Friday, December 12, 2003

Pass The Pepto 

With the announcement yesterday that Andy Pettitte had signed with the Astros, you would have thought someone had shot the President. As I listened to ESPN Radio, Yankee fan after Yankee fan called in with over-the-top melodrama such as:

"I feel sick to my stomach."
"This is a dark day for the New York Yankees."
"The Yankees as we know it are over."

I've never seen such remorse over the loss of a number-three starter. I mean, for a guy with a career ERA that approaches 4.00, Yankee fans were reacting as if all of George Steinbrenner's millions blew away and took the Yankees' 26 World Championships along with them. I talked about how overvalued Andy Pettitte is yesterday, and Rob Neyer has written an excellent piece on it as well. He argues, quite convincingly I might add, that the recent addition of Javier Vazquez and the impending addition of Kevin Brown will give the Yankees a much more formidable staff than the one comprised of Roger Clemens and Pettitte.

... if Brown and Vazquez are healthy in 2004, they'll represent a significant upgrade from Clemens and Pettitte, whose impressive won-lost records benefited from the Yankees' potent lineup.

Could a Yankees rotation that includes Brown stack up with the Red Sox's new Schilling-ful squad? You'd better believe it.

The Yankees rotation next season will sport three pitchers who were staff aces last season, plus the best pitcher Cuba had to offer in Jose Contreras. That's four pitchers who are each better than anyone starting for the Mets this season.

* * * * * * * * * *

ESPN.com: Vina, Tigers agree to $6 million deal

Un-be-freaking-lievable. Better them than us, that's what I say. There were rumors over the past few weeks that the Mets were interested in Fernando Vina to play second base at Shea. If Vina is worth $3 million (which he's not), the $6.7 million Kaz Matsui is getting looks like the deal of the century. You've gotta love the enthusiasm of new teammate Dmitri Young:

"I'm excited, to tell you the truth. I played against him in the National League, and he's going to really help us in the leadoff spot because he'll walk, bunt and hit the other way. And his great defense speaks for itself."

I'll bite. Let's break down this statement into it's quantifiable parts...

Great defense

He did win back-to-back gold gloves in 2001 and 2002. However, he wasn't even as good in those seasons as the Tigers' second basemen were in 2003.

                      RF     ZR
Fernando Vina '01    4.84   .849
Fernando Vina '02    4.72   .810
Warren Morris '03    5.55   .839
Ramon Santiago '03   5.04   .736
Shane Halter '03     5.23   .840

RF: Range Factor ((PO + A) * 9 divided by innings)
ZR: Zone rating. The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.

Unless we also consider the triumverate of Warren Morris, Ramon Santiago, and Shane Halter great defensive second-basemen, this one is a bust.

He'll Walk

Taking this to its logical extreme, it's difficult to argue its truthfulness. He does indeed walk. But does he walk a lot? Hardly. His career high was 54 walks in 1998 with Milwaukee. Since then, his walk totals are: 14 (37 games), 36, 32, 44, and 11 (61 games). Hardly Nick Johnson. Certainly not the type of discipline numbers you'd like to see from your leadoff hitter, particularly if you are paying him $3 million a year.

So he doesn't walk and he doesn't play particularly great defense. He must hit well, right? If only he did.

        OPS    GPA
1999   .670   .235
2000   .778   .271
2001   .775   .265
2002   .671   .234
2003   .691   .235

Tigers president Dave Dombrowski had the following to say:

"There's no question we're in a mode that we can be very active and aggressive in our conversations with agents and other teams. It's great. It's an exciting time for our organization. We're looking to upgrade at second base, shortstop, outfield, starting pitching."

In my estimation, it looks like they still need an upgrade at second base, shortstop, outfield, and starting pitching.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Much Ado About Nothing Much 

With reports flying suggesting that Andy Pettitte is close to signing a three-year deal with the Astros, all I keep reading and hearing from New York media outlets is how it would be an atrocity for the Yankees to let Pettitte go. The word from those in the know is that George Steinbrenner has lost his mind, and is engineering most of the Yankees' offseason moves in direct conflict with the opinions of GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre.

I've never really understood what all of the hub-bub is about Andy Pettitte. He's a nice pitcher, don't get me wrong. But he's on the verge of signing a contract worth $10 million per year or more and, despite his wonderful balk move and devout catholicism, I'm not exactly convinced that he's worth eight figures. I'm a life-long Mets fan and, as such, a life-long Yankee hater. Be that as it may, I won't let it stand in my way of an objective analysis of Mr. Pettitte.

The following are regular seasons stats for two American League pitchers from 1999-2003.

             WL%   ERA   K/9   K/BB   HR/9
Player A    .626   3.97  6.70  2.06   1.01
Player B    .656   4.12  6.58  2.35   0.75

These two players have posted very similar stats over the past five seasons. Player A has the edge in ERA and K/9, while Player B has an edge in K/BB (better control) and HR/9. Let's check out what batters have done against these two over that same span.

         Player A      Player B
         OPS  GPA      OPS  GPA
1999    .741 .254     .808 .274
2000    .733 .249     .738 .252
2001    .625 .212     .713 .241
2002    .729 .244     .681 .233
2003    .751 .253     .713 .240

Pretty similar here too. Player A was better from 1999-2001, while Player B was a little better for 2002-2003. Player A made $6.875 million last season and his team, despite being in the thick of the pennant race, tried to trade him at the deadline last season. Player B made $11.5 million last season, pitched in the World Series, and has a cleft chin.

If you haven't already guessed, Player B is Andy Pettitte. Player A is none other than Rock look-alike Freddy Garcia. Pettitte's next contract will be in the $11-13 million dollar range, while Garcia will be lucky to see Kelvim Escobar money ($6.25 million annually). Why would Pettitte be likely to command so much more money? My two best explanations are:

a) his post-season performance
b) he's a lefty

Many applaud Pettitte's success in the numerous Yankee post-seasons he has pitched in, and how he really "steps it up" in the big games. But has he?

                 ERA   WHIP   K/9   K/BB   HR/9
Regular Season   3.94  1.38   6.40  2.20   0.72
Post-season      4.49  1.33   4.96  2.05   1.03

Granted, the post-season is against the best teams in the league and, in most cases, the best hitters in the league as well. That notwithstanding, you'd have a tough time convincing me that he was better in October (and November) than in all other months. In fact, by almost any measure, he was easily worse in the playoffs than during the regular season, even after considering the strength of competition.

But what of his ability to succeed under the bright lights of New York where others have failed? True, not every player is cut out to play in the big city. If I could put a dollar value on that, however, I might also be able to quantify all of Derek Jeter's intangibles in hopes of explaining the logic behind paying a poor defensive shortstop with some pop $19 million per season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

On The Move ... For Better Or For Worse 

With the deadline to offer players arbitration having passed on Sunday, a lot of pieces are starting to fall into place ... for some teams anyway. Yesterday's frenzy included no less than six free agent pitchers changing teams. How do the deals look?

Team: Atlanta Braves
Player: John Thomson
Terms: Two years, $7 million

The Mets acquired Thomson at the trade deadline in 2002 for perennial underachiever Jay Payton, pothead Mark Corey, and Robert Stratton, who has hit 165 minor league homeruns in 2,371 at-bats with -- are you sitting down? -- 982 strikeouts! He's shown some patience, walking 255 times, but he's a straight-up hacker in the mold of Dave Kingman.

He pitched okay down the stretch for the Mets, and signed a one-year deal with the Rangers in 2003. Here's how he's done the past two seasons relative to the league he pitched in:

                       ERA    WHIP  K/9   K/BB   HR/9
John Thomson '03       4.85   1.30  5.64  2.78   1.12
American League '03    4.52   1.39  6.11  1.93   1.11

John Thomson '02       4.71   1.30  5.30  2.43   1.39
National League '02    4.10   1.37  6.76  1.94   1.01

Thomson has shown pretty good control, keeping his walk rate better than the league. However, by almost any other measure, he has been worse than his respective league over the past two seasons. He has played in two of the best hitters parks in baseball in Coors Field (2002) and Arlington Stadium (2003), so let's say that pushes his numbers closer to the league average. You can never underestimate Leo Mazzone's impact on mediocre pitchers, but Thomson isn't going to be a worldbeater for the Braves.

$3.5 million per year is hardly breaking the bank, though it may be a bit much for a league average pitcher in today's buyer's market. He'll likely be the fifth starter for the Braves, who don't have a number one and, I would argue, don't even have a number two. Of course, they didn't have an ace last year and still ran away with the NL East.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Lost Art Of Platooning 

In the late nineties and early aughts, baseball teams threw around top dollar and multi-year deals to any Joe Shmoe or Todd Zeile who came along. However, that practice has changed alongside baseball's economic landscape. Teams are busy trying to undo the mistakes made by prior administrations and, short of inventing the baseball equivalent of , have to trim payroll wherever they can. Thus the now-ubiquitous event known as the non-tender.

When a team decides not to tender a contract to a player, it is usually because they fear that the potential arbitration settlement is too high. Typically, players who have completed three years of service in the major leagues are eligible for salary arbitration. The exception are those known as "super-two" players. According to the 2003-2006 MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, this is:

a Player with at least two but less than three years of
Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a)
he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately
preceding season; and (b) he ranks in the top seventeen percent
(17%) (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the
class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of
Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86
days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.
If two or more Players are tied in ranking, ties shall be broken
consecutively based on the number of days of service accumulated
in each of the immediately preceding seasons. If the Players remain
tied, the final tie breaker will be by lot.

After three years of service (or super-two), a player has three arbitration years. A team can offer arbitration to such a player, and the player is required to accept. This results in a one-year contract with a salary to be determined in an arbitration hearing. After those three seasons, the player no longer has to accept salary arbitration and can become an unrestricted free agent.

Until recently, a team would seemingly always offer arbitration to their arbitration-eligible players (between 3 and 6 years of service). However, with the pursestrings tightened, more and more players are given their unconditional release and sent off to find work elsewhere. While many of these players are crummy, it is certainly possible to find some affordable production in the non-tender bargain bin. Which brings us to...

The Platoon. The idea behind platooning is to take two complementary players who, while not very impressive individually, actually combine to be a pretty useful if not very productive player. With a modicum of cash to spend, one can put together some decent platoon positions among the many warm bodies on the non-tender bonfire. For a semi-complete list of non-tenders, check out this post at Batter's Box.

Player            AB    AVG   OBP   SLG  HR   RBI
Reggie Sanders    136  .301  .368  .647  12   33    (vs LHP)
Matt Stairs       273  .304  .402  .582  18   53    (vs RHP)

The 136 at-bats for Sanders against left-handed pitching this past season is a small sample, I'll admit. But he's posted a .970 OPS (.314 GPA) since 2001 in 386 at-bats). Sanders would probably cost $1.5 million for one season, with Stairs probably getting around $1 million. So that's $2.5 million for a player who could put up a .950 OPS, 35 HR and 100 RBI.

There are a number of other players who would provide productive platoon splits. The following non-tenders have put up very productive numbers over the past three seasons against lefties or righties:

Player            AB    AVG   OBP   SLG  HR   RBI
Andres Galarraga  291  .289  .356  .495  14    49   (vs LHP)
Tony Graffanino   304  .293  .367  .497  11    37   (vs LHP)
Brian Jordan      280  .318  .381  .582  18    71   (vs LHP)
Eric Karros       307  .316  .389  .515  12    44   (vs LHP)
Carl Everett     1309  .290  .367  .509  47   170   (vs RHP)
Fred McGriff      950  .297  .380  .532  56   175   (vs RHP)

All of these players can be had for a reasonably small contract, and can provide good production against one type of pitcher. It's an inexpensive way to maximize production out of a particular position.

Monday, December 08, 2003

It's A Maddux Maddux Maddux Maddux World 

Before I get into the main topic, ESPN.com's Peter Gammons is reporting that the Mets and Kazuo Matsui have agreed to a three-year deal worth $6.7 million annually. There have been reports and articles all weekend to this effect, but now it seems almost official. If this is the case, I will break down what the Mets can reasonably expect out of Matsui later this week.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Atlanta Braves have cut ties to their second-longest-tenured player, Greg Maddux (John Smoltz has the longest current tenure). With the arbitration deadline passing last night, Maddux's eleven-year run as (usually) the ace of the Braves staff will be coming to an end. Maddux's dominance has diminished as he has gotten on in years, but he is still a productive pitcher and will undoubtedly help whomever he signs with this offseason (The Padres are the early favorites to secure his services).

From 1992-1995, Maddux put together one of the most dominant streaks in baseball history, taking home four consecutive Cy Young Awards, a feat matched only by The Big Unit from 1999-2002. During those four seasons, Maddux had an average ERA of 1.98, posting individual ERAs of 2.18, 2.36, 1.56, and 1.63. The last two of those seasons were downright silly. He surrendered a grand total of 12 homeruns in 411.2 innings in 1994 and 1995, going 35-8 over that span.

From 1992-1995 he averaged 7.6 innings per start, and averaged a dead-ball-era-esque eight innings per start in 1994. In 2003, that average fell to fewer than six innings per start. The one thing that has accelerated Maddux's decline more than anything else has been his strikeout rate.

Year   IP     K/9    K/BB   HR/9
2000  249.1   6.86   4.52   0.67
2001  233.0   6.68   6.41   0.77
2002  199.1   5.33   2.62   0.63
2003  218.1   5.11   3.76   0.99

His strikeouts per nine innings have decreased in each of the past three seasons, which is fairly common among pitchers as they careen towards retirement. Maddux has never had an overpowering fastball, but his movement and command have been so impeccable that he has actually racked up a fair amount of strikeouts over the years. In fact, in 1994 he averaged 7.77 K's per nine innings, the best of his career.

For most pitchers, when the strikeout rate goes so does success. Maddux has been able to keep the wheels from falling off entirely by limiting the number of walks and homeruns he has given up. He gave up only 33 walks this season, averaging one per 6.6 innings, a terrific rate. However, his homerun rate, while still decent at just under one-per-nine, was the highest of his career. His ERA (3.96), OPS against (.715) and GPA against (.238) were all higher than any season since his rookie year in 1987 (5.61 ERA, .822 OPS, .267 GPA).

You can't really blame the Braves for declining to offer Greg Maddux arbitration. They offered it to him last season and were burned. Thinking it would give them more time to negotiate with him, the Braves ended up holding their junk when Maddux was awarded the largest single-season arbitration settlement of $14.75 million. As a result, the Braves were way over-budget and were forced to trade Kevin Millwood to the Phillies.

Maddux will be sure to catch on with somebody, probably for one or two seasons with a vesting option for an additional year. I wouldn't expect him to get much more than $6-7 million per. That's a far cry from the nigh $15 million he netted this season, but as Curt Schilling pointed out prior to his negotiations with the Red Sox, that's still money on top of money he'll never spend.

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