Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Most Exciting Time in Baseball

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, it can get exciting projecting who might end up where. Unfortunately, it often ends up a tease with little swapping really going on. This makes the trade deadline incredibly exciting and incredibly disappointing at the same time.

A few pieces have been moved by mid-day on the 29th, with Roy Oswalt being the biggest fish to change ponds. As speculated, Oswalt will join the Phillies who must now likely move Jason Werth to make salary room for Oswalt moving forward. Good news for prospect Dominic Brown who made his MLB debut last night for the Phils by going 2-3 with a couple RBI’s. This trade is interesting, however, because the Phillies moved Cliff Lee in the winter, then realized they didn’t have enough pitching and had to make a desperation move at the deadline to re-bolster the rotation by adding Oswalt. After the all of the pieces have settled, the Phillies would have been way better off just keeping Lee in the first place since it appears that keeping Lee would have been a possibility (especially if they had been willing to move Werth before the season since they knew that contract issues were sure to arise after the 2010 season concludes).

Dan Haren moved over from the D-Backs to the Angels, a move that really helps Los Angeles going forward. Haren seemed to be really excited about the trade since he’s a California native and the Angles are much bigger contenders than the Diamondbacks who are in total rebuild mode. The Angels are hurting without slugger Kendry Morales in the lineup for the rest of the year and shouldn’t, in my opinion, try to make a big push this season. The Rangers aren’t going anywhere and the Angels aren’t going to run them down, no matter who they might add at first base (Derek Lee is a bad idea). Its been well-documented that the Angels gave up very little to get Haren and they should begin assembling pieces to regain the division in 2011 when Morales is healthy again and they have Haren and the recently acquired Callaspo for an entire season.

In smaller moves, the Padres acquired Miguel Tejada from the Orioles. In the first post of this blog, I explained why the Padres needed to buy at least one bat and possibly two. They’ve got one and, if they can acquire a hitting outfielder, they may not just win the West but be strong pennant and title contenders. They are beginning to distance themselves in the NL West and I don’t expect them to be caught unless the Rockies get hot. The Dodgers don’t have the resources to make a push and the Giants’ don’t appear to be on the verge of making up major ground.

The Ranger snatched Jorge Cantu from the Marlins and, although he’s cooled down significantly since he began the season red-hot, he should be a strong platoon-mate for Chris Davis. This adds to the versatility of the Rangers as Cantu can play third base as well or DH. This will let them rest guys like Vladamir Guerrero or Michael Young down the stretch to prepare for the playoffs. The Rangers may not be done adding, too. Rumors are that they are looking to acquire another piece or two in the next two-plus days as the deadline approaches. I fully expect the Rangers to make an all-out push for the AL pennant despite they’re future franchise sell-off question mark.

I don’t expect Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder to get moved before the deadline and it appears that moving Jason Werth may be difficult. We’ll see, though!

Friday, July 23, 2010

AL/NL Comparison: Final Analysis

In the previous post we’ve established a few things. First, the average All Star for either the AL or NL is 29 years old. The average American Leaguer makes roughly 25% more per season, has about 18% more total value to his team (as determined through the WAR statistic) and has 10% more big league experience than their NL counterparts. In short, this year’s AL All Stars are, on average, more expensive but more valuable than this year’s NL All Stars. Does the American League overpay for these players, though? Let’s see…

On average, American League position players have a slightly higher value every season, posting an average WAR of 3.2 while NL All Star position players posted an average WAR of 3.1 per season. Needless to say, these totals are very similar. So why are American League All Star position players paid an average of $10.36 million dollars per season when NL All Star position players are paid an average of $6.61 million per season? I suppose we’d have to ask the Steinbrenners that question to find an answer.

Dissimilarly, the American League does not appear to over pay its pitchers, at least compared to the National League. With an average WAR of 2.6 per season, AL All Star pitchers are paid an average salary of $5.74 million dollars per season. NL All Star pitchers were paid just less at $5.50 million per season but also posted lower average WAR’s at 2.2 per season. In fact, the NL pays slightly more per pitcher WAR but this is in line with the typical view of the pitching/defense-dominated National League.

To compare what all of this is worth, I decided to divide the average WAR (true value) of AL/NL position players by their average salary. I did the same thing with pitchers. I believe this gives the best true understanding of what each league is paying for and what they are receiving in return. Per win above replacement level (WAR), the American League pays its All Star position players over $370,000. By comparison, the National League paid its All Star position players only $329,000 per WAR. When it comes to pitchers, the AL leads the bidding as well. AL All Star pitchers are paid $367,000 per WAR while their NL counterparts were paid just under $330,000. Because all WAR units are truly equal, the AL definitely overpays for what it receives. By this measurement the National League does a much better job of evaluating talent getting a better “bang for the buck” than the AL does. The NL is forced to do this for a number of reasons, the biggest being that more NL teams are considered “small market” and, outside of the Phillies and Cubs, don’t have the massive salaries that are seen in the American League.

So in review, we can see that the average American League All Star is more experienced and has a slightly higher “true value” than NL All Stars. They are also overpaid when compared to their fellow NL All Stars, though. In terms of both position players and pitchers, the American League can boast a higher value for both over the NL but the National League can clearly laugh last in terms of salary efficiency. These factors may contribute to why the American League is considered by some, especially the casual observer, as the premier league. Amongst baseball critics, however, most of us appreciate the National Leagues ability to put together championship winning teams in a league that technically achieves less and definitely pays less.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AL/NL Comparison: The Facts

Before we begin, let me announce that the All Star rosters do not represent a perfect sample for league-wide analysis. With that said, some things still do stand out and I suspect that if I were able to compare all the criteria listed above for every player in each league I would probably find similar results. Also, these rosters should represent the best players in each league so, as one might expect, salaries and career achievements are noticeably higher than your average player. Each roster should represent a similar talent level, however, and this was evident when the game played on the field was so dramatically close. Lets take a close look at the results of each criteria.

Age: I was somewhat surprised to see that the average of any given player in either league was almost exactly 29 year of age. That means that for each league I totaled up the age of every player and divided it by the number of players counted. Surprisingly, each league was nearly identical. I had expected the AL to be at least 1 or maybe 2 years older on average since this is the league where someone with “old player skills” can usually still flourish. After looking at the data, however, I assumed that either I was wrong about the American League being the “senior circuit” or players with “old player skills” aren’t usually voted into the All Star Game. Either way, age didn’t play much of a factor in the initial analysis.

Salary: Salary saw a relatively large discrepancy between leagues. This, too, was expected before I ran the numbers. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox artificially inflate the salaries paid in the AL while the National League contains more stereotypically small-market teams. This shouldn’t be news to any of us and it was clearly reflected in the average salary of a player in either league. AL players averaged a salary of $8,384,568 while NL players averaged a salary of $6,165,028. That’s roughly a discrepancy of $2.2 million per player across the two leagues. Of course players like Alex Rodriguez don’t help this comparison by making $33 million this season while the top earner in the NL, Ryan Howard, makes a paltry $19 million per season. In fact, there are four players on the AL roster that out-earn Howard: A-Rod, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia and Miguel Cabrera. For arguments sake, there is simply no team in the National League that could take on the salaries that the Yankees do. It’s not only the Yankee players (and Cabrera) that establish the comparison results, though. Across the board one can see that the American League All Stars clearly out-earn their NL counterparts.

WAR: To calculate the success or effectiveness of players in each league, I found the average career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of each roster, AL and NL. If you are unfamiliar with the WAR statistic it can most easily be described as the “total value of a player over a given season”. In short, it gives a snapshot of success, value, effectiveness, or performance per season. To find the average career WAR per player (per league), I totaled the career WAR of every player on each team’s roster and then divided by the number of players on that roster. The average career WAR for an American League All Star was 22.6 while National League All Stars averaged a career war of 18.7. In WAR terms, this shows a fairly significant drop off in terms of total player value across the two leagues. In fact, it represents a nearly 18% loss of total player value over the average NL All Star’s career when compared to the average AL All Star. This shows a clear discrepancy of career “greatness” or performance between the two rosters with the American League’s roster clearly out performing the NL roster over the average player’s career.

Major League Seasons: This set of criteria is about as unscientific as it can get. I added up the career experience of each player per roster and divided by the number of players on that roster to find the average experience of American League and National League All Stars. While the average age of players was nearly identical from AL to NL, the American League All Stars have, on average, almost 10% more big-league experience that the NL All Stars. American Leaguers have an average of 7.6 major league seasons while National Leaguers averaged only 7 major league seasons. This shows that the American League roster was slightly more experienced than the NL roster.

Now that we’ve established the facts, we’ll take a deeper examination in my next post.

AL/NL Comparison: Intro

Because the All Star Game theoretically provides us with “the best of the best” from each league (tell that to those who booed Omar Infante), it also sets the stage for analysis. Because this is one of the few instances where the National League and American League stand side by side, comparison becomes obvious. There’s always the mantra of the pitching and defense-heavy NL and the overpriced, offense-laden AL but do those generalizations paint accurate pictures of each league? To take a look I decided to analyze both rosters against one another in terms of player age, player salary, player career WAR and number of seasons in the big leagues for each player. So what did we find out? Take a look at the next few posts to see the results.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Badly do the Padres Want to Win?

Jed Hoyer and Tom Garfinkel’s worst dream has come true. The Padres are leading their division at the All Star break despite having a rotation that is anchored by a 22 year-old pitcher in Mat Latos and manages to score just enough runs to win as opposing teams continually pitch around All Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Players all over the roster are overachieving in an incredible way. As we all know, all good things must come to an end but the questions is, in this case, what outcome do the Padres truly wish to see? The truth will be revealed in the next two weeks or so.

To begin, lets review the current situation, then explore three options that the Padres front office has.

With so many inexperienced and journeyman players filling the lineup every night in San Diego, one must acknowledge that regression will occur throughout the batting order, rotation and bullpen. It would be foolish to assume that a team that ranks third to last in the NL in batting average and fifth to last in runs scored could continue to lead a division where its three closest competitors rank second (Dodgers), third (Rockies) and fifth (Giants) in average and both the Rockies (2nd) and the Dodgers (3rd) are amongst NL leaders in runs scored. Scott Hairston is not a cleanup hitter and neither are catchers Nick Hundley or Yorvit Torrealba. Shortstop Everth Cabrera can’t hit at all and the Padres aren’t getting the on-base percentage they need in the leadoff spot from Jerry Hairston Jr. (.294). The lack of offense will have to give at some point as the pitching staff cannot be asked to continue to carry the burden of the entire team.

Journeyman John Garland has exceeded all expectations in the first half by keeping his WHIP relatively low despite walking almost four batters per nine innings. Simply put, he’s done a good job of avoiding trouble although he frequently puts himself in sticky situations. Kevin Correia has been disappointing this season after winning 12 games and posting a 3.91 ERA last season. 26 year-old Clayton Richard and the aforementioned Mat Latos have anchored the staff. Neither was expected to achieve nearly the level of success that we’ve seen from them thus far in 2010. Wade LeBlanc has a nice ERA (3.30) but hasn’t had much success to show for it while going 4-7 on the year. Closer Heath Bell and the rest of the bullpen have been fantastic. Edward Mujica, Luke Gregerson, Tim Stauffer and Joe Thatcher all have paper thin WHIPs, low ERAs, low walk rates and high strikeout rates. In case you haven’t noticed, the Padres bullpen has been slamming the door all season on opponents, which is critical considering the team does not often create big leads. The margin of error for the Padres is constantly low and the entire pitching staff has been sharp to keep San Diego in games. Expecting them to continue to dominate in this fashion for the rest of the season, however, is not exactly feasible.

So, what can the Padres do?

Options #1: Add pieces to make a run at the division title.
If the Padres organization is serious about contending then they must look themselves in the mirror and realize that they’ve been considerably lucky this season. Teams with this level of an anemic offense don’t usually contend but the Padres aren’t just contending, their leading. They absolutely have to add offense before the trade deadline if they want to stay in first place. The Dodgers are unlikely to be buyers because of financial issues (read: the McCourt divorce) while Tulo will eventually be back for the Rockies and the Giants are exploring offensive upgrades as we speak. I would suggest selling high on a reliever and/or a starter to acquire a bat that can adequately protect Gonzalez, maybe Corey Hart or Josh Willingham, and moving a couple prospects for a shortstop that can bat in the leadoff spot, perhaps Ryan Theriot. Willingham would be a strong upgrade over any of the current cleanup hitters that the Padres throw out there while Theriot could be just the spark plug the Padres need. They could afford to lose a guy with upside like LeBlanc or an established guy like Correia and one of their young relievers like Thatcher or Gregerson. A package like this should be able to net them a respectably outfield bat.

This proposition would allow the Padres to contend for the rest of the season (barring unforeseen events like injuries of suspensions) but we have to wonder if this is really what the Padres want. Of course they say they want to win this thing but they are going to have to put their money where their mouth is before the trade deadline. The organization has been long criticized for making large profits by keeping salaries down and putting a respectable product on the field. Now that the product is more than just respectable, will they do what they must to go for it all?

Option #2: Trade Adrian Gonzalez and/or Heath Bell.
Many teams have coveted first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, most notably the Red Sox. He is perhaps the best hitter that could potentially be available before the deadline and, in fact, most expected him to be wearing something other than a Padres uniform by this point in the season. He would net the Padres a large return, probably one major league ready player and a handful of plus-level prospects. Heath Bell is one of the better closers in baseball and could also bring in a nice haul for the Padres if moved. Together, they would reign in some major talent for the Padres to develop and use in the future. The fanbase, however, may revolt if the powers that be resort to their old tricks of trading legit talent for cheap prospects. The front office may recognize that many of their players have overachieved this season and are likely to falter down the stretch, prompting them to sell off their best pieces before the team succumbs to its own pressure. While it would probably be an unpopular decision, San Diego could win big in the long run by moving Gonzalez and/or Bell.

Option #3: Do nothing and try to hold off the Dodgers, Rockies and Giants.
Perhaps the biggest roll of the dice would be to gamble on the team’s roster of unproven overachievers in an attempt to hold off the offensively superior teams in the division who are already knocking on the door. If they aren’t up to the task of winning the division, however, the Padres would likely be ciriticized for not making the moves necessary to win the division or at least getting a haul of young talent in exchange for its top (and most expensive) players. The Padres are one or two injuries away from being in big trouble and standing pat would expose them to such a possibility. Or perhaps the team has the magic to win the division on its own, although I’m not betting on it.

If it were up to me I would choose option one. The Padres need to realize that they are a roster move or two away from being in good shape to hold off the more talented Dodgers, Rockies and Giants. It would be good for baseball to see San Diego succeed and their loyal fans deserve to see the franchise make the most of this situation. If they decide to not be buyers as the trade deadline approaches, they should opt for option two. They need to get something in return for their most expensive pieces if the front office ultimately decides that they cannot afford Gonzalez and/or Bell. Option three should really not be considered an option at all. It would be an epic failure to get nothing in return for the organization’s best talent and still lose the division by a couple of games.

So how badly to the Padres want to win? Will a franchise known for being frugal pony up the dough to make a run at the division it currently leads at the halfway point? Will they back down from the division race and sell off their best pieces? Will they stand pat and risk the consequences of inaction? The next few weeks will show us all just how badly the Padres really want to win.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Homefield Advatage was Won (or Lost)

As the National League finally broke through and won an All-Star Game, I began to wonder just how this happened. With nearly everyone picking the American League to continue its dominance because of their absolutely murderous lineup, many were overlooking a couple of small things that made a big impact. Although the AL lineup was particularly devastating on the surface, once substitutions were made, the lineups began to really even out. Also, Joe Girardi underutilized his pitching staff while Charlie Manuel got the most he could out of the arms he had available to him. Now the NL will enjoy home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time in years.

Looking at the initial lineup for the AL, its no wonder that most were picking them to take yet another All-Star Game.

1. Ichiro Suzuki RF

2. Derek Jeter SS

3. Miguel Cabrera 1B

4. Josh Hamilton CF

5. Vladimir Guerrero DH

6. Evan Longoria 3B

7. Joe Mauer C

8. Robinson Cano 2B

9. Carl Crawford LR

I’m a sure stud like Ubaldo Jimenez or Josh Johnson would even nervous about facing that lineup! Who wouldn’t be? Once Jimenez and Johnson began throwing up zeroes, however, substitutions started to occur and this evened out the rosters quite a bit. Elvis Andrus replaced Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko replaced Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista replaced Josh Hamilton and John Buck replaced Joe Mauer, just to name a few key losses to the AL lineup. By the end of the night, the American League lineup was no longer such a daunting force.

By comparison, the National League lineup was deeper and didn’t see nearly the drop off once substitutions started. Aside from Michael Bourn taking over for Matt Holliday (who had replaced Ryan Braun earlier in the game), replacements on the NL side were fairly even. Raphael Furcal replaced Hanley Ramirez, Brandon Phillips replaced Martin Prado, Adrian Gonzalez replaced Albert Pujols, Joey Votto replaced Ryan Howard, Scott Rolen replaced David Wright, Chris Young replaced Andre Eithier (which is a offensive downgrade but a huge defensive upgrade as Eithier was making his major league debut in centerfield), Marlon Byrd replaced Corey Hart (whose base running speed was critical to scoring the third NL run as Byrd scored from first on the McCann double) and the day’s hero, Brian McCann, replaced light-hitting Yadier Molina. In the end, the NL lineup may have lost a small amount of pop but was quite a bit stronger defensively and ultimately held up better than the AL lineup did.

Charlie Manuel clearly did a better job of managing than Joe Girardi. When it came to managing the pitching staff, Manuel utilized the NL arms better than the AL skipper. Manuel allowed Johnson to pitch two full innings rather than one, then played the matchups the rest of the way out while continuing to utilize quality arms for the appropriate amount of innings. Girardi, on the other hand, underutilized two of his very best pitchers. Cliff Lee and Andy Petite should have been able to pitch two innings apiece rather than only one. Of course this would have limited the amount of innings pitched by other pitchers but, with home-field at stake, it was more important to get his money’s worth out of guys like Lee and Petite. For what its worth, Cliff Lee, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, threw only six pitches while Petite threw only nine. Phil Hughes clearly had a bad outing but Matt Thornton should never have been allowed to face three batters. Middle relievers should not be asked to pitch to the equivalent or an entire inning against such intimidating lineups, especially when guys like Lee and Petite only get to pitch one inning. Let Thornton pitch? Definitely. Let him pitch to three batters when he’s clearly not that effective? Not in an All Star Game. Add this to the Alex Rodriguez fiasco and Manuel definitely out-managed Joe Girardi.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Justin Smoak the next Mark Teixeira?

Let me just start by saying that I hate player comparisons. You know, when somebody says, “Player X looks like a young Willie Mays,” or, “Player Y is going to be the next Nolan Ryan.” I hate these comparisons for two reasons: (1) they are unfair to the youngster being compared and (2) they are rarely anywhere close to accurate. Usually the player being compared to a former great fizzles somewhere down the line or simply fails to live up to the comparison (and for good reason: there aren’t very many Mays’ or Ryan’s). This is what has me concerned when people say that Justin Smoak looks like a young Mark Teixeira. Not only is that an incredibly high ceiling to try to live up to but it also puts enormous pressure on the Mariners organization since he was the “gem” of the Cliff Lee trade.

So far in his young career, Smoak hasn’t been very Teixeira-esque. Yes, of course it’s still very early in the game for him. He should see a ton of at-bats in the second half and will have every opportunity to get comfortable in Seattle at first base, but so far, he’s more Casey Kotchman than Mark Teixeira. In fact, the only real way to compare Teixeira and Smoak was to cross-reference their first full seasons of minor league ball since it would be unfair to gauge Smoak’s long-term success based on his limited time in the majors.

Teixeira is known for his power and ability to hit with runners in scoring position while still posting a strong average, on-base percentage and playing fantastic defense. In effect, he’s a terrific all-around player of MVP caliber. How did Smoak do in his first minor league season as compared to Teixeira?


Teixeira 321 21 19 69 46 60 .318 .413 1.005

Smoak 386 21 12 57 75 81 .290 .410 .853

It should be noted that Smoaks stats come from an almost even split between AA and AAA ball while Teixeira’s come from an almost even split between A+ and AA ball. Both were 22 at the time these stats were compiled (Teixeira in ’02 and Smoak in ’09). Teixeira’s slugging percentage was significantly higher and recorded an extra-base hit in 14% of his AB’s. Smoak on the other hand recorded an extra-base hit in fewer than 9% of his AB’s. On the plus side, Smoak had a higher walk rate than Teixeira and a very similar strikeout rate. While Teixeira is noted for his defense today, Smoak actually had a far superior fielding percentage in his first full minor league season. Overall, it would appear that Smoak has slightly less raw power than Teixeira did at the same point in their respective careers. To his credit, Smoak has a better plate discipline and appears advanced defensively.

Now let’s fast forward to the major league version of Justin Smoak. He’s off to an incredibly slow start but has just been the key piece in a trade for one of the top three pitchers in baseball. Teixeira was rather impressive in his first big league season and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Smoak is a long ways away from receiving any votes when it comes to special considerations this year as he’s barely above the Mendoza Line with only eight homers while striking out in over 1/5 of his AB’s. By comparison, Teixeira hit .259 and homered 26 times while posting very similar strikeout and walk rates in his first full major league season. Both hit line drives about 21% of the time and had nearly identical groundball to fly ball ratios.

So what’s so different? Many tell-tale factors appear be consistent from player to player but one in particular stands out and is beginning to show (aside from BABIP where Smoak has been plagued and has resulted in an uncharacteristically low batting average). As the Mariners may be unhappy to find out, Justin Smoak does not appear to have the same raw power that Mark Teixeira does. For me, this is where the comparison falls apart. As the ISO statistic shows, Teixeira (.221) was clearly more of a raw power hitter in his first season than Smoak (.140), at least halfway through Justin’s first season. This trend also becomes evident when going back to comparing each player’s first full minor league season where Teixeira (.274) clearly out-slugged Smoak (.152). While Smoak’s power should continue to improve as he matures and begins to turn more of his doubles into homeruns, I don’t see him becoming a consistent 35-40 homerun hitting threat. Smoak’s plate discipline should continue to improve and his strikeout rate is likely to decrease as he gains experience. Defensively, he should remain solid and is unlikely to ever be considered a defensive liability.

Comparisons are often unfair. In this case, the obvious reason for comparison is appearance. Both Justin Smoak and Mark Teixeira have worn a Rangers uniform, both are switch hitters and both play first base. As the Mariners are about to find out, Smoak will likely walk and hit for a strong average while playing good defense, just like Teixeira, but he is unlikely to become an MVP-caliber power threat.