Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why the phillies Won't Repeat

For winning the World Series, the phillies have officially become my new lower case team. After all I was only missing a lower case team for about a month.  From the time of the Yankees not making the playoffs until the phillies World Series victory.  Anyways, about those phillies, they were the first team since after the MLB expanded the schedule to 162 games to not lose a single game after the 8th inning, that's right not one.  Just to show you how ridiculously bad the Mets bullpen was compared to the Phillies bullpen; the Mets bullpen lost 13 games after the 8th inning to the phillies 0.  If they swapped, the Mets would've had 100 wins and a World Series while the phillies would've had 78 wins and a third place finish.  This just shows you how bad the phillies actually were.  If the Mets and the phillies had the same great bullpens the Mets would've won the division by 11 games. If they both had the same crappy pens the Mets would've won the division by 5 games over the Marlins!
This is how crazy the phillies bullpen was.  87-0(including playoffs) after the eighth inning is unheard of and especially unrepeatable.  Anything short of what the phillies bullpen produced last year will have the phillies watching from the sidelines come October 2009.  

Bullpen Pitchers2008 FIP**2008 ERA2008 K/BB Rate2008 BABIPCareer K/BB RateCareer BABIP
Brad Lidge2.411.952.63.3173.19.322
J.C. Romero4.662.751.37.2391.46.296
Ryan Madson3.333.052.91.3052.45.313
Chad Durbin3.772.871.80.2921.44.302
Clay Condrey4.
Scott Eyre*2.361.886.00.2381.63.310
Rudy Seanez*4.153.531.20.2812.01.309
*=Half Season 
**=Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that takes your peripherals into account and disregards fielding, park and opposition factors

As you can see(or can't see) almost all of the phillies relievers overachieved.  The FIP and ERA categories are there to show you how much the luck factor influenced their stats.  If you subtract a pitcher's ERA from their FIP you'll find the amount of runs that are the product of luck and nothing else.  What is luck?  In this case luck is playing on a good team, having an easy schedule, having a good defense.  (Time Lincecum has a lower FIP than ERA, while Johan Santana has a lower ERA than FIP).  BABIP's there to show you how most of the pitchers got lucky this year.  How most of the reliever's balls in play were caught.  K/BB rate's there to show that some of the phillies pitchers are declining hence the lower peripherals and that others had their best season in 2008(meaning they'll decline).  Peripherals are a great way of being able to tell whether a year was a fluke or not.  Meaning if you had a boatload of saves, had an ERA under 2.00, but had a K/BB under 2.00 there's no chance you'd be able to repeat that performance next year.

So let's go over the phillies' bullpen numbers from 2008.  If Brad Lidge played for an average team that only played other average teams in an average league in a neutral park, he would've had an ERA of 2.41(his FIP).  This means that his numbers were boosted solely by other components of the game, ones that don't involve pitching.  And he wasn't really all that he was made out to be.  He's clearly declining, shown by his .66 decline in K/BB from this season compared to his career numbers.  Expect a slight, not a vast decline from this year to next, and for his 40+ save streak to come to an end.

Now onto the rest of the bullpen.  The phillies had a combined .853 FIP to ERA differential, and that there is their division title.  The phillies got lucky and therefore had robust numbers which cannot be repeated.  The phillies setup men, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson, are maddeningly overrated because of their inflated stats.  J.C. Romero's FIP-ERA differential was 1.91.  That's the difference between Mariano Rivera and Aaron Heilman.  Ryan Madson is at his peak and will probably put up similar numbers to this year's for the next couple years.  Their other solid bullpen guys, Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey had "terrific" seasons.  They each had about a run of difference between their ERA's and their FIP's and both had lower BABIPs than their career numbers and posted slightly higher K/BB rates.  What this means is that they'll regress to their means in 2009(a.k.a screw up) because of their subpar peripherals and their high BABIPs. Scott Eyre and Rudy Seanez had basically the same thing happen to them but they were only in Philly for a small portion of the season.  Altogether the bullpen pitchers who are supposed to have the better peripherals because of small sample size(60-80 innings) had very bad numbers with the exception of 20 innings from Scott Eyre.  The relievers also had great ERA's(second in the NL) in spite of high FIP's.  The only possible explanation is luck and that is one factor that cannot be repeated or quantified.     

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

At Bats and Sacrifices: The Mistakes of Latter-Day Baseball

Self-Sacrifice - sacrifice of one's interests, desires, etc., as for duty or the good of another.

Sacrifice - the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.

At bats were created in an attempt to uncouple all of the hitter's options from those of the manager and pitcher. Meaning, everything that the batter has control over(hits, strikeouts) is isolated from everything he doesn't have control over. This was unsuccessful in the eyes of many. There are huge flaws in this concept and it's problems have been well spread through books and blogs.  Therefore in this article I'm going to try and say something a little different from what people usually say.  

The at-bat perceives that the batter has more control over the plate appearance than the pitcher does.  While the at-bat also implies that the pitcher dictates the at-bat.  This is the reason walks aren't included in the at-bat equation.  Thus at-bats aren't an appropriate measuring stick for at-bats imply that the batter dictates the outcome of the at-bats yet it still subtracts all of the "non decisions" of the batter from the equation, like walks.  This makes no sense at all.  If you say that the batter controls the game then it has to mean he chose to walk and not that the pitcher chose to walk him.  This proves that at-bats not only have a glitch but also contradicts itself.  The at-bat doesn't include walks or sacrifices.  Why not?  Because the pitcher issues the walk and the managers call for the sacrifices, therefore these two integral factors of a plate appearance and a batter's decision are removed from this so called vital/original hence irreplaceable stat. 

Nowadays we know that the batter, and the pitcher, and the baserunners all have a certain effect on causing a walk, so we can now focus on sacrifices.  This is because at bats are clearly problematic and are therefore not worth dealing with.  

There are two types of sacrifices: sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies.  Sac bunts are usually called for by the manager so I could understand why they'd be removed from this equation.  Even though there is no point of removing them.  No matter what the manager tells the batter, it's the batter's decision once he steps into the batter's box.  Therefore, even sac bunts should be included in your at-bats/plate appearance stat.  Sac flies are a different story. What's hard for me to understand is why this play is even attributed as a sacrifice.  As you can see at the top of the article, a sacrifice bunt fits the criteria of self-sacrifice but sacrifice flies do not.  The reason for this is that even if the manager tells player x to hit the ball to the outfield(spot y) chances are he'll hit the ball to the outfield at the same rate as he usually does(z% of the time). Showing that even if a batter gets a sacrifice fly it was more of random variance than anything else.  If a batter was able to hit the ball to the outfield every plate appearance they would.  For the simple reason of more fly balls means more home-runs and the three-run homer is the best play in baseball.  

If batters could choose where they wanted to hit the ball, batters wouldn't be batting .300 they would be batting .700.  This proves that batters have less control over a plate appearance and the pitchers have more control.  What business would pay a guy $20MM a year for doing his task at a lower than 50% efficiency rate? This is essentially what baseball does with its hitters. This shows us that batters have very little control over the events that occur every at-bat and have little influence on hit ball placement.  Now you know that sacrifice flies are not sacrifices because the batter cannot choose whether to strikeout, hit the ball to the outfield or hit a homerun it simply depends on his usual tendencies(and the pitch/pitcher).  I hope you've now realized the shortcomings of the at-bats and what we call "sacrifices".  And will now try to use plate appearances and OBA(on-base average) more than AVG and SLA(slugging average).  OBA uses plate appearances as its denominator while AVG and SLA use at-bats as theirs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Uprooting Omar Minaya...I Mean Building The Mets

The Mets failed to make it to the playoffs this year for the second straight year.  This means there's a flaw in the Mets scheme.  Whether it's the front office, the coaching staff or the personnel there's a problem that has to be fixed.  Even though Omar Minaya has made strides as the top gun for the Mets(the CEO, COO and President are all owners) he still hasn't delivered his side of the deal with the fans.  It's true that he's ushered in a new era of winning in the Mets organization and it's true that he's maintained Wilpon's level of competition.  When the Mets hired Omar, Mr. Wilpon said that the Mets should now be playing meaningful games in September, and has he ever been more correct.  It just doesn't make sense to me why an owner would say that he hopes for his team to play meaningful games in September instead of saying that he hopes for his team to be PLAYING in October period.  Also, under Minaya's watchful eye the team has started their own cable network, and last but maybe most importantly the team's new stadium is being built right now.  From a business standpoint his tenure has been a success, the Mets have made tons of money and the Mets are in competition every year.  The one problem is, baseball is unlike other businesses because the only real accomplishment in baseball is winning the World Series and I'm pretty sure the Mets haven't won one since 1986.  My point is he still could've been doing better than he is, but with Wilpon doing his best impression of Steinbrenner this wasn't going to be an easy task. Instead Omar opted to build a playoff contender the easy way but the insufficient way, by signing free agents.

So my idea is to hire a player development overseer.  Who takes care of all minor league operations and runs the amateur scouting department.  I have a feeling that this job would be perfect for Terry Ryan.  He stepped down as the Twins GM before this season because he claimed that he had lost a step and did not want to hamper the Twins.  He would be coming back to his career roots for he started his career as an executive by scouting for the Mets way back in 1980.  He had been a GM in Minnesota for 14 years before stepping down and I'm sure he at least misses it just a tad.  Ryan's specialty is building excellent, cheap teams through the farm system.  Also, Ryan's top assistant from his days in Minnesota, Wayne Krivsky, was brought on as some kind of scouting adviser right after the Reds relieved him of his general managing duties.  So now the Mets can afford to let Tony Bernazard go because Terry Ryan is essentially taking his job but just with a better title(Overseer of Minor Leagues).  I would suggest the Mets clear the cupboard and fire all of Omar Minaya's assistants starting with Bernazard.  I would then promote Krivsky to Director of Scouting and would hire Chuck LaMar(the old Devil Rays GM) as Senior Vice President/Director of the Amateur(Rule 4) and Rule 5 Drafts.  He is very qualified because A)he worked under John Schierholz for a while, b)he was a GM.  c)He just won the World Series as an assistant with the Phillies and d)he is terrific at drafting players.  If you look at his drafts from his time with the D___l Rays he drafted so many high risk high reward players(Josh Hamilton) throughout the draft.  In the middle rounds of the draft he was especially good picking Jacoby Ellsbury and Michael A. Pelfrey to name a few.  His draft philosophy is to take as many risks on highly athletic, 5-tool players you can and hope for them to develop into stars(B.J. Upton). 
Now by letting Omar Minaya keep his job, you allow Omar to redeem himself and if he succeeds he would then be in line for a promotion to President.  I think he'll excel now that he has additional help and can now focus on who's going to be on the 2009 Mets instead of the 2013 Mets. Also, I believe he'll succeed because he's now feeling the pressure for he is surrounded by three former GMs. Moreover, this means that if Omar falters he'd be gone before you could say "Hey Omar".  Everything that I'm about to write cannot happen because all of the coaching decisions have already been made. Therefore this is just my opinion of who should've gotten these jobs.  Cleaning up the coaching staff and hiring a new field manager is a little simpler.  Hire John Farrell as your Manager and promote first base coach Ken Oberkfell to bench coach and fire Sandy Alomar Sr.(period)  Oberkfell will act more like an Assistant Manager and will help out with the managing.  He has more experience(AAA) than Farrell does and Farrell(along with Dan Warthen) will have to deal with the pitching staff for the first few months of his rein.  Howard Johnson(hitting coach), Dan Warthen(pitching coach) and Luis Aguayo(3B coach) should all be brought back.  Or you could just hire a Shiny Razor to coach 3B.  Tim Teufel, the current manager in High A(Port St. Lucie), should be promoted to coach first base for the Mets.  He has been outstanding in that role and has a great influence on the younger players.

Part I - Talent Evaluation
Now onto the personnel.  The Mets were one of the top five best teams in the MLB last year and missed the playoffs.  There is two problems with that.  First, the Mets missed the playoffs last year and second, the Mets should've made the playoffs and didn't.  The chances of the Mets missing the playoffs in both '07 and '08 were less then 2% but somehow the Mets managed to pull it off.  The Mets sole issue last year was their bullpen, but in order to prevent another collapse the Mets should find it in their best interest to shore up all their other holes and problems.  This does not mean using up all your money on signing Mark Teixeira and C.C. "Hefty Lefty" Sabathia to whopping contracts, it means investing time and resources to find the optimal solution to each of their problems.

Here I've identified the areas of need for the Mets and possible solutions, internal and external. Here it is: 
1)Bullpen-internal:Eddie Kunz, Carlos Muniz, Bobby Parnell, Willie Collazo; free agents:Juan Cruz, Trevor Hoffman, Eric Gagne; trades:Huston Street, Bobby Jenks, Frank Francisco, *Joel Hanrahan, *David Aardsma, Chad Cordero(recovering from a difficult arm injury/surgery) 
2)RF/LF-internal:Ryan Church, Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, Fernando Martinez; free agents:Bobby Abreu(A), Milton Bradley(injury prone), Rocco Baldelli, Juan Rivera; trades:Travis Buck, Brandon Boggs, Brian Barton
3)Starters 4/5-internal:Jon Niese, Aaron Heilman(I believe he'd be good in his return to Starting), Bobby Parnell; free agents:Brad Penny, Mark Mulder, Mark Prior, Horacio Ramirez; trades:Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell(was a starter in the minors), Sean Marshall, ** 
4)2B-internal:Daniel Murphy, Argenis Reyes, Luis Castillo; free agents:Orlando Hudson
5)Backup/Starting 1B-internal:Mike Carp, Val Pascucci, Chris Aguila; free agents: Jason Giambi, Hank Blalock, Eric Hinske
6)RH PowerHitter off Bench-internal:Val Pascucci, Chris Aguila; free agents:Kevin Mench, Greg Norton
7)Utility-internal:Argenis Reyes; free agents:Alex Cora, Craig Counsell
8)Depth-Although at the bottom of the list this is probably the most important area of need the Mets have.  The main quagmire that killed the Mets was that they weren't able to cover up their uncertainties even the slightest bit because they had no depth last years.  Thus the Mets should stockpile cheap pitchers with good stuff and stick them in AAA if they don't make the team out of the spring.  This way if a starter or a reliever goes down with an injury or are ineffective or tired one of these players can immediately come up and replace him.  The same should be done with position players but more importantly with the pitchers.

The aforementioned paragraph talked about the Mets needs and player targets while the next paragraph will talk about the players the Mets should rid themselves of:
Duaner Sanchez(non-tender, if he'd sign a minor league deal I'd resign him), Scott Schoeneweis(trade), Luis Castillo(trade), Marlon Anderson(release) and Carlos Delgado if he'd bring back something decent in a trade.  Now onto the major offseason plans. We are now officially ready for the offseason because we've successfully resolved the Mets front office complications, hired a new coaching staff and prepped ourselves for many player acquisitions. 

Part II - Impending Free Agents
Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez, Luis Ayala, El Injuryque, Damion Easley, Matt Wise, Moises Alou and Fernando Tatis are all free agents.  I would not be willing to resign any of these players back for the apparent reasons(they stink).  Tatis is going to suffer from regressing to the mean because he's clearly not the player he was last year career wise. Everyone else is either awful or injury prone except for OP.  Oliver Perez is interesting because all Mets fans will of course want to resign him but New Yorkers tend to forget too easily when it comes to sports(who one the Super Bowl last year?). They remember Ollie defeating the Yankees and Phillies in crucial games last year.  They don't remember that Oliver Perez had a 5.58 ERA in May and nearly had the same amount of walks as he did strikeouts(24/20), while letting up 8 homers.  Following up that terrific performance Perez posted a 5.28 ERA in June and let up 7 homers.  Then in the last month of the season Perez posted an ERA of 5.79, to help the Mets into the playoffs(what did I say about New Yorkers?). Mets fans have to realize that Perez's pitching is as inconsistent as the Knicks.  Since Perez is going to command a mega contract around 5y/$75MM(Scott Boras is his agent) he isn't worth it.  The Mets should offer him arbitration so when another team obliges to these preposterous demands the Mets will then collect two draft picks.  So while the Mets are shaving around $32.7MM(after raises and losses not including arbitration raises) they're also collecting 2 drafts picks.

Part III - Acquiring The Wright Personnel
The Mets have many holes that need to be filled so I chose the optimal options for each and every hole the Mets have using the list of players above.    
C: Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro should platoon again in 2009.  I liked this platoon a lot because they are almost complete opposites, Castro's an offensive minded catcher and Schneider's one of the best with the glove.  I believe giving Schneider another year to work with the Mets pitching staff would be an excellent idea.  He works very well with young pitchers which the Mets now have in Jonathan Niese, Eddie Kunz, Robert Parnell and quite a few more good pitching prospects.  Castro can also handle a pitching staff too and also is a fantastic, above average hitting catcher.  If this LH/RH platoon manages to stay healthy it should be a good one for the Mets in 2009.
1B: The Mets should stick with Carlos Delgado at first base unless they get blown away with an offer.  If he falters the Mets now have the personnel to replace him(Evans, Carp, Murphy, Pascucci) and if he continues his success the Mets will be solid at 1B.
2B: Daniel Murphy all the way.  He'll pick up all of Castillo's offense with no problems and will probably also make up for the slight hitting  discrepancy behind the dish.
3B: David Wright.  I think that's the only thing I have to say, David Wright
SS: The same goes for Jose Reyes
LF: Nick Evans should at least win the RH side of the platoon in LF out of spring training if not the full time job.  I believe the Mets should acquire Travis Buck the A's left handed hitting outfielder.  He won't cost much because he had a brutal year this past season and the influx of a ton of top outfield prospects into the Athletics farm system(Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Matt Murton, Ryan Sweeney, Eric Patterson, Matt Spencer and Chris Denorfia)should all but push Buck out the door.  Since most of the A's top prospects are big league ready they now have no room for Travis Buck in their jam-packed outfield.  He's an above average fielder, he gets on base and by playing against righties only his stats will be pretty inflated but very high.
CF: Carlos Beltran 
RF: I would let Ryan Church, Val Pascucci and Chris Aguila vie for the rightfield starting job which might also end up as a platoon.  Church can at least platoon in right field this season, I hope.  I strongly believe Ryan Church will return healthy and improved and hopefully turn in a good season as the Mets starting rightfielder.  If not and he truly cannot play baseball anymore in a bearable manner hopefully both of Travis Buck and Nick Evans step up and cause the platoon to be split into two.
C: Like I mentioned before Ramon Castro and Brian Schneider should be platooning and in that case each one is the other's backup on the nights their not playing.
IF: Alex Cora.  When he's called on he performs and he plays a good role in the clubhouse. He's also extremely versatile and has one a World Series title.  When Murphy will need a break against LHP's Cora will fill in.  Cora can also spell Wright and Reyes.  
OF: Angel Pagan and Endy Chavez could battle it out for the speedy and plus defensive outfielder job.
Power-Hitting 1B/OF: I would let Pascucci, Aguila and Kevin Mench(minor league deal/invitation to spring training) compete for the 23rd spot on the roster and provide power off the bench.
OF: The other half of the Nick Evans/Travis Buck platoon sits in this spot.
SP1: Who do you think it is?  Pedro?  Johan Santana of course!(say with hispanic accent)
SP2: This should be John Maine's spot but in crucial parts of the year he didn't play up to his potential and at the most crucial time, September, he got injured.  I still believe he'll enter the year as the Mets number 2 though.  
SP3: Expect a similar thing to what happened to Maine last year to happen to Mike Pelfrey this year. Remember that if you throw more than 30 IP than the year before you are a serious injury/ineffectiveness risk.  Pelfrey in 2007 threw 152 2/3 IP(minors and majors combined) and this year threw 200 2/3 IP, an increase of 48 innings.  It's true that Pelfrey is a big fellow and was/is capable of carrying this type of workload as the Mets number two starter this year, but he's still an injury/ineffectiveness risk for next season.
SP4/5: I am combining these two positions because a)there really isn't a need for a 5th starter
and b)the Mets should have an open competition for these two spots and have the two best start the season as the 4 and 5.  So this is really one competition with two victors and not two separate competitions.  I would sign Brad Penny and have him compete and be the frontrunner for the 4th starter spot and prove to the Mets that he's healthy enough to be effective.  Last year he got really unlucky with the homerun ball having a whopping 13.4% HR/FB rate which is 4.4% above his career rate so that means it'll deflate this year.  Up to June Penny's always great but after June he's been downright awful.  In 2006 he had a 2.32, a 3.51 and a 3.05 ERA in each of April, May and June, followed by a 6.00, a 5.14 and a 6.83 in July, August and September.  In 2007 he was the best first half pitcher in baseball throwing 1.95, 2.15 and 1.90 ERA's in April, May and June but followed that up with an atrocious 2nd half yet again posting ERA's of 4.91, 4.00 and 3.90 to finish the season.  So the Mets should trade Penny on July 1st while he has max value, for a good young pitching prospect, and hand the job over to one of the losers of the last starting spot.  If Penny's ineffective from the get go the Mets should just let him go[sign him to a contract with a clause that lets him become a free agent again after Spring Training if either a)he wants to become a free agent again after winning a roster spot with the Mets while getting no money from the Mets or b)if he loses the 4/5th starter battle the Mets would have to pay him $1MM to become a free agent].  The other candidates would be Jonathan Niese, Aaron Heilman, Robert Parnell and Jason Vargas(Just let up his first run in the AFL).  I would also trade for David Aardsma because he has a superb fastball and will come cheaply.  He's worth the gamble because he has excellent stuff, he probably won't win the starting job but he'll try out for a bullpen spot. If he loses out on the bullpen spot he could always be DFA'd and would then join an already excellent AAA staff.  I would also sign Horacio Ramirez to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. This gives the Mets something they didn't have last year, pitching depth.  Whether it'll be having all 5 starters healthy, whether it be having a few starters in their bullpen, or even having former MLB starters on their AAA pitching staff.
CL: As I said before, you do not have to be a proven closer to be a major league closer, just look at David Price.  The mannerisms you do need is a positive attitude, resiliency and swagger. You need these attributes to be able to give it your best one night while blowing a save and still be able to come back the next night and dominate a better team.  You do not need experience to close it's a load of BS(Blown Saves).  So signing Trevor Hoffman to mentor Eddie Kunz, Joe Smith and Robert Parnell doesn't look like such a good move now that I've mentioned all this. But the point of signing Hoffman is not to close, rather to help these young players gain these attributes because younger players are sometimes lacking in these areas.  Hoffman will probably be able to hold the fort until midseason while then probably succumbing to injury or ineffectiveness due to his age. This is irrelevant because he'd have already completed his task in teaching the young ones the ways of the closer.  
6-8th Inning: Eddie Kunz, Robert Parnell and Joe Smith will battle for the top spot and each of them will almost certainly win a roster spot.  This is good news for the Mets because this young trio of relievers are all very unique and different than the other.  Eddie Kunz has been a closer since his sophomore year in college and has thrived in that role.  He throws his 4-seam fastball at 94-96 MPH, a hard sinker at 91-93 MPH and a great slider at 89 MPH. The only concern with Kunz are his struggles verses lefties because lefties kill right-handed pitcher's sliders. Robert Parnell has been a starter his whole professional baseball career but for lack of a breaking ball should be moved into the pen.  He throws a fastball that tops out at 97 MPH and a slider that needs work but could be good in a little while along with a changeup which is nothing to write home about.  Joe Smith is a submariner who has a wicked delivery and a nasty repertoire of a biting 4-seamer, a snapping 2-seamer, a looping slider and a deceiving changeup.  As you can surely tell all these pitchers are extremely different.
Lefty Specialists: The Mets should start the season with two left handed relievers in their bullpen.  They have to choose two of: Pedro Feliciano, Jason Vargas(not Claudio), Willie Collazo and Adam Bostick.  Feliciano was misused last year by both Jerry and Willie because of the fact that he can face both left-handed batters and right-handed ones(unlike another lefty reliever we're all familiar with, cough...Schoeneweis...cough) but last year only pitched against lefty batters. Vargas, Collazo and Bostick are all starters but I believe they aren't good enough to be starters in the majors and should therefore relieve instead.  Vargas is currently dominating the AFL after successfully recovering from knee surgery which caused him to miss most of last season. Collazo is a minor league veteran and has a similar arm slot to Feliciano's. All these pitchers fair pretty well against righties, so no need to worry if your manager is an idiot and leaves your lefty specialist in the game to face a right-handed batter in the most important game in the season.
Long Reliever: This job belongs to Brian Stokes although he may be challenged by Horacio Ramirez, Stokes should win the struggle and become this team's long reliever.  By midseason however Trevor Hoffman should be out of the picture and Horacio Ramirez would then be pushed up to the major leagues and have his own bullpen role. Brian Stokes would probably shift to middle reliever/6th inning guy.  This is a vital role and Stokes is perfect for it because of his hard fastball, 94-96 MPH, and his diving slider which gets excellent rotation, movement and speed. 
Depth: Arguably the most important area of all, the Mets will have an excellent rotation in Buffalo(AAA) to help out if something goes wrong in Flushing.  Led by Jonathan Niese the rotation will feature Tobi Stoner(Mets pitching prospect), Horacio Ramirez, David Aardsma, Willie Collazo and Adam Bostick(swingman).  They will also have a pretty good bullpen with Carlos Muniz and Ricardo Rincon leading the pack.

Part IV - Transactions  
I have the Mets making a number of transactions in the offseason but mostly tinkering and no big deals(i.e. Jake Peavy, Mark Teixeira or Brett Favre).  In most offseason preps(mine of course isn't a prep it's what a smart GM would do) the writers have the Mets signing big name free agents, this of course is idiotic.  I have Duaner Sanchez and Ruben Tejada(a 19 year old SS in high A) going to the A's in the aforementioned Travis Buck trade.  The Signing of Brad Penny to a one year $6MM deal with incentives and an opt-out clause.  Also picking up Horacio Ramirez, Kevin Mench and Chad Cordero from the scrap heap and signing them to minor league deals with invitations to spring in St. Lucie.  The Mets will be filling their veteran utility role by signing Alex Cora to a one year $2.5MM deal with an evergreen clause that vests with 200 at-bats for $2MM in 2010 .  And the Mets would acquiring David Aardsma who should cost next to nothing.  The biggest move is signing Trevor Hoffman to a one year $6MM contract with a club option for a second year at $5MM.  Luis Castillo and Scott Schoeneweis should be shipped out of town for anything short of a sack of baseballs.  After June the Mets should trade Brad Penny for a top pitching prospect.  This would then allow for the callup of the highly touted Jon Niese.  They should also look to trade Delgado at the halfway point if Mike Carp is ready to take over or if Nick Evans has outgrown his platoon in LF.  Pedro Feliciano could also be shipped off if one of Collazo, Bostick outperform AAA and are ready for a callup as well.

Part V - Conclusion  
The Mets will be able to survive injuries this year unlike last year, if they'd go with this blueprint.  The worst case scenario, I believe is Ryan Church being done, Delgado being finished, Hoffman getting injured in the first week of Spring Training, Pelfrey declining, Penny getting injured and the bullpen not growing because of missing Hoffman.  If all this happens they could get move one of Chris Aguila, Val Pascucci, Travis Buck and Fernando Martinez to RF.  One of Mike Carp, Pascucci and Nick Evans would replace Delgado at 1B.  They could replace Pelf with Jon Niese, they could replace Penny with Ramirez or Aardsma.  With many useful pieces aligned at AAA they could easily revamp their bullpen with fresh arms. But seriously what are the chances of all that happening in 2009 to the Mets?  I mean the Mets aren't that unlucky, are they?  As you can see all these question marks have apropos solutions and therefore this plan is as flawless as can be.  I can imagine the bullpen having a bounce back year in 2009 with all their new arms and lots of talented young pitchers with a mentor in Hoffman.  This team has not only improved but has also lowered their payroll, has gotten younger and healthier, added lots of depth and hasn't taken anything away from the farm system to make this grand plan work. Their only problem is not having a spot for Niese but I believe this problem will work itself out.  So Mets fans look for Omar to sign Derek Lowe and Brian Fuentes each to 4 year deals paying them an excess of $90MM over the lifespan of their contracts.  Or totally ruin his nicely built up farm system to get Matt Holliday(who is average outside Coors) or Jake Peavy who just isn't worth it.  I just hope Minaya will wise up and make sure the Mets don't lose on the last day of the season again because then something really bad could happen.  Sorry Mets fans for bringing you guys back down to earth, I also wish I was the Mets GM.               

John Farrell: The Next Great Manager

John Farrell is one of smartest baseball minds out their right now.  He's not only been a coach but has also worked in the front office and has played the game of baseball.  This guy just knows pitching.  He can recognize pitching talent, he can develop pitching talent and can elevate pitching talent.  He is currently the pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox(since 2007) and was formerly the Director of Player Development for the Indians(2001-2006).  We both know the level of pitching in these two places is extremely high.  Since 2002 the Indians have never been out of the top five minor league systems in all of baseball.  In 2007 John Farrell led the Sox rotation to a 3.87 ERA in a hitters park which was second to only San Diego who have amazing pitching teachers(Bud Black, Darren Balsley), and also play in an extreme pitchers park and posted a 3.68 ERA.

Under Farrell's watchful eye the Indians farm system slowly ascended to the top of the MLB. He signed and developed players like Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Guthrie(now with the Orioles), Jeremy Sowers, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt and more. He also produced three current top 100 prospects that the Indians have: Aaron Laffey(LHP), Adam Miller(top 15) and Chuck Lofgren(LHP).

With the Red Sox he has worked wonders for Justin Masterson, Jon Lester, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez along with overseeing the terrific Josh Beckett, Jon Papelbon and Tim Wakefield and has really eased the transition for Dice-K.  The Red Sox have a rotation consisting of Beckett, Dice-K, Lester, Wakefield and Buchholz(needs a lot of work). They also probably have the best bullpen in the MLB with Papelbon(also a starter), Masterson(also a starter), Delcarmen, Okajima, Javier Lopez and rookie Michael Bowden(a top prospect who's a starter).  

The one thing that truly amazes me is that all these pitchers are different from the next. Papelbon has the demeanor of a closer and has overpowering stuff, Masterson on the other hand is a sinkerballer with excellent command.  Okajima comes at you from the strangest arm-slots and angles, and Delcarmen is a power pitcher with outstanding breaking stuff(curveball, changeup). Then there is Javier Lopez who's a sidearmer and a lefty specialist but can face right handers one in a while, and Michael Bowden the highly touted prospect who has run out of minor league stops(he's dominated everywhere).

As you can see wherever Farrell has gone his teams pitching has flourished, now since he's had two years of tutelage under Terry Francona(arguably the best manager in the game) he should be ready to manage in the bigs.  He knows how to handle a bullpen, knows how to handle the media(he's a coach in Boston) and has probably learned how to be a successful manager from Francona(a great tactician, a winner, a leader, disciplinarian, settles clubhouse issues).  All this could mean that the MLB has a great manager in the making over in Boston and someone should get a hold of him(hopefully the Mets).        

On The two Mets Collapses

The Mets have "collapsed" for the second time in two years and lost their playoff berth both times on the last day of the season.  How do you explain this?  I'm not sure.  But when I was watching the Mets play the last game of the season and the last few weeks of the season I thought I was watching a rerun of last season, because the exact same thing happened.  This is where I was wrong.  In 2007 the Mets cruised to the top ofd the NL, being 15 games over .500 already in the early stages of May.  After that the Mets hovered around .500 until ending the season at 88-74.  This means that from May 12-October 1, the Mets finished one game below .500, pathetic.  This is called a collapse.  The Mets of 2008 started the year off by going 30-31. After June 7, the Mets went 59-42, 17 games over .500, while the Phillies went 54-44.  So in 2008 the Mets played excellent in the second half of the season, they lost their playoff spot in the first half.  It's true that the Mets were 3 1/2 games up as late as September 1o, but they hadn't had an extended dry spell since the first two months of the season so they were bound to have one. You can't even say that the timing was unfortunate because if this would've happened in July the Mets season still would've ended with the same result, one game back, out of the playoffs.

The Mets last year had seen their pitching staff decline in every month starting out at a superb 3.5/9(runs per nine) for all of April and finishing off the season at a horrific 5.7/9 for September.  This decline was the key to their demise and not the supposed hitting collapse that all the newspapers wrote about after the "collapse".  The hitters actually had their best month of the year in September rising above their average of 4.6 runs scored per game all the way to 5.7 in September.  This is because of the return of Moises Alou who hit .341/.392/.524 over the course of the 2007 season and hit even higher after he came off the DL in late August.

In 2008 the Mets had the second best offense in the NL(behind the Cubs) scoring 5 runs per game, along with leading the MLB in adjusted EqA(equivalent average).  Their starting rotation which lost John Maine late in the season(for all of September) and had Pedro for only a small portion of the season still ranked 5th in SNLVR(Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement)in the majors.  This means the Mets starting pitching saved the 5th most runs over what a AAA staff would've done in the MLB(the Jays led with 25.9) with 23.6.  This stat takes these factors out of the equation: park effect, opponents, (your team's)lineup/hitting, (your team's)bullpen and (your team's)defense.  It basically isolates pitching from every other aspect of the game.  The Mets were also 2nd in the NL Defensive Efficiency.  This clearly shows you that the Mets were in the top 5 teams in the MLB.  But if the playoffs are supposed to have the top 8 teams in the MLB how'd the Mets not make it?  The Mets outplayed the Phillies, Dodgers, Brewers and White Sox this past season and still didn't make it to the playoffs.  This is all because of the Mets horrendous bullpen. 

If the Mets had made it to the playoffs they would've had the 7th worst WXRL(a stat that isolates bullpen performance) in playoff history.  The saddest part about this is that the bottom 6 all ranged from 11-16(the middle of the pack) overall in the MLB meaning that the Mets really would've had the worst bullpen in playoff history because they ranked 26th in the majors this year.  

Both years the Mets lost because of pitching, both years they attribute the "collapse" to the hitting.  In reality the Mets could've used a hitting first basemen, right fielder, catcher and second basemen for the whole season in 2007/2008 but this WAS NOT the reason for their team's collapse.  I think the conclusion is now pretty clear, the Mets need to stockpile arms this offseason.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Building The Yankees

The Yankees had the highest payroll in the MLB last season but still managed to come in third place in the AL East, eaking their streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances. The Yankees epitomize the changes baseball's going through right now. The Yankees for many years have based their talent pool around old free agents who had previously led them to World Series titles. In baseball today if you rely on free agents you will get crushed. The MLB is slowly slipping away from free agents and drifting towards player development. The Yankees have still been acquiring these types old expensive players(Ivan Rodriguez)that are basically useless, and who have led to their team's demise, while taking many steps forward in player development the Yankees still like to lean on these old expensive guys for reinforcements.  This causes teams to be thus losing the easiest way of acquiring talent, a.k.a. bringing up players from the minor leagues.  The one part that the Yankees got down right is stressing OBP.  On-Base Percentage is a key component of having success in the regular season.  If you look at all their hand selected, old free agents signees they all at least get on base at an extremely high rates. So if you'd like to say that the Yankees are flawed go ahead but just remember that the Yankees one hidden talent before the start of the season, starting pitching, took hits to all its top three members; Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes who all succumbed to injuries over the course of the season. 

The Yankees(Hank and Hal Steinbrenner) have to learn that signing free agents doesn't work and that they now have to let Brian Cashmen do his job without them butting in. In my opinion the Yankees don't need much work at all but I'm almost positive that the Yankees will at least sign two big name, expensive free agents to bad contracts. The free agents that the Yankees already dished their cash out to aren't worth trading for three reasons: a)no one will take on their tremendous salaries, b)they are producing and getting on-base so you might as well keep them and c)for lack of better options to play at their positions. So without further ado your 2009 New York Yankees(if I was at the helm):

Part I - Impending Free Agents                                            
Yankees have quite a few impending free agents but most of them are expensive, old and have replacements waiting in the wings.  I would decline Jason Giambi's $22MM option and instead pay him his $5MM buyout because Jorge Posada will surely take over first base for he can no longer catch and he is under contract.  I would also decline Carl Pavano's $13MM option and pay him his $1.95MM buyout(that's a given).  Bobby Abreu is a free agent and will command at least a three year deal, since the Yankees have many outfielders they are better off letting him go and using the money elsewhere.  Offering him arbitration is the smartest plan because he wants a long term contract, so if you offer him arbitration and he signs with another team the Yankees pick up a couple draft picks and if he accepts arbitration you get a .380 OBP player for around $16MM for one year, a true bargain. Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina are both free agents and are both contemplating retirement. I believe one of them would accept a one year contract for around $10-12MM with a cheaper club option for a second year, I would bring back one of the two to be the fourth starter, but wouldn't push it because the Yankees have many other alternatives for the last two spots in the rotation(Alfredo Aceves, Darrell Rasner, Ian Kennedy, etc.).  Even though Damaso Marte was roughed up in his two months as a Yankee I believe he'll return to form in 2009, his option is an easy choice at $6MM especially after shedding most of the other free agent's salaries.  So I would let Jason Giambi, one of Pettitte/Mussina(or both), Pavano and Ivan Rodriguez go while offering arbitration to Bobby Abreu and bringing back one of Pettitte/Mussina(or neither) and Marte.

Part II - Free Agent Market                                                                                                        Free agents are overpriced and old.  The Yankees don't really need help at any of the positions with top free agents 1B(Teixeira), LF(Manny) and SP(Sabathia/Burnett).  They're also very deep in the bullpen(K-Rod) so they could look to add a couple cheap high ceiling guys for the bench like the Rays did(Hinske, Pena) and he all know how that turned out(cough, World Series, cough). The Yankees should instead invest their money in long-term contracts for Joba, Hughes, Wang and others down the road(Austin Jackson a top 50 prospect who plays CF). They could also use the extra money to further develop their international and amateur scouting along with their player development. 

Part III - Trades                                                                                 
What the Yankees should do is trade Derek Jeter.  You can call me crazy but if you look at his stats from the past few years he's cleary been declining and has never in his career played defense well.  The best part of trading Derek Jeter is that the Yankees already have a superior and younger SS on their 25-man roster in A-Rod.  Now, who would take on Jeter and his enormous ego?  The Dodgers.  The Dodgers are losing both their starting SS(Rafael Furcal) and their icon(Manny Ramirez) to free agency this offseason and this trade would solve both problems for them, plus Joe Torre  is the manager of the Dodgers meaning that if Jeter would hit the trade market he would demand the Dodgers to go all in, in order to acquire DJ.  The Dodgers are said to be not overly enamored with his[Russell Martin's] makeup".  The Yankees desperately need a young catcher who can take control of a game(on the pitching side) and help out his pitchers, along with hitting very well, this my friends is Russell Martin.  Him alone isn't enough so I would demand James McDonald(a Dodgers major league ready, top pitching prospect) and Blake Dewitt(the Dodgers future 2B but can play all over). In order to settle the money matters the Yankees would also be getting Andruw Jones and his albatross contract.  Andruw Jones would be a nice pickup for the Yankees because he could revive his career by playing for a perennial contender, playing in a hitters park and of course wearing pinstripes.  This gives the Yankees a one year bridge in CF until their top prospect Austin Jackson is ready to roam centerfield in the new Yankee Stadium.  This move doesn't only free up $23MM(Jeter's owed $41MM over '09-'10 minus Jones' $18MM one year commitment) but also fills in most of the team's holes with young talent.

Part IV - Overview                                                                                                                     The Yankees have almost every spot up for grabs in their bullpen along with the 5th starter spot.  I would set up competitions for each of these spots along with a few others(bench spots) heading into spring training and wait and see which players come out victorious; the journeymen, the rookies or the veterans.  This is what the Yankees '09 roster should look like: 

C: Russell Martin
1B: Jorge Posada
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Blake DeWitt(If he can’t handle the offensive production for a 3B, him and A-Rod could flip-flop)
SS: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Johnny Damon
CF: Andruw Jones
RF: Xavier Nady
DH: Hideki Matsui
C: Chad Moeller(not really needed, Russell Martin only misses a game or two per season)
IF: C.J. Henry/Cody Ranson(could use a new backup IFer)
1B/LF: Shelley Duncan
OF: Melky Cabrera/Brett Gardner(I would start Melky out in AAA to refine his swing)

SP: Chien-Ming Wang
SP: Joba Chamberlain
SP: Phil Hughes  
SP: Andy Pettitte/Mike Mussina(If both leave McDonald becomes the #4)                          
SP: James McDonald(frontrunner)/Darrell Rasner/Ian Kennedy/Alfredo Aceves                      
CL:Mariano Rivera                                                                                                                        
LOOGY: Damaso Marte                       
The other 5 spots would be an open competition between a number of talented pitchers and I'll be listing them from "best to worst":                                                                                                  
Darrell Rasner, Ian Kennedy, Mark Melancon, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Brian Bruney, Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese, Phil Coke and Humberto Sanchez.

This is how the Yankees roster would look if I were in charge.  To bad I'm not(it would be a really hard job for me).  I have to say, the Yankees are based around young pitching and OBP which is what teams need to reach the playoffs(look at the Boston Red Sox).  If Wang, Hughes and Joba didn't all get injured last season we might've been seeing a Yankees-Phillies World Series, no just kidding, but they would've been much better with those three atop their rotation.  Anyways all this virtually has 0% chance of happening and instead the Yankees will probably sign CC Sabathia and Teixeira to monstrous contracts and in 2018 they'll come crying to me asking for help because they'll be stuck paying two 40 year olds $25MM a year.

Editor's Note: Sorry about the messed up format, I was experiencing some technical difficulties that have now hopefully been resolved(these problems always start from having a crappy technician). Not to mention that I'm my own technician.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why the Chicago Cubs didn't make it out of the NLDS

I once wrote a post about outcome and causation in postseason play.  I mentioned that the only regular season stats with any significant causation to winning in the postseason are a team's closers WXRL(this isolates the amount of wins a closer has saved for a team over what a replacement player would've), Defensive Efficiency(a stat which measure the percentage of balls in play that are converted into outs), and K Rate(the amount of K's your team averages every 9 innings). 

The Chicago Cubs are a unique case because they were second in the majors in DE, 5th in WXRL and first in K%.  How does this follow? How does a team that is supposed to win a World Series get swept in the first round by an inferior team? How is it that the Cubs haven't won in 100 years?

This is all very puzzling but there is always an answer to everything.  First off DE, WXRL and K% only cause about 15% of a win while the other 85% is all luck and variables.  So even if the Cubs finished first in all three categories they could still have lost the series because if you for sure win 15% of the time in a short series you'd win a total of .75 of a game which doesn't help. So the first reason is that anything can happen in a short series between two of the four best teams in the NL(it never really is but just for the sake of argument).  Reason two is that the Dodgers are motivated.  They would've lost the division without Manny.  Correction: Manny's motivated.  He wants to prove to baseball that he doesn't have to be a headache, while playing like an MVP in a new league and leading another team besides the Red Sox to the World Series(along with making a ton of money this offseason).  The point is an unmotivated Manny is scary, a motivated Manny could have a 1.200 OPS(On-Base% plus Slugging%).  Joe Torre wants to prove to everyone that he doesn't need a $200MM payroll to succeed.  By winning this year that's what he's doing. 

The Cubs had so much pressure on them that they couldn't succeed.  The Cubs need to play in a stress free environment and pretend like the playoffs are just a continuation of the regular season, Piniella being their makes this hard.  The Cubs never really hit a dry spot the whole season, their longest losing streak was 6 games and that was at the beginning of September when Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano were injured.  They were slowing down a bit in September and they were do for a losing streak sooner rather than later and the season was ending.  Who better to face than the streaking Dodgers.  The Dodgers finished off the slumping Cubs in 3 games.  A combination of a mental disadvantage, a slump well overdue, the Dodgers motivation and just plain luck overrode the best team in the MLB this year.  All this probably meant that the Dodgers had an 80% to 20% advantage with 77% luck going to the Dodgers and 8% going to the Cubs.  With that big of an imbalance it's easy to understand why the Cubs failed to beat the Dodgers. 

The Red Sox, The Rays and The '96 Yankees

The part of baseball that I like the most is that it's like a poem.  You can interpret a transaction in many different ways and be right, but still not have interpreted it the way the GM did before making the transaction.  That's the beauty of baseball.

On Friday Jack Curry wrote an article in the New York Times saying that the '04-current Red Sox are basically the same as the '96-'00 Yankees(I can now capitalize the Y because they didn't make it to the playoffs).  He is wrong on many accounts. Right after reading that article I read an article also written by Curry about the Rays turnaround.  When I read this article the first thing that came to my mind was what a genius Andrew Friedman is.  These three teams all chose different paths of success and this is the reason Curry isn't right to compare the '96-'00 Yankees with the Red Sox. The only similarities these teams have are that they're all from the AL East and they all were/are/will be prennial winners, but the similarities end there.  these three yeams have all been built optimaly but all three in different ways.  this is where Jack Curry is wrong.

The '96 yanks built themselves up by grooming a few top prospects, making a few nifty trades but most importantly signing expensive free agents to huge contracts.  This catapulted baseball into a new era, an era loaded with monstrous contracts, steroids and drugs.  The Yankees showed to the rest of baseball that the right way to win is by signing top free agents.

The Red Sox were one of the first teams to disobey the era change and decide to let Theo Epstein run his own ingenious plan.  This was to create the image of the ideal baseball player in his mind and to acquire as many as he could.  This is what he did.  He first signed a bunch of cheaper free agents like Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz(waiver wire pickup) and Mark Bellhorn all similar type players who fit his mold.  These players mixed with the core of Pedro, Manny, Nomar and Johnny  Damon to form a great team.  This team failed the first time around in '03 by losing to the Yankees in extra innings of game 7 of the ALCS.  He then decided to take a risk the next year by trading away their second most productive offensive player and their star Nomar Garciaparra.  Theo Epstein realized that his player mold wasn't sought after and therefore was cheaper and easier to attain in free agency but more importantly the baseball draft.  Younger players are under team control for 6 years, are cheaper and less injury prone than veterans.  So this is what Theo did.  He kept on signing cheap free agents mixing in a few nice trades(Nomar, Schilling) while most importantly developing top prospects.  By signing the older players Theo was basically giving his 2007-08 team time to develop.  Now that he's got this young talent he's pushed all the older players out of town(the players mentioned above, Lugo, Manny).  His method was to utilize his flow of cash, but once his draftees are ready to play you get rid of the grizzled veterans.

The Rays are the most unique because this team rebuilt itself in a way that's unheard of today. Usually when a team rebuilds they trade all their better and older players for top prospects and develop the prospects, this doesn't always work.  When the Rays rebuilt they didn't trade any veterans because they didn't have any of them to trade.  This is what I find amazing.  Andrew Friedman simply started rebuilding his farm system from scratch without receiving a boatload of prospects to help out from outside of the organization like what most teams do(Orioles, A's). Mr. Friedman just compiled a bunch of prospects and cheap pickups while dumping salary to form one of the best teams in baseball if not the best.  This process is the hardest and takes the longest although Andrew managed to do it in 3 years time.

What we see here is that although both the Yankees of old and the Red Sox weren't/aren't afraid to hand out the cash these teams built their teams in different fashions.  Theo Epstein took risks(i.e. trading 4 prospects for Schilling, trading Nomar and Manny) while the Steinbrenners always played it safe.  The Yankees weren't smart they just compiled enough expensive veterans that some of them had to pan out.  Since more teams have taken part in free agency since 2000 the Yankees haven't been able to do what they used to.  This is why Theo's plan is more efficient because all his players have come from the farm system with a few exceptions(Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Josh Beckett).  The Rays, playing in a pressure free area and situation had the luxury of "not trying to compete" for two years while developing this years team.  As you can see these three methods all work it just depends on the team and the situation.  The Yankees wouldn't of been able to use the method the Rays used because of their fan base's demands and the Rays wouldn't have been able to use the Red Sox or the Yankees methods because they don't have enough money, resources.  I think just like the Yankees did in the 90's the Rays have started a new era.  An era of homegrown talent and player development.  Because of this free agency is going to go into a state of flux, look for baseball to try to work this out someway.