in zone and 8 out of zone. Taking the league rates for rightfielders (I understand Jones did not play exclusively in RF), the average fielder would have gotten to 29.5 balls in zone and 6 out of zone giving Jones 3.5 plays above average per 176 innings. Prorating that up to 1273 innings leaves us with 25 plays above average. That’s a 42 play improvement over 2007 Jose Guillen. Is that reasonable? Jones is a centerfielder playing rightfield, so we definitely expect him to be above average, but 25 plays? Half of that seems much more likely. That would roughly paint Jones as a league average centerfielder in terms of defense which seems about right for now.

One more time, there are huge sample size issues at stake here. Nonetheless I am just searching for a broad picture of what we might be looking at. Given the assumptions stated above the Mariners will move from a .290/.353/.460 hitter to a .272/.318/.486 hitter. Assuming 600 at bats (reasonable barring injury for a full time player) and using a simplified formula, we arrive at 92.7 runs created with Jones’ bat compared to Guillen’s 96.3 in 2007. So we lose 3.6 runs of offense. On defense however, we gained 29.5 plays, which works out to at least 23.6 runs using Tango’s established 0.8 runs = 1 play conversion. Funny how in the end we end up with nice round number, but there it is. -3.6 + 23.6 = 20 run improvement.


The Calm Before the Storm

December 12, 2007

Things have been deathly quiet on the news front but given todays news I think all-you-know-what is about to break loose.

 Hiroki Kuroda may or may not be heading to the Dodgers (depending on who you believe)- This is the big rumor for the Mariners front office. Kuroda signing with the Dodgers throws the offseason into chaos. The M’s need upgrade the rotation and Kuroda would have allowed the Mariners a position of strength in negotiating for Erik Bedard. Even the threat of signing Kuroda gives/gave the Mariners the leverage that it took to avoid being fleeced.

Tad Iguchi signs a one year deal with the Padres- If the Mariners were to package Jose Lopez in a trade, Tad Iguchi would have made an interesting stopgap for the club in 2008.

Fukudome is a Cub- If the Mariners need an outfielder after all the offseason wheeling and dealing, Fukudome would have been nice to have in the outfield.

The Real Story: Three Japanese players in potential positions of need for the 2008 Mariners are going elsewhere- Mariner fans are fond of the notion that Japanese players want to play in Seattle and that the ballclub can choose what Japanese players it wants. We have told ourselves that the exceptions are the players that want to go elsewhere. Maybe I was the only person to have this thought but I am re-evaluating this position: Ichiro and Kenji are the exceptions. The Mariners need to find new advantages because the Japanese pipeline appears to be drying up.

I expect dominos to begin falling (in Seattle anyway) sooner rather than later, because much of the Mariners offseason plan is wrapped up in Kuroda. His decision will force the Mariners to react. Reacting to the actions of others is not something this front office does well. They are good at drawing up a plan A, but they aren’t very good at Plan B’s.

Thank you for reading the site- Bookmark it, keep checking back and join in on the conversation. We (myself and the rest of the guys) love writing about baseball, but we also like discussing it with others. Join in on the conversation.

Welcome Aboard- I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome Matthew Carruth to the site. After several months of emailing back and forth (consisting of 4 total emails), Matthew decided to join the site and is a welcome addition. Great article on Bedard yesterday.


The State of Play

November 29, 2007

First off, sorry for the lack of posting. It’s been a difficult term at school. Now it’s the holidays, and I’ll be good.

The Mariners, as things stand, are not a good team. They might not even be an OK team – they fluked their way into a nice little season last year, but now the big worry is that the front office sees us as a true 88 win roster that needs minor tinkering to make the playoffs. This would be a pretty horrific mistake to make.

Where are the problems with our roster?

LF, 1B, DH, and 2 starter slots. If we accept Jose Vidro as essentially unmovable, we then have 4 problem spots on the roster. Not good.

Raul Ibanez is a liability in left field. He makes the occaisional spectacular (looking) play, sure, but he’s not very fast and takes some Byrnesian routes out there. Most defensive metrics have him as one of the worst left fielders in the game (and we’re talking Adam Dunn/Manny Ramirez territory). Replacing Ibanez in left with a merely average defender is probably a two win move by itself. However, rumours of the demise of Raul’s bat were heavily overstated. He absolutely carried the team from early August onward, and he’s exactly the sort of hitter that can thrive in Safeco – left handed and with reasonable pop, helped out immensely by the short porch in right. The Mariners really cannot afford to lose that from the lineup, unless someone seriously thinks Ben Broussard is the left handed sock for which we’ve been yearning.

At first, we have the much maligned Richie Sexson, who had the misfortune of slumping for the entire season, whilst playing first like his feet had been nailed to the ground. Will he bounce back offensively next year? Yep. He might even put up an OPS+ of over 100. But he’s being paid like a star, and if we’re really lucky he might end up as a below average first baseman next year.

As for the starters, is there anyone who wants Jeff Weaver or Horacio Ramirez back next year? No? Well, let me make a few points in their favour. Weaver first.

Jeff Weaver is a known commodity, and historically bad start aside, he was a decent #5 pitcher for us last year. Another point in his favour? He’d come really cheap, which is always nice.

Horacio Ramirez is young, relatively cheap, and left handed. If he magically acquires some talent this winter, I’d be all in favour of bringing him back. As it stand right now, he’d make an excellent ligament bank in case some of our players get hurt.

So what do we do?

Here’s my ideal scenario:

Milton Bradley on a 2 year deal, with Jeremy Reed/Wladimir Balentien as injury backup. When healthy, Bradley’s an excellent defensive outfielder with a good arm, and a very solid switch hitter. Unfortunately, he’s crazy and has a habit of breaking all the time, most recently while being tackled by his own manager. I still think he’s worth the risk: getting three centrefielders in one outfield would give us a defense the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2003, and they can all hit a bit too.

Richie Sexson to San Francisco, with us eating $8M of the contract, for whatever we can get. I know there’s a lot of scepticism around the blogosphere about Richie’s trade value, but if Brian Sabean doesn’t jump at the chance to add Sexson to his team for $6.5M, I’d be really surprised. That frees up some payroll to play with and also opens up first base for Ibanez to slot into. One think we have to watch out for here is getting a bad contract back – if you can’t completely get rid of him without getting something useless in return, keep Sexson on the bench and let him walk at the end of the season. Ibanez is a terrible defensive outfielder, and he’ll probably be a pretty bad first baseman, but that’s still a better package than Big Richie.

Re-sign Jeff Weaver for to two year $4M deal. No, I’m not insane, or at least I don’t think I am. This isn’t a huge investment. If he sucks again (I don’t think he will with the defense improved), just DFA his sorry ass and make him go away. If he doesn’t, well we’ve just bought low and patched up a spot in the rotation in an offseason where everyone’s clamouring for pitchers. RRS would be my first choice to replace him if things go pear shaped, and to that end he’d assume the long-guy role in the ‘pen. Morrow’s in AAA in this little dream-world of mine.

Explore some trade possibilities with the Rays (have you seen their new stadium, by the way?It’s absolutely gorgeous). Dave Cameron favours J.P. Howell, and I agree. I’d love Sonnanstine too, but that would be a bit of a stretch. The Devil Rays have a lot of starting depth, but they need a bit more bullpen help and perhaps a catcher too. I’d start at Eric O’Flaherty and Rob Johnson and see where that ended up (Clement, however, is off limits).

On paper, that’s a much better team than last year, and done without mortgaging the future away. We’d still be relying on Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix (and now Bradley’s health) to get us into the postseason, but I reckon that if Bavasi could execute the plan above, it’d be a very successful offseason.

Will he? Of course not. Hopefully nothing goes too badly wrong.

Feel free to flame me over the Weaver thing.

-Graham