Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why the Red Sox should not hire Bobby Valentine

The man once put on a fake mustache and sunglasses to sneak back into the dugout after being ejected.  Somehow, I don't think a man who thinks that is a good idea is cut out for a high stress job like the Red Sox manager.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A minor coup

The player's association and the owners unofficially agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement today.  Besides the fact that we can revel in the fact that baseball got it done well before the NBA managed to get their shit together, there is an interesting tidbit in the change of the compensation process for free agents.

First of all, there are now caps on draft spending and international spending on free agents using a luxury tax for teams that overspend.  In some ways, this seems like a penalty to the teams that do poorly; I doubt that agents of #1 prospects like Strasburg or Harper will be lowering their demands, so on top of a substantial payday, these teams could be paying into the commissioner's luxury tax pool.

More interestingly, the Elias rankings will be no longer used, starting in the 2012 offseason.  Instead, teams will get compensation picks for players who depart in free agency if the team makes a qualifying offer of $12 million.  This will greatly increase the value of good, but not great, free agents who would otherwise cost a draft pick to sign.

For this season, type A free agent relievers will no longer cost a draft pick to sign.  However, the rule will not be applied retroactively.  That means the Phillies will forfeit their first round draft pick to the Red Sox as compensation for Jon Papelbon, but if the Red Sox sign any other free agent closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell.  By not having to give up a draft pick, I think the Red Sox are much more likely to sign a top reliever to help compensate for the loss of Paps.  According to a Hardball Times study, draft picks in the 15-30 range typically produce an extra $6.5 million worth of value.  That extra $6 million of value is nice to have (although it is hardly something you can count on - sometimes you get Mike Trout, sometimes you get Andrew Brackman), and the Red Sox have the Phillies' impatience to thank for that little windfall.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Curious Case of Francisco Cordero

The Red Sox have been linked with Francisco Cordero.  Cordero has been a remarkably consistent closer since his elite 2007.  He's saved 34 games every single game since 2007.  His ERA has bounced around in those years, ranging from 2.16-3.84, but he's always held on to his closer job.  What's even more attractive is that he just posted one of the best seasons of his career in 2010, with a sparkling 2.45 ERA and 37 saves.

However, if we dig a bit deeper, things look much more bleak for Cordero.  Since his spectacular 2007 when he had a K/9 of over 12, his strikeout rate has declined every single year.  Despite his 2.45 ERA in 2010, his K rate was easily the lowest of his career (5.43 K/9) and was well below average for a reliever, let alone a solid closer.  He did lower his walk rate to the lowest it has been since 2007 (2.83 BB/9), but the strikeout rate screams that a disaster is looming.  How exactly did he manage to avoid disaster in 2010?  The lowered walk rate helped a lot, but the major contributor was his strand rate of 82%, well above league average of about 75%.  Looking at his expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP), Cordero has had an expected ERA of around 4.00 for the last three years.

In doing research for this, I found that Yankees reliever Tyler Clippard had an insane 95.6% of his baserunners left on base.  The worst with 60+ innings pitched?  Tim Wakefield at 59%.  Maybe he is worth another go around, as a bounceback in luckiness in runners stranded would make his ERA a lot more palatable.

But, if we dig even deeper, there are good signs for Cordero.  Despite the massive drop in his strike out rate, Cordero's swinging strike rate actually increased between 2009 and 2010.  Although it is well off his career high, his 10% swinging strike rate should lead to a K/9 of about 8.5, using the quick rule of thumb of swinging strike percentage - 1.5, which is very good.  If he can maintain his 2.84 BB/9 rate and his 50% ground ball rate, that would have led to a FIP of about 3.5 for 2011.  That isn't anything special, but it is solid.

All told, I'm not sure Cordero is a great fit for the Red Sox, despite his improved control and increased swinging strike rate in 2011.  Given his saves totals over the last four years and his ERA in 2011, he'll probably benefit from the "proven closer" reputation.  But, it is interesting to see how his statistics can be used to tell very different stories, as even the "Sabremetric" statistics point in different directions.  I could have written three very different posts using statistics.  Remember, as Mark Twain liked to say, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A totally made up rumor

The Red Sox should sign Matt Murton.  Why?

Matt Murton has decided to stay in Japan, so this question is irrelevant now.  Still, Murton would have filled a  valuable role for the Red Sox.

1. He is freely available.  Murton is coming off an extremely nice season in Japan where he broke Ichiro's all time hits record, but didn't show a lot of power.  He also hit for 200 hits in his first season in Japan, so it isn't a fluke.  He can hit for a high average, draw a few walks, and hit for a little bit of pop (29 HR in 900 career at bats).

2. Murton is right handed, so he would be a nice complement to the all lefty outfield the Red Sox currently start.

3. Murton is an above average defender in the outfield, so he would likely be able to play in both right field and left field.

It isn't clear that Matt Murton would accept a bench role on a major league team when he could start (and star in Japan).  It also isn't clear that a MLB offer would be more lucrative financially for him than a job in Japan would be.  If neither of those things are an option, Murton could be an intriguing piece for any MLB team.  Despite his failure to stick following the 2009 season, we are talking about a player with a perfectly league average OPS who plays good defense.

Taking a closer look at the Papelbon deal

The details of the Papelbon deal have been released, so we can take a closer look at it.  Papelbon signed a four year, $50 million deal, with a $13 million vesting option (no buyout).  The option vests if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15.  I would say the option has a good chance to vest - Papelbon has topped 55 games finished in two of the last four years, and has never had a two year stretch where he failed to finish 100.  The Phils aren't afraid to stick with an ineffective closer, either.  In 2009 Brad Lidge went 0-8 with a mind boggling 7.21 ERA, but still managed 31 saves and 55 games finished.

The average annual value of the deal without the option is $12.5 million, which is a record for anyone who isn't Mariano Rivera.  The total value of the contract is a record high for a reliever, and will pay Papelbon through his age 34 or 35 season.

For the Phillies, I understand that they want to keep their championship window open as long as possible.  With Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee under contract and probably past their peak, the time to win another title may already be fading.  While Papelbon may help them win in 2012 or 2013, the deal could add to the Phillies getting old in a hurry.

Ryan Howard is just beginning a five year, $125 million deal that will take him through his age 36 season.  My feelings about the Howard extension are already on file, but short version is that given his age, size, the history associated with left handed sluggers, and the fact that he's already going to miss 2012, this contract looks like a disaster before it even officially begins.

Chase Utley is under contract for an additional two years ($12.5 million per), which will take him through his age 34 season.  Utley has a serious knee injury that delayed the start of the 2012 season for him and one that will most likely bother him for the rest of his career.  He hasn't topped 110 games in the last two years and put up career lows in batting average, slugging percentage, isolated power, and on base percentage.

Halladay is under contract for another two years ($20 million per) through his age 36 season.

Cliff Lee is under contract until 2015, with a $27.5 million option for 2016 that will most likely be picked up if he's at all effective, given the enormous $12.5 million buyout.  At that point, Lee will be 37 years old.  Both pitchers have continued to be effective and may live up to their ace status, but betting on pitchers in their mid to late thirties is a good way to go broke.

All told, that is $364 million committed to five players in their 30's over the next five years.

From the Red Sox perspective, the length of the contract is probably what sunk the deal.  The $12.5 million salary isn't massive, given Papelbon earned $12 million last year.  But to commit four or five years to a reliever is scary, ask the now fired JP Ricciardi about how his five year commitment to BJ Ryan worked out.         It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox reallocate the money.  They still need starters (more on that later), bullpen help, and maybe a right fielder or a DH, although I think they'll stand pat and resign Papi and stick with Reddick.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Theo's departure, in his own words

Theo wrote an Op/Ed for the Globe today, and it is definitely worth a read.  He continues to be classy as he departs Boston.  Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that he had planned to leave after 2012, with Cherington taking over, even before the September collapse.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tackling Pete Abraham's To Do List for Cherington

Now that Theo has finally officially joined the Cubs, and left in style, folks are starting to write about what needs to get done in the Red Sox offseason.  Because of limited financial flexibility and two massive commitments last offseason, making a splash in free agency really isn't an option.

1. Negotiate with Theo Epstein for compensation for Theo Epstein.
This one is truly bizarre.  Theo will be trying to argue he isn't that valuable, while Cherington will try and upsell his former boss on his own value.  In the end, it will get done, but the rumblings are that none of the Cubs three major prospects will be involved.

2. Hire a new manager and coaching staff.
Lost in the chaos of the Theo departure is the fact that the Red Sox may have to hire an entirely new coaching staff.  Curt Young lasted a single season in Boston, before returning to Oakland.  Francona's two World Series titles still couldn't reach players.

3. Decide on the team options on Marco Scutaro ($6 million) and Dan Wheeler ($3 million)
Marco Scutaro was a 3 win player in 2011, according to Fangraphs.  That puts his value at $12.9 million, and he put up $9.6 million worth of WAR in 2010 as well.  A $6 million option seems like a no brainer to me, especially with Lowrie being injury prone and Jose Iglesias not ready for big league pitching.  Dan Wheeler at $3 looks like an easy pick up too.  He put up 50 innings of OK, but not spectacular relief.  He's a bit over paid, based on value from either Fangraphs or Baseball Reference, but on a one year deal, it isn't a bad gamble to take.  Bullpen depth was an issue, so letting go of a successful bullpen arm doesn't seem like a good idea.

4. Find someplace — San Diego, San Francisco, the moon — to send John Lackey.
No easy solution here.  Sadly, sending John Lackey to space would be cheaper than paying the rest of his contract.  Space tourism runs $20 million, Lackey has $45.75 million remaining.  Maybe Cherington can send him to space twice.

5. Determine to what degree the team will fight to retain in-house free agents Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Erik Bedard, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.
J.D. Drew is as good as gone, at least in my mind.  I think the time may have come to let go of Wakefield and Varitek.  With Lavarnway looking like a major leaguer, there isn't the roster spot for Varitek.  Also, if the failed clubhouse culture falls on anyone, it would be the captain.  Wakefield may hang on for one more season, but it wouldn't surprise me to see them move on.  The hard decisions will be Papelbon and Ortiz.  A lot will depend on what kind of contract it takes for them to resign.  I'd top out at a 2 year deal for Ortiz and 4 years for Papelbon, but I'd try with a three year deal first.  Bedard won't make a big difference one way or another.

6. Determine to what extent the medical and conditioning staff needs to be overhauled given the injuries and issues of the last two seasons.
I'm not sure the medical staff needs to be overhauled.  Aside from the issues with Ellsbury's ribs in 2010, I'm not sure any issue can tied to the medical staff.

7. Decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Mike Aviles, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Jarrod Saltalamacchia before the Dec. 12 deadline.
Most of these players are fairly easy.  Aceves, Albers, Bard, Ellsbury, Lowrie, Morales, and Saltalamacchia are all clearly going to be tendered contracts.  Aviles will likely still fit in with the team as a utility guy, given his ability to play all the infield positions except shortstop.  Rich Hill is coming off Tommy John surgery, so he may be a non-tender candidate.  Andrew Miller has probably shown enough to warrant a roster spot, but his price tag will be about $3 million, so it isn't a  small commitment.

8. Mend some fences with Carl Crawford, who was shuffled around the lineup all season by Terry Francona then heard that John Henry never wanted him in the first place.
Shuffling Crawford around the lineup is understandable.  Crawford wasn't producing, and Francona is trying to win baseball games.  Hearing that John Henry never wanted him in the first place is just bad business.  If you have over $100 million invested in something, anything, you don't bad mouth it one year into a seven year deal.  Period.  Especially people.  Frankly, I was appalled when Henry said that.  In all of the coverage of the collapse, Henry had remained ever so slightly above the melee until that point.  Absolutely no good comes out of bad mouthing the Crawford signing: Henry looks like a second guesser just trying to save face and a player who is being paid like the face of a franchise gets smeared.  When compared to how Theo left down (see link above), you have to wonder about the ownership's professionalism and ability to effectively run the club.

Ben Cherington, your next few weeks are outlined.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dissecting the Globe Hatchet Job

If you haven't read the Boston Globe's summary of the Red Sox 2011 collapse, go ahead and do it now. Now that Theo has taken the Cubs job, you can probably expect a similar piece on him in the next couple weeks. Lucchino is nothing, if not predictable.  Once the dust settles I'll write something about the departures of Theo and Tito, but for now, let's dive in to the Globe article.  As with any anonymous attack article, this one is filled with "weasel words". By couching their claims in qualifiers like "apparently" and "seemingly", anonymous sources, and second hand information, the writer never actually truly claims anything, instead implying it.

Accusation 1: Tito lost control of the clubhouse due to personal issues, including separation from his wife, a son and son in law serving in Afghanistan, and a prescription pill problem.
First off, none of these things are actually real evidence that Tito lost control of the clubhouse or even reasons why he did.  Life is messy.  Life can be really hard.  And the people who play for and run the Boston Red Sox are people too.  There are ups and downs, good times and bad.  At no point in time did I feel like Francona wasn't doing his job the best he could.  The players played extremely poorly, and their September record reflects it. Finally, I was shocked by the casual inclusion of a thinly veiled assertion that Francona has a prescription painkiller problem.  Francona is a 52 year old man who shredded his knee during his playing days. If you're in chronic pain, you're going to be taking prescription painkillers.  His dosage and prescriptions are between him and his physician.  Quite frankly, I'm ashamed that the Globe went down this road.

After I wrote this, Buster Olney has weighed in with similar thoughts that I had. "We're still waiting for the firm link to be established between Terry Francona's use of medication and the Red Sox's performance in September, and if there is none, then it's personal information that really is nobody's business and shouldn't be in a newspaper. Because no matter how gracefully the words are couched or how much opportunity Francona is given to tell his side of the story, the overall impression a reader will take away -- from the choice to use the information on the meds -- is that there is a drug problem in play. Which is really awful."

Accusation 2: The Red Sox were not interested in putting in the effort to win a championship
The only specific evidence given comes from an event surrounding the weather rescheduling with Hurricane Irene looming.  After being on the road for 14 of 17 games, a brutal stretch, even in professional baseball, the Red Sox were apparently not happy with management's plan of a Saturday doubleheader.  As a gesture, $300 headphones and a party on John Henry's yacht were offered. Not going to a party on John Henry's yacht, when they're back home for a stretch for the first time in weeks is not evidence that the players weren't committed to winning.  If anything, going for rest instead of a party is a GOOD sign.  I've been on field crews for two weeks of long hours and physically demanding work.  Towards the end of the two week stretch the project manager, who was not involved in the field work, wanted to add on more work and the result was a lot of grumbling and unhappy employees.  Eventually the plan was scrapped, but I'm sure an anonymous source could have said nasty things about us after the fact.  The timing of Hurricane Irene and the long road trip is not the front office's fault, but to me, they're the ones looking petty out of all this.

Accusation 3: The pitchers' disconnectedness from the rest of the team
This is one I find pretty damning.  According to the Globe, starting pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and occasionally Clay Buchholz would not watch games they did not start, instead they drank beer, played video games, and ate chicken and biscuits in the clubhouse.  Beckett, in particular, is expected to be a leader.  He's been on the team for six years, and should absolutely know better.  Although baseball, more than any other sport, is a collection of individual performances, this shows a total lack of camaraderie.  Sadly, player contracts are guaranteed, and managers' are not, so Tito takes the blame on this one.

Accusation 4: Wakefield's quest for 200 wins hurt the team
This one I just don't understand.  How can a pitcher trying to win a game possibly hurt a team?  It isn't like a hitter only trying to hit home runs or a base runner always trying to steal a base.  As a starting pitcher, you can't possibly win a game while hurting your team.  Granted, Wakefield struggled down the stretch, but that has happened in three of the last 4 years (6.65 ERA in September in 2008, 8.36 in 2009, 4.22 in 2010, and 5.25 in 2011).  Wakefield is 45 now, and he just wears down as the season goes on.  He hasn't posted a better ERA before the All Star break than after since 2003, although his splits were close in 2005, with a slight edge before the break.  The simple answer is that the rash of Red Sox pitching injuries (Daisuke, Buchholz, Lester, Beckett, and Lackey all missed time) made Wakefield a nearly a full time starter, which, at this stage of his career, he obviously isn't cut out for.

Accusation 5: Lack of leadership
Leadership is impossible to quantify, but the Globe throws Adrian Gonzalez under the bus for making this statement: "We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning,’’ Gonzalez complained. “This has been my toughest season physically because of that."  The Globe goes on to point out that the Red Sox only played 5 Sunday night games, showing malice or ignorance about the fact that more than just Sundays are "getaway games."  Every time the Red Sox appeared on Wednesday night baseball on ESPN was one more night game on a getaway day.  Granted, it would take slightly more effort to figure out how many night games they played on getaway days.  The Red Sox played 13 games, a few more than the Pirates, for example, who played 9.  Not a huge difference, but enough to add up over the course of a long season.  I'll give the Globe a little credit, it took me at least 15 minutes and a little Excel knowledge to figure this out, so I understand if they can't be bothered.  And we wonder why print media is dying. Ellsbury was also singled out as not having any friends in the clubhouse.  WEEI has already straight up refuted this.

Accusation 6: Theo failed to beef up the bullpen
It is a bit of a throw away line in the article, but it really bothered me.  The 2011 Red Sox bullpen put up a 3.67 ERA, 4th in the AL.  The 2010 Red Sox bullpen put up a 4.24 ERA, 12th in the AL.  While the big ticket reliever, Bobby Jenks, was a disaster, Theo struck gold with other relievers.  Key contributors Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Franklin Morales, and Dan Wheeler were all scrap heap signings or low budget free agent pick ups.  The third most valuable arm in the bullpen, Alfredo Aceves, was also a spectacular scrap heap signing, snagged for nothing after he was non-tendered by the Yankees.

All told, the only part of the organization that wasn't butchered was the ownership.  Larry Lucchino has his fingerprints all over this article and all the leaks.

As I was writing this, Milly, my puppy, voiced her displeasure with the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  I guess I'm in the market for a new hat, now.  After the way the 2011 season ended, it's probably the safe move, anyway.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Quick opening round playoff predictions

I'll have to write about the Red Sox epic collapse when I've had a little bit more time to digest it. For now, here are my predictions:

Tampa Bay Rays over Texas Rangers in 5
I love the depth the Rays pitching staff has. I also have a gut feeling that we could be in for a K-Rod type impact from Matt Moore this post season. If you saw his start against the Yankees where he struck out 11 in 5 innings on 85 pitches, you'll understand why.

Yankees over Tigers in 5
Verlander has been spectacular this season, no doubt about it. And behind Sabathia the Yankees only have question marks. But the Yankees bats should carry this series, especially when you get to command and control guys like Doug Fister.

Brewers over Diamondbacks in 4
The Brewers are built to make a run this year, with a front three of Greinke, Marcum, and Gallardo. All three of them can have dominant starts. The Diamondbacks are a great story this year, going from worst to first, but I don't think they have the talent to compete with a very good all around Brewers team.

Phillies over Cardinals in 3
The Cards are starting Kyle Lohse as their game 1 starter and will need to go to Carpenter on short rest in game 2. Meanwhile, the Phillies roll out the three of the top 9 NL pitchers by WAR, with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee coming in at #1 and #3, respectively. It was a hell of a comeback by the Cardinals, but the Phillies are the superior team.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Moneyball Pissing Match

Well, Michael Lewis and former Baseball Prospectus writer and Blue Jays front office guy Keith Law are getting into it over Law's brutal take down of the Moneyball movie. The short version? It is boring and hilariously one sided towards portraying Billy Beane as a genius. Michael Lewis was pretty unhappy with that, and pointed out that Law was once among the worst of the worst in advocating the absolute supremacy of stats over scouting. After point out that Lewis doesn't actually address the terrible review and just makes a personal attack (ad hominem attack! A logical fallacy! Thanks Williams education!), Law goes on to essentially say that Lewis is right. He was all stats and didn't respect scouts. Of course, Lewis clearly hasn't kept up with Law's career since the Jays - he's now ESPN's #1 baseball prospect guy, running their Scouts Inc. portion of the baseball coverage. The entire interview Law did with ESPN's baseball podcast is worth reading through.

Breathing room

Well, the Red Sox sure made September a lot more exciting than I expected. After proclaiming that being up 6.5 with 19 games to go was pretty much a sure thing, the Red Sox went out and were swept by the Rays, who added another win on the Sox off day on Monday, making it 3 games with only 16 games remaining. With a four game series in Fenway, and a four game lead in the wild card, professional naysayer Dan Shaughnessy even dug through his archives to recycle and old doom and gloom column.* However, with the win Friday night things the tone completely changes.

*I hope you'll forgive me for actually reading a Shaughnessy column. I was browsing the Globe's website and clicked on the title without any by line info. One paragraph in, I said to myself "Wait a second, this sounds like a Dan Shaughnessy column!"

It goes to show you how much head to head games can swing a tight playoff race between two teams. If Beckett and his balky ankle don't hold up well enough, and if the bullpen doesn't get back on track (first save since mid August!) we're looking at a two game lead with 12 games to go (and Shaughnessy has to change his pants). Instead, it is a four game lead. Again, not a sure thing, but if the Red Sox can pick up one more win this weekend (Lester v. Niemann is the appealing match up here, as David Price and Wakefield go head to head Sunday afternoon) that should wrap things up, especially given the fact that the Red Sox are playing 7 of their final 10 against the Orioles, while the Rays have 7 against the Yankees. I hope it isn't an exciting week and a half to close out the season, but even if it is, the odds are heavily tilted the Red Sox way.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Theo's first four drafts

We're in a bit of an unexpected lull in the season. Rather than having a big pennant race, the Red Sox currently are 2.5 games back of the Yankees, but hold a 6.5 game lead over the Rays for the wild card, with only 19 games to go (20 for the Rays). Even if we assume the Red Sox scuffle mightily down the stretch, going 7-12, the Rays would still need to go 14-6 in their remaining games in order to tie. This would hardly be the worst collapse in major league history, look at the last few good seasons the Mets had, or what it took to get the Rockies into the playoffs, but Baseball Prospectus pegs the Red Sox playoff chances at 99.7%. So, yeah, barring a major collapse, the remaining games shouldn't be all that interesting.

Given that fact, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at Theo's draft record in his first five seasons. Anything past 2007 is hard to judge, especially with so many high school picks there, but the players drafted in 2003-2007 are pretty much established by now.

The top of the 2003 draft was headlined by guys who never really lived up to their potential. With their first rounder, sandwich pick, and two second rounders the Red Sox picked three college players - David Murphy, Matt Murton, and Abe Alvarez, along with high school outfielder Mickey Hall. All four are no longer with the Red Sox, in fact, none lasted past 2009. Matt Murton was a throw in to the 2004 Nomar Garciaparra/Orlando Cabrera trade, which of course helped the Red Sox win a title. David Murphy returned a lot less in terms of value, fetching the ironically named (at least in his stint with the Red Sox) Eric Gagne at the 2007 trade deadline. Abe Alvarez was released in May of 2008. Always a better story than a pitcher, as he was legally blind in his left eye, Alvarez never was able to get by with his mediocre stuff. The last man standing from the group, Mickey Hall, was traded for the immortal Paul Byrd in August of 2008. Much like the following draft, there is one player who saved this entire draft class, the 5th round pick of Jonathon Papelbon. Although he was drafted as a starter and the organization waffled back and forth about whether or not to shift him to the rotation, Papelbon is clearly one of the elite bullpen arms in the game right now. With free agency looming and Papelbon putting up one of the best seasons of his career, it will be an interesting off season for the Red Sox. With money tight for most teams, and the market flooded with relievers, I think the Red Sox will find a way to resign Papelbon to a fairly reasonable contract. If Papelbon does leave, it would mean that no players from the 2003 draft class are still in the Red Sox organization.
Total WAR: 25.4
Top player: Papelbon (16.7)

The 2004 draft was a bit thinner, in part due to having no first round or sandwich round pick, thanks to signing free agent reliever Keith Foulke. But they sure made their one early pick count, selecting Dustin Pedroia. The Pedroia story is probably familiar to most of you - he has no "tools" that scouts love - he's extremely small, he isn't that fast, and his swing looks pretty damn ugly; but all he does is hit. Originally a shortstop, the Red Sox made him their starting 2B coming in to the 2007 season. After struggling in a cup of coffee in 2007 (.191/.258/.303 in 89 at bats), Pedroia struggled mightily in April (.182/.308/.236), leading to many to wonder if he could hit major league pitching. Pedroia erased those concerns with a spectacular May and June, and has been a Red Sox lineup staple ever since. Cla Meredith was the only other player from the 2004 draft with significant time in the majors. After panicking over Josh Bard's inability to catch Wakefield's knuckle ball, Bard and Meredith were shipped out to San Diego in exchange for former Red Sox Doug Mirabelli in 2006. Meredith had an excellent 2006 for the Padres (1.07 ERA, 0.71 WHIP), but slowly slid toward mediocrity. He was later traded to the Orioles, who eventually released him. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, Meredith's time in the majors may very well be over.
Total WAR: 26.4
Top player: Pedroia (24.1)

The 2005 draft has received lots of publicity lately as one of the most successful in recent memory. In it, the Red Sox added three major pieces to their current roster (Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie), along with relief prospect Michael Bowden. This class has also been extremely injury prone - Buchholz has alternated being hurt and ineffective all season, Ellsbury had a lost 2010 sandwiched between elite seasons in 2009 and 2011, and Jed Lowrie has had too many injuries to list. The 2005 draft also includes one of the biggest misses in the Epstein era, St. John's relief pitcher Craig Hansen. Hansen was supposed to be the most polished arm in the draft, and was expected to help the mediocre Red Sox bullpen as soon as that season. Hansen struggled in his major league debut in 2005, had his mechanics repeatedly tinkered with, and never amounted to much of anything. Hansen was supposed to be the new closer, allowing Papelbon to slide to the rotation. Instead, he was worse than replacement level (-2.2 WAR). I'm not sure if it was the pick or the handling of Hansen, but either way it just didn't work out. There were not many major league contributors picked after Hansen, Colby Rasmus two picks later does stand out, though. Interestingly, most of the major leaguers after Hansen were actually picked by the Red Sox (Buchholz, Lowrie, and Bowden all went in the supplemental round).
Total WAR: 23.3
Top player: Jacoby Ellsbury (12.9)

The 2006 draft includes players who are either still establishing themselves or have moved on from the organization. With their first round pick, the Red Sox went with pure stuff, picking Daniel Bard. Despite serious control problems in college, which cropped up again in the minors (in A ball in his first season he walked an incredible 8 /9 IP in over 60 innings), the Red Sox succeeded in transforming Bard into an elite reliever, and a potential replacement for Papelbon. Bard has established himself as an old school fireman, throwing 75 innings last year and is on pace for the same total this year. The two supplemental round picks, Caleb Clay and Kris Johnson, both appear to be misses. Johnson was released in May, while Caleb Clay is struggling in AAA and may be released in the next year. Outside of the first round, the Red Sox did very well, though. In the second round, the Sox picked Justin Masterson, who was eventually a key piece in their trade with the Indians for Victor Martinez. Initially a starter, Masterson was transitioned to a relief role due to his struggles with left handed hitters. The Indians converted him back to a starter, where he put up mediocre numbers in 2009 and 2010, despite extremely good strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates. Something has clicked in 2011, as he has emerged as Cleveland's clear #1 pitcher, posting 3.01 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. The peripherals are fairly similar, with a better walk rate in 2011. Interestingly, although he's improved against lefties (.784 OPS in 2010, .700 in 2011), his absolute dominance of right handed hitters this season may be a bigger key to his success (.681 in 2010, .584 in 2011). The Red Sox have been high on Masterson even after the trade, supposedly trying to reacquire him at the 2010 trade deadline, so I think it is fair to count him as a feather in Theo's cap. Also included in this draft are current Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick (17th round) and solid performer from 2010 Ryan Kalish (9th round), who unfortunately has had a bit of a lost season due to several injuries, the most recent being a neck injury requiring surgery.
Total WAR: 15.1
Top player: Justin Masterson (6.4)

So which draft class wins? Despite the lower total WAR, even if you exclude Hansen's -2.2, I think the 2005 class will ultimately contribute more wins to the Red Sox. But, they also had a hell of a lot more picks that draft. If you're going for quality, it is hard to go wrong with hitting on Dustin Pedroia with your single early draft pick. Don't forget that the last two drafts pre-Theo added some key contributors too. Mike Port picked Jon Lester (23.1 WAR), who would still be under his original contract had he not signed an extension, in the second round of the 2002 draft and Dan Duquette drafted Kevin Youkilis in the 8th round of the 2001 draft. Interestingly, the Red Sox also drafted catcher Jeremy Brown in the 19th round, although he did not sign. Brown was later drafted and signed by the Athletics, and both Youkilis and Brown went on to play prominent roles in Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball".

Feel free to weigh in about which draft class you think is most impressive in the comments.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Georgia football fans shouldn't get too worked up

This isn't baseball related, but I figured I'd post it here anyway. In my neck of the woods, folks are getting awfully worked up about the upcoming Boise State/Georgia football game on Saturday. I'm not quite sure why, as the graph above will show you that expectations are probably too high.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Saltal-itek - A top ten catcher?

I never thought I'd write this coming in to the season, but the Red Sox catchers have quietly contributed offensively. In March, I would have happily taken "not a complete black hole", given the poor showing by both Varitek and Saltalamacchia down the stretch. Red Sox catchers are now 6th in OPS, driven primarily by very good power. They've hit the third most home runs, are fourth in slugging, and second in isolated power (slugging percentage - batting average). The two combined still have an OBP of .311, which is very poor overall and mediocre for a catcher, but the power makes up for the poor on base skills. Given how slow both players are, maybe it is good that they're not "clogging up the bases".

Amazingly, Red Sox catchers in 2011 are actually out performing Red Sox catchers in 2010. While the overall line is a bit down, when you account for the decline in offense around the league, the 2011 combo come out ahead using Fangraph's "runs created plus" statistic (107 to 105), with 100 being league average production. Neither Saltalamacchia nor Varitek are as good as Victor Martinez, but they're having a better season than the three of them combined for in 2010.

It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle Jason Varitek this offseason. He is a free agent, and negotiations haven't always gone smoothly between Tek and the front office. Also, Ryan Lavarnway's impressive 2011 season forces the Red Sox hand a bit; even if he's only barely a passable catcher, you ought to see what you have in a guy who hit 31 bombs between AA and AAA in a year. That is more power than top catching prospects Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, or Jesus Montero ever showed.

Closing the books in SF

San Francisco recently made two major moves. While they both might improve the team, they're actually addition by subtraction. The Giants announced today that both Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada have been designated for assignment. This means that they either need to trade them or release them in the next week or so. Thanks to the poor performance from both, the Giants will likely have to eat the money owed to both, including $12 million to Rowand in 2012.

While both deals were bad, the two contracts came from very different places. Aaron Rowand was the benefactor of some very good luck. He had always been, and continues to be, an excellent defensive player, but in 2007 Rowand established career highs in just about every category, hitting .309/.374/.515 for the Phillies. This wasn't completely out of the blue - Rowand had been the major piece in the White Sox/Phillies trade involving Jim Thome, and had a very good 2004. However, he followed this up with two sub par seasons and by the time he hit free agency he was entering his age 30 season. An out of nowhere season for a player entering his 30's usually means trouble is coming for whoever signs him. The Giants ponied up a 5 year, $60 million contract, hoping to minimize the offense blow of losing Barry Bonds. If Rowand could continue to hit while playing excellent center field, he could certainly help to keep the Giants afloat.

Sadly, it just wasn't meant to be. Aaron Rowand showed that the poor 2005 and 2006 were much more representative of his true talent than his impressive 2007 season, and Rowand struggled in all four of his seasons with the Giants, and according to Fangraphs, he never was an above average player on offense. Despite that fact, Aaron Rowand was an above average player for the Giants, just nowhere close to his $15 million/year price tag. Thanks to some spectacular defense in centerfield, Rowand logged positive value overall for all four years of his contract. Ultimately, Rowand isn't a bad baseball player. Based on Fangraph's calculations from his wins above replacement, Rowand was worth $21 million in his four seasons by the bay. His ability to hold his own against lefties and play all three outfield positions well makes him a great fourth outfielder. Unfortunately, the Giants were looking for a star and had a hole to fill in center field. The funny thing is, Rowand may still play a role in the playoffs this season. Several teams, including the Phillies and Red Sox, are a little thin in the outfield and could use his versatility and I imagine we'll be seeing Rowand somewhere in October, after the Giants are sitting at home.

The Miguel Tejada deal wasn't nearly as bad. It is almost impossible for a one year deal to go horrendously wrong, especially at a price tag of $6.5 million. With Tejada, the Giants again were looking to an older player to contribute, despite warning signs about what was coming. In 2010, Tejada was terrible for the Orioles, but had a bit of a bounce after being traded to the Padres, hitting for a .730 OPS. Nothing incredible, but in Petco Park, that isn't horrendous. The Giants stepped up this offseason, hoping he could building on what he had done in San Diego. Splitting time between shortstop, where he's been below average defensively for several years, and third base, where he has been a solid defender, but his bat looks even more inadequate, Tejada limped to a sub .600 OPS and was worth LESS than replacement value.

It is a shame the Giants won't get a chance to defend their title, given their spectacular pitching, but it isn't all that surprising. Amazingly, of the 71 players in the National League who qualify for the batting title (3.1 plate appearances per team's game), only one is on the Giants. To add insult to injury, that player, Aubrey Huff, has been the second worse player in the National League by WAR, being below average batting, fielding, and running the bases. It is a minor miracle that they're 6 games over .500 right now, but when you have three 4+ WAR pitchers on your roster, that goes a long way.

As a crazy aside, only the Phillies have a better top three in the game. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee are currently 1, 3, and 4 in the NL in WAR combining for a preposterous 17.7 wins above replacement. The Giants trio, while excellent, lags well behind at 13.4 WAR.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An interesting take on the Sox trades

The Red Sox traded away several prospects in order to get rental starting pitcher Eric Bedard, and super utility player Mike Aviles. As Brian MacPherson, of the Projo, notes, three of the prospects included in the deal could have been lost this winter for nothing in the rule 5 draft. When a player gets enough minor league experience, if he is not on the 40 man roster, another team can draft him in the rule 5 draft, and keep them so long as they stay on the 25 man, major league roster for an entire season.

Stephen Fife, Tim Federowicz, and Chih-Hsien Chiang all could have been lost in the rule 5 draft this winter. Yamaico Navarro was already on the 40 man roster, as he's been playing with the major league team already this year. Even if the Red Sox had kept them, it might have meant letting go of reclamation projects like Andrew Miller or restricted their ability to take a flier on other rebounding veterans. Given the added flexibility Theo now has with the roster, the cost of the deadline deals drops substantially.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A very odd line

Peter Bourjos had a very odd game on Saturday night. Despite starting, he did not record a single at bat, but only walked once. He also scored and drove in a run, to go along with two stolen bases.
So his line was 0/0, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB.

Just how did he do it?

For starters, he didn't do it with a sacrifice fly, which is the easiest way to drive in a run without recording an at bat. Instead he did it the hard way, with a hit by pitch with the bases loaded in the 5th. His other three plate appearances included a walk, a sacrifice, and another hit by pitch. Despite not recording a hit or even an at bat, Bourjos clearly contributed to the Angels 5-1 win over Detroit. He had the best WPA for a hitter on the team, adding about a 1/4 of a win, only outdone by starting pitcher Dan Haren (0.348). Certainly an unconventional way to contribute, but hey, whatever works.

Trade deadline thoughts

With Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis at the corners, the Orioles could have unbelievable power production from their corners. Of course, both could hit .220 with their 30 home runs. At least Reynolds can work the count and get on base with a free pass regularly.

In Texas, Koji Uehara instantly becomes the best pitcher in the Texas bullpen. Neftali Feliz just doesn't look like the same pitcher he was in 2010. He's striking out three fewer batters per inning, taking his K rate from elite to below average, and his walk rate has doubled. Uehara, on the other hand, has quietly put together a spectacular season so far. He's striking out more batters than 2010, and more batters per inning than Feliz did in his spectacular 2010, with absolutely elite control (1.5 BB/9). His 30% groundball rate is terrifyingly low, but when you're striking that many batters out and not allowing many free passes, you can get away with it.

The Phillies traded their top two prospects for Hunter Pence. They needed the outfield depth, but both Cosart and Singleton were in Baseball America's top 40. For a player that isn't a star, that's a lot to pay. At least he's under team control for several years. The Ibanez contract is up next year, so that will give Dominic Brown another shot at the majors in 2012, and could give the Phillies a spectacularly athletic outfield, with Victorino in center. For Houston, it was a no brainer. That team is not going anywhere soon, and to get a potential impact hitter and pitcher, you have to pull the trigger.

The Fister/Furbush trade looks like a win win. The back of the Tigers rotation has been shaky. While Fister by himself won't be a major difference maker, he should slide nicely in to the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation. Furbush could eventually become a similar pitcher, but much like the Red Sox deal with the Royals, he just wasn't ready for that role yet. The other prospects may end up tipping the deal in favor of the Mariners, though. Long term, that massive losing streak may pay dividends, allowing them to sell.

My take: Red Sox trade for Mike Aviles

Red Sox trade Yamaico Navarro and Kendal Volz for Mike Aviles
The general consensus on Navarro was that he could become a Mike Aviles type. Although he can play all over the infield, he doesn't play anywhere particularly well. He does a little bit of everything with the bat though. At 23, there is still time for him to become a major leaguer, but he's looking more like a utility guy. Kendal Volz was a mediocre starting pitcher prospect for the Red Sox, become transitioning to a reliever this season. Despite being 23, he's still in A ball, but he has struck out 56 in 51 innings this season. He's a long way from the majors, but could develop into a 6th or 7th inning guy.

Mike Aviles had a breakout rookie season, hitting .325/.354/.480, but has been a disappointment since. He had a disastrous sophomore season that was cut short by a forearm break, a bounceback 2010, and another disappointing season this year, only hitting .222/.261/.395. There are a couple reasons to be hopeful, though. In 2011 he has hit for a career high in isolated power (slugging percentage - batting average), and he's striking out less than the average major leaguer. He's been unlucky on balls in play (.231), but he also doesn't have very many line drives, which are strongly correlated with BABIP. All in all, I wouldn't expect great things from Aviles, but he should be serviceable, even at shortstop. Scutaro is dinged up and Lowrie is just about to begin his rehab assignment.

The deal fills a need for the Red Sox. If they don't make this deal and Scutaro goes down we're looking at Drew Sutton at short stop on a regular basis. Navarro in particular is likely to be a major leaguer, but he doesn't look quite ready yet. Long term, the Red Sox will probably lose this deal, but for 2011 it makes them better.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Josh Reddick: A familiar story?

When Reddick first got called up and started hitting well, my first thought was "Huh, wonder if he's kind of like Trot Nixon." As you can probably guess, the answer was “Yes,” otherwise this wouldn’t be a very interesting post. Nixon was a first round pick by the Red Sox in 1993 and a former top prospect (ranked as high as 13 overall by BA) whose star gradually faded (ranked 1994-1996: 13, 46, 39, but not ranked in 1997 and 1998) before breaking out in AAA at the age of 24, putting up a .310/.400/.513 line, which got him back in to the tail end of the Baseball America Prospect Rankings (99 in 1999). It is easy to see why there was skepticism about Nixon’s breakout year – his numbers the previous three years were poor to mediocre, and at 24 he was a bit old for AAA. However, Baseball America put a little bit of faith in the former top prospect by ranking him. The following year, in full time duty as the Red Sox right fielder, Nixon put up a .270/.357/.472 line, and became a lineup stalwart through 2007, although after his career year in 2003, when he was almost four wins above replacement, back injuries and old age caught up with him, as he played in fewer and fewer games per year with declining numbers.

We don’t know what kind of trajectory Reddick’s career will take, but his minor league career path has followed Nixon’s well. Josh Reddick was drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 draft out of a Georgia junior college, a solid draft that included other major leaguers such as Justin Masterson, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Bard. Reddick signed for $140,000, which doesn’t exceed the slot threshold for all players drafted after the fifth round. After hitting well in A and high A ball to begin his minor league career, and reaching as high as #3 in the Red Sox system and 75 overall in Baseball America’s rankings, Reddick’s career stalled out in AA and AAA. Now, at 24, he put up a solid .230/.333/.508 line, which was most likely dragged down by his average on balls in play, as Andrew noted. He also began to walk more, with his “luck adjusted” line rising to .298/.390/.576. I’m not quite as bullish as Andrew – I think that Trot Nixon’s career, especially the peak value, is a lot better than median for Reddick. It is easy to forget just how good Nixon was, for his career in Boston he was a .278/.364/.464 hitter and he accumulated more than twenty wins above replacement. Nixon was never a star, but was a contributor nearly every single year in a Red Sox uniform. It will be a major coup for the Red Sox if Reddick can become an inexpensive 2-4 win player, as Trot Nixon was.

With Reddick’s defense, ability to draw a walk, and enough pop to carry a corner outfield position, I think there is a fair shot that he fills the right field vacancy everyone had pegged Ryan Kalish to fill. One thing to keep an eye on going forward is how many at bats Reddick gets against left handed pitchers. Lefties were always an issue with Nixon, and he only hit .214/.308/.322 against them for his career. Reddick only has 50 AB in AAA and 9 in the majors against lefties in 2011, so we can't really draw any conclusions about platoon splits just yet.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick is scorching the ball for the Red Sox, hitting a whopping .450 so far this season filling Crawford’s open starting spot in left and spotting JD Drew. With the Sox designating Cameron for assignment, it is clear the front office believes in Reddick for at least this season. Over the past three seasons, Reddick has been a top prospect for the Sox, and he has all the tools to be an above average outfielder— a strong, accurate arm, good power, above average speed, and enough range to play center in an emergency, but the trouble has always been his approach. Prior to 2011, Reddick swung early and often, chasing pitches, and making quick outs on challenging pitches. At AAA in 2009 and 2010 he struck out nearly three times more than he walked, which is not a recipe for success at the big league level. Strikeouts aren’t necessarily worse than other outs, but there’s no way to get a hit if you don’t put the ball in play. Reddick slumped out of the gate in AAA in 2010, but salvaged the season with a huge second half, hitting .351/.372/.627, for a final line of .266/.301/466. Even during his hot second half, his success was in spite of his walk rate rather than because of it. During intermittent play in April, June, and September he struggled in 63 major league plate appearances, striking out 15 times while walking only once, and put up an overall line of .194/.206/.323.

Following his disappointing showing in the majors, this season can be seen as a make-or-break year for Reddick, since Ryan Kalish passed him on the organizational depth chart. Reddick took a huge step forward this season, though at first glance it might not seem that way. His line at AAA this season was a Mark Reynolds-esque 230/.330/.502, but his underlying numbers were greatly improved. Unlike an all-or-nothing slugger like Reynolds, Reddick struck out in only 16.8% of his plate appearances, and had nearly as many walks as strikeouts (33BB, 39K). His power was up as well (isolated power of .277 this season, as opposed to .200 in 2010).

The only thing that was down for Reddick was his average on balls in play, which was only .207. Batting average on balls in play is a tricky statistic, as it varies widely from hitter to hitter, and depends on what sort of balls in play the hitter is hitting. Line drives are much more likely to become hits than groundballs, which are somewhat more likely to become hits than flyballs, while pop-ups almost never become hits. There isn’t publicly available minor league batted ball data which we could use to investigate this, but there are three reasons why Reddick’s BABIP can be discounted. First of all, it’s safe to assume he was hitting the ball hard, since more than half his hits went for extra bases. Second, his career BABIP in the minor leagues was .291 over 2000 plate appearances. Finally, it takes more than 650 plate appearances for BABIP to have good predictive value (See this article currently hosted at Fangraphs for a good primer on sample size issues and when stats.) If we take Reddick’s career BABIP (which is still well below the .310 average on balls in play for the International League this season) and apply it to his 2011 AAA season, we end up with a much stronger .293/.385/571 line.

At the major league level, Reddick has been insanely hot, hitting .450/.489/.750 over 40 at bats. It’s obviously folly to project him to keep hitting this way, as he’s currently sporting a .459 average on balls in play, but the bright side is that his newly found plate discipline has remained intact following his promotion. Even normalizing his average on balls in play based on his batted ball data, Reddick’s line would be .325/.382/.600, good for second on the team in OPS. Reddick has 5 walks to only 4 strikeouts, and has shown a much more selective approach than he did in 2009 or 2010. Between his improved batting and quality defense (he currently has a ridiculous 107 runs above average if his numbers were projected out to 150 games), I believe Reddick should provide the production the Red Sox were expecting out of JD Drew this season, and could provide the Sox a solid, cost controlled corner outfielder for seasons to come. I don’t think Reddick will ever have a season quite like Drew did in 2004, and few players ever do, but I believe a career path similar to Trot Nixon seems like a good median projection.

Monday, June 27, 2011

An unexpected hole and unexpected production

Alex Speier of WEEI has a nice post about the right field production (or lack thereof) of the Red Sox. He writes that the Red Sox cumulative RF line of .220/.304/.336 is the worst in each of the three categories in the AL. An OPS of .640 (which, if you're paying attention, you already know has to be the worst in the AL) is a disaster, particularly coming from a position with an offensive premium. Typically, right field is the third most productive position, behind first base and left field. This was a surprise. While JD Drew's contract has been vilified, coming in to this season he'd earned his salary, despite not putting up many home runs or driving in many runs. However, Drew's numbers have taken a massive plunge in 2011. For a season with a minimum of 200 PA, this year is Drew's worst year offensively in every single category, including his triple slash (.232/.330/.326), but also more predictive numbers like isolated power, which is a good measure of a players power, without including batting average (.095 in 2011, .214 career) and strikeouts. Since 1999 Drew has been an average offensive player in his worst years, and an elite one in his best, but he has been hopeless in 2011. A left handed hitter, Drew has never hit lefties well, and the Red Sox have started sitting him against more and more left handers. Coming in to 2011, Mike Cameron would have seemed like the perfect platoon partner for Drew and the Red Sox bench in general. A right handed hitter capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, he could spell the entirely left handed Red Sox outfield of Ellsbury, Crawford, and Drew while still putting up solid numbers. Even in his old age, Cameron had put up excellent numbers against lefties - a .980 OPS in 2008-2010, granted with almost all of 2010 lost to injury. In 60 AB so far in 2011, he's only managed a .541 OPS. Perhaps Cameron needs to play every day, perhaps the injury in 2010 fundamentally diminished his skills, or maybe father time is finally catching up with him after a long and successful career, but no matter what, the Red Sox were counting on more. Last year's fill in, Darnell McDonald, made for a great story - finally making his MLB debut after over a decade in the minors, after failing to make it as a highly touted prospect. This year, McDonald has been even more helpless than Cameron, putting up a .381 OPS against lefties and .341 OPS overall. For some perspective, five starters on the Red Sox have an on base percentage that is better than McDonald's on base plus slugging.

Despite this massive black hole at a key offensive position, the Red Sox offense is one of the very best in baseball. The stars, like Pedroia, Ortiz, Youkilis, and especially Adrian Gonzalez have all contributed, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia has quietly shifted from offensive liability to offensive contributor. For the season, Salty now has an OPS of .762, good for 6% better than the MLB average and almost exactly the same as the AL right fielder average. Considering he's playing catcher, that's a hell of an offensive weapon. Saltalamacchia finally seems to be blossoming into the offensive player scouts thought he'd become and it is nice to see the Red Sox faith in him rewarded.

If it makes you feel any better about the state of the team, just pretend that the Red Sox managed to swing a trade for frequent trade target Kurt Suzuki (.626 OPS), and have the resurgent (at least for a little while longer) Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur (.759 OPS) manning right. OK, Frenchy in right probably doesn't make you feel any better. On the bright side, we may see Josh Reddick finally stick. He had been passed by Kalish on the prospect ladder, but an injury to Kalish and a newly patient approach in AAA gave Reddick the call when Crawford went down. No, he's not going to continue hitting .414 with an OPS over 1.000, but considering how low the bar is that he needs to clear, he could be a nice upgrade. I'll probably write more on Reddick soon, but I will mention that his 2011 minor league numbers (.230/.333/.508) undersell him, because he was extremely unlucky on balls in play (.207).

Slightly ahead of the curve

The buzz is starting to build a bit about Ryan Lavarnway, who was one of the prospects I featured in "Three steps forward, two steps back" piece a few weeks ago. John Sickels of Minor League Ball has Lavarnway as his prospect of the day, and has good things to say about his defense. According to Sickels, we could see a September call up and Lavarnway could be a significant piece of the 2012 team. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) has a shorter write up about Lavarnway, as well. Both Sickels and Goldstein think Lavarnway can hit at the major league level and his defense has improved. In 45 AAA at bats, Lavarnway has a nice .356/.420/.667 line.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lackey's woes

ESPN Boston had a brief blog piece about whether or not Lackey's slider is the root cause of his struggles. Although Lackey is generating fewer swings and misses with his slider, the slider has actually been his best pitch, by Fangraph's linear weights. On a per 100 pitch basis, Lackey's slider is actually the sixth best in the majors. Looking at PitchFX data, there doesn't seem to be any change in the velocity or movement of his slider, compared to the four other seasons of data available.

What does jump out is a major decrease in fastball effectiveness. For his career, including the last two disappointing seasons, Lackey's fastball is about average (0.05 runs saved per 100 fastballs). However, in 2011 in particular, it has been horrendous (-1.71 runs saved per 100 pitches). Lackey is still sitting right around 91 with his fastball, so what gives?

The horizontal movement is about the same, but there is a massive decrease in the vertical movement of his fastball, based on PitchFX data. For the five seasons (including the partial 2011 season) that PitchFX data is available, there is an extremely tight correlation between the vertical movement Lackey's fastball and its effectiveness. In fact, the variation in fastball vertical movement explains 82.6% of the variability (R^2) in his fastball effectiveness! That's a damn good fit for a handful of points. It'd be even tighter, except his fastball has been so unbelievably horrendous in 2011 it makes a linear fit difficult. Fastball vertical movement is often described as "explosiveness". Despite what an announcer says, a fastball doesn't rise, but explosive ones don't drop as much as gravity would otherwise, thanks to spin.

Interesting side note: Lackey throws curveballs 20% of the time overall. However, when he's behind in the count is seems to be his go to pitch. In 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, and 3-2 counts he throws them 30-40% of the time, perhaps some issues have to do with predictability and pitch selection.

It isn't just Lackey's fastball that seems to be losing movement. Compared to 2009, his last season with the Angels, all three of his major pitches (fastball, curveball, and slider) have lost both vertical and horizontal movement, in inches (2009 points are hollow, 2011 are filled). On the plot shown they're moving towards the origin at the point 0,0, which would be a perfectly straight pitch. Again, the velocities are unchanged, but movement is key for any pitcher's effectiveness. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem like an easy fix. If it were one pitch I might think something was off mechanically or he was tipping, but everything across the board indicates that Lackey is in decline. Granted, that's probably not a surprise given that he now holds the leagues worst ERA, but it is a very scary thought given that the Red Sox have about $56 million tied up in Lackey through the end of the 2014 season.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dan Shaughnessy

Dan Shaughnessy is a hack. Don't just trust me, trust the internet. "Dan Shaughnessy hack" provides 280,000 hits. For years his go to schtick was the "Curse of the Bambino", which he turned into a book (currently 2.5 stars on Amazon). The Red Sox would never win, because of this apparent curse. Apparently, the phrase didn't even appear in a Boston or New York newspaper until the book was actually written in 1990. More recently, he played the role of nay-sayer for the Bruins just a few months ago.

Over the last few years, Shaugnessy's national profile has risen, with some column's appearing on Sports Illustrated's website. Even after the wins, he remained very negative and critical, penning his infamous article about Theo's bridge year comment as giving up, when in reality it was that Shaughnessy just didn't understand that the roster was in transition and there would be a lot of change until 2011, when the roster would stabilize. And look! That's exactly what happened. The Red Sox in 2010 weren't undone by giving up, they were undone by injuries. And 2009 and 2010 were bridge years - we had brief tenures by players like Alex Gonzalez, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, and departures by former key contributors like Mike Lowell and Manny Ramirez.

Already reviled in the Boston area, he's doing his best to go national with that as well, by writing articles like this. After peddling doom and gloom in the Boston area, Shaughnessy is doing his best to epitomize the obnoxious Boston sports fan, essentially rubbing Boston's recent success in the face of every sports fan who doesn't root for a Boston team. When the Red Sox were downtrodden, he was a faithless nay sayer, and now that Boston is on top, he's crowing from the rooftops about the dominance of Boston teams.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Switched futures

Coming in 2007, Billy Butler was the 25th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. He built on that preseason ranking with a .291/.412/.542 showing in AAA, before debuting in Kansas City and putting up a .292/.347/.447 line in Kansas City, which was exceptionally good for a 21 year old prospect. Given his struggles on defense, Baseball Prospectus predicted that "Butler should be one of the three best designated hitters in the league in two years."

Coming in to 2007, Kevin Youkilis had established himself as a useful, if brittle player in the major leagues. He had just finished his first complete season in the majors, playing a mix of third and first, and had accumulated a career .274/.379/.423 line. In 2007, at the age of 28, Youkilis had a career year, maintaining his batting eye, and adding a bit more pop. Although he was a useful player, he was hardly a star, especially given he was playing a premium offensive position and had never been a highly ranked prospect, as he put up moderate numbers in the minor leagues despite being old for the level at every stop. At the time, Baseball Prospectus wrote "He doesn't hit enough to play first base, and is an asset there only because he plays the position like a converted third baseman should, but he's locked in at the position following the Lowell re-signing. That leaves the Red Sox with a package comparable to Mark Grace or Wally Joyner at their peaks."

If you knew for certain that one of these players would hit .308/.404/.560 over the next three years and 18 wins over replacement, making him a star, while the other would hit a serviceable .300/.361/.459 and accumulate 5.5 wins over replacement, you'd pick the 21 year old prospect over the 28 year old journeyman every time, right? Well, baseball is a funny game. Youkilis developed an incredible amount of power, particularly for a player his age, while Butler's power plateaued in 2009 as a 23 year old and has been declining for a season and a half since then. Clearly Youkilis put some kind of hex on Butler, stealing his future career. Either that or someone did a hell of a job with Youkilis remaking his swing and approach to generate that kind of power.

As an aside, it makes me wonder a bit about what the future worry about Eric Hosmer, who is currently excelling with the Royals as a 21 year old, hitting an eerily similar .288/.341/.442. We'll see if Youkilis will steal his vital essence as well, to prolong Youkilis' career.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My take on realignment

The idea of realignment in baseball has gotten a lot of virtual ink around the internet lately, after Buster Olney brought it up (even if Jeff Passan beat him to the punch by a year). The argument is pretty compelling - a team in the AL East could be the third best in baseball, but miss the playoffs because they're competing with the Red Sox and Yankees. On top of that, they have to play the Red Sox and Yankees 34 times over the course of a season, or just over 20% of their games. It could even be argued that by playing a rival 17 times a year, you're diluting the meaning of an individual game and weakening the rivalry. But ultimately, I think it comes down to fairness.
You want the best teams in baseball to be in the playoffs. You also want a pennant race to matter. I think the solution is simple; go back to two divisions per league. If you really want to balance things out, you'd swap an NL team to the AL, but that would raise an entire suite of questions about the DH and would create perpetual interleague play. While this wouldn't necessarily change the number of interleague games, it would simply get people a lot more worked up and make it harder to even the playing field. So you'd have two divisions in both the AL and NL, and division champions would get home field advantage for the playoffs, which is a nice incentive given the impact it has on winning percentage. The remaining two teams playoff teams would be wild cards, and work the same way the current wild card system does. By having two wild cards you drastically reduce the chances that a deserving team will miss the playoffs.

This system could easily be modified to include Bud Selig's proposal to add a fifth playoff team per division. The teams who are second and third in the wild card standings could play a play-in game or series.
Geographically, splitting the AL Central between the AL East and AL West isn't really any worse than having the Rangers in the AL West to begin with. The four AL West (Angels, Mariners, Rangers, and Athletics) would be joined by the Twins, Royals, and White Sox, while the Indians and Tigers would join the AL East. You'd split some of the traditional rivalries in the AL Central, but that is unavoidable. In the NL, the five teams in the NL West would remain the same. You'd need to keep the Cubs and Cardinals in the same division, unless you'd want to spend the rest of your life living in fear of vengeful middle America baseball fans, so the Cubs and Cardinals would be in the NL West. That leaves the Red, Pirates, and Brewers to join the east coast teams (Braves, Phillies, Mets, Nats, and Marlins). So, the divisions would look something like this (moved teams are italicized):
AL West AL East NL West NL East
Angels Red Sox Dodgers Phillies
Athletics Yankees Giants Mets
Mariners Blue Jays Rockies Braves
Rangers Rays D-Backs Nationals
Twins Orioles Padres Marlins
Royals Indians Cubs Reds
White Sox Tigers Cardinals Pirates

Astros Brewers

If you look at a maps of the various stadium locations (original map credit:, you can see that the teams are split to minimize distances between intradivision teams. On the west coast, it is unavoidable to have long distances between teams, even in a 3 division set up. With only three AL teams on the west coast, including up in Seattle, the Rangers clearly don't fit geographically, and any other team wouldn't help the issue. As a side note, I love how the entire country of Canada is reduced to a single maple leaf. I guess if the Expos were still around things would be a lot more complicated.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Three steps forward and two steps back

I thought I'd check in with the farm system, taking a look at five players, three who have impressed, and two who have struggled a bit.

Three Steps Forward
Ryan Lavarnway is a catcher out of Yale who was drafted in the 6th round of 2008. Lavarnway's bat has always been ahead of his glove, especially since he was converted to catcher at Yale and was very raw coming out of the draft. Since then he's worked on his catching mechanics, but whether or not he can stay at catcher depends on whom you ask. Despite the questions about his glove, Lavarnway's bat has been remarkably consistent; in is last five stops in the minors he's posted an OPS of .907 (low A in 2009), .879 (high A in 2010), .888 (AA in 2010), and .869 (AA in 2011). He has a very nice set of skills, with solid power (.200 ISO) and a patient approach (walking in 10% of his PA). The Red Sox recently promoted him to AAA, where he took over the starting role from the recently traded Mike McKenry. Unsurprisingly, he's hit so far in AAA, going 3/9 with two doubles.

Chris Balcom-Miller came over to the Red Sox in the Manny Delcarmen trade last August. To get anything at all for Delcarmen was a minor miracle, especially since it was after the July trade deadline and Delcarmen had to clear waivers, but to get a solid prospect like Balcom-Miller is just gravy. Scouting reports before the trade had Balcom-Miller as a potential mid-rotation starter, who has good control and kept the ball on the ground. Although he was not among the Red Sox top prospects (ranked 26 by coming in to the season), and he’s done nothing but impress since then. He’s striking out batters (49 in 47 IP split between high A and AA), not walking very many (14, good for a 3:1 K:BB ratio), and generating a ton of ground balls (3.30 ground ball outs per fly ball out). That’s a spectacular recipe for a rotation work horse. There is always a risk that polished pitchers without great stuff (Balcom-Miller sits at about 90 MPH, which is pretty pedestrian for a right handed pitcher) will flame out as they reach the upper minors or majors, but so far, so good for Balcom-Miller. Other writers, such as Marc Normandin of Over the Monster, seem fairly bullish on Balcom-Miller as well, although he's failed to make the any of the traditional prospect top ten lists. Although the Red Sox rotation remains very crowded, with Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, and Beckett all under contract through 2014 is Lester’s very reasonable option is exercised, and the Red Sox have a lot of interesting arms in the minors (Doubront and Kyle Weiland and AAA, Balcom-Miller at AA, and Ranaudo and Workman in A ball), he could be very valuable to the Red Sox either as a trading chip or an injury replacement. Plus, his nickname is Baconator, what's not to love?

Anthony Ranaudo fell into the Red Sox' lap last year, thanks to a sub par season at LSU. Since then, he's been excellent. Ranaudo started the year in A ball, where he was dominant, striking out 50 in 46 innings, with more than three strikeouts for every walk. Since being promoted to AA he's succeeded as well, with a 2.55 ERA, but with far less impressive peripheral numbers (12 K, 6 BB in 18 IP). Eighteen innings is nowhere close to enough to make a real judgement on a player, but it is nice to see him pitch well after the Red Sox made them their most expensive draft pick last year. Given his experience and polish as a former SEC ace, Ranaudo could move quickly through the system if he continues to pitch well. Getting to AA this season, and maybe even a spot start in September, after the rosters expand, is not out of the question.

Two Steps Back
Drake Britton had an excellent season in 2010, especially given that he was coming off Tommy John surgery. The left handed starting pitcher struck out better than a batter per inning, and limited walks enough to maintain a 3:1 K:BB ratio. His success earned him a spot in Baseball America's top 100 prospects and put him in the Red Sox top 4. Unfortunately, in 2011, Britton seems to have taken a big step back. He appears to have lost all control (31 BB in 47 IP) and has a big decline in his strikeout rate (9.27 in 2010 at A, 6.27 at high A in 2011). This led to a very ugly 7.42 ERA and a 1-6 record. Britton is still very young, so there is time to fix whatever has led to the loss of control, but the current numbers are very worrisome.

Oscar Tejada also made big steps forward in 2010, which led to him being ranked the 9th best prospect in the Red Sox system, by Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus. Initially signed out of the Dominican Republic as a sixteen year-old shortstop, after three seasons of shaky defense he was converted to a second baseman in 2010. He responded with an excellent all around offensive season for a 20 year old middle infielder (.307/.344/.455 with 11 home runs and 17 steals), which was easily the best of his minor league career. However, thus far in 2011 his numbers have had more in common with his pre-2010 numbers, putting up an uninspiring .232/.297/.311 line in AA. If those numbers hold for the season, Tejada could fall back off the prospect radar, as the 2010 season will look more like a fluke than a development and his glove remains shaky, even at second base.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Predictions for the rest of the season

After a couple of very hectic weeks of travelling, I get to catch up on baseball a bit. First off, the Red Sox are amazing. This nine game winning streak comes with some rather historic production offensively, especially for being on the road. They're now first in average, on base percentage, and runs, and second in slugging. They're the easy choice to win the AL East and finish with the best record in baseball.

The darlings of the early going, the Indians and the Royals, both have struggled since the early season. The Indians pitching is starting to catch up with them, and the struggles of key offensive players like Carlos Santana and Shin Soo Choo have hurt chances. They're 4-14 since May 24th, and have watched a massive lead in the AL Central vanish to a Tigers squad that is 10-7 over that same span. It is hard to blow a 6.5 game lead that quickly, but the Indians have managed it. Sliding in Jason Kipnis at second base to replace the veteran Orlando Cabrera would help the offense, and Lonnie Chisenhall may eventually be called on to replace Jack Hannahan at third, but the pitching is a different story. Without many other options for their rotation in the minors, I think the Indians will continue to struggle and may quickly fade from playoff contention.

The Royals appear to have given their fans hope a year too early. Now 6.5 games behind the Tigers and Indians and 8 games under .500, their playoff hopes are pretty slim. Unlike the Indians, the Royals have an incredible farm system that will start to be showcased this summer. The top two hitters, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are both with the major league club, as is pitching prospect Danny Duffy. Left handed starters Mike Montgomery and John Lamb have both struggled a bit in the minors, but came into the season extremely highly rated by Baseball America. We could see them in July or August for some major league experience. If these arms develop as scouts expect, the Royals could be a force to be reckoned with in 2012. For now, their rotation is a mess.

The standings in the AL west were extremely tight, before slumps by the Angels (2-8 in their last ten) and Oakland (1-9, 1-12 over their last 13). Texas currently has a slim lead over Seattle, but looking at the runs scored/runs allowed numbers show that Texas (+35) ought to easily pull away from Seattle (-3).

The Yankees have been hitting well, almost as well as the Red Sox 330 runs, second best in baseball), but the wheels seem to be coming off their pitching. They've had great success so far this year, allowing very few runs (255, second best in the AL, only behind a park aided Seattle at 244), but the injuries are starting to pile up. Either they'll have to make a trade or turn to some replacement level players. I think that down the stretch the Yankees pitching will fade, but the lineup ought to carry them to the AL wild card. The lack of a strong competitor certainly factors in to that - I have little faith in the Yankees pitching, especially with Hughes and Colon on the shelf, but apart from the division leaders, the only teams that have scored more runs than their opponents are Toronto (+1) and Tampa Bay (+12). Both of those numbers are dwarfed by the Yankees league leading run differential (+75).

As far as awards, that's a bit more of a crap shoot, but I'll take a stab at it.

AL MVP: Jose Bautista. Coming into the season I had concerns about Jose Bautista's ability to repeat his spectacular 2010 season. Well, he's beating it. Pitchers have started to give him the Bonds Treatment, pitching around him rather than trying to get him out. To his credit, he's not swinging at anything out of the zone, leading to a sky high OBP of .489, 50 points better than Miguel Cabrera at #2. And he's leading the league in slugging (.709), 80 points better than David Ortiz. If votes end up following convention and voting for a player on a winning team (or get enamored with EBI totals), the obvious choice is Adrian Gonzalez, who is showing no ill effects of shoulder surgery or switching from the NL to the AL.

AL Cy Young: Jon Lester. He looks like he's through his early season slump after a rough May, and Lester is currently second in the league in strikeouts per nine innings. Couple his historic second half performance, a strong team behind him, and the fact that he's already 9-2 indicate that he's well on his way.

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda. This was a tough choice between Michael Pineda and Eric Hosmer, . I think we have probably already seen the best of Pineda's season, but he's been an ace, and is near the top in all the important pitching categories. He and Felix Hernandez are the big reason that Seattle is respectable this year. Hosmer has a very bright future ahead of him, especially given that he won't turn 22 until after the season is over, but I think because he's so young the power numbers that voters look for won't show up this season. If he continues to hit home runs at his current pace, he'll end up with about 17 on the season. Given his ability to hit for average, work the count, and his age that's a massive success, but it isn't all that impressive for a first baseman.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sole Possession

The Red Sox now have sole possession of first place. For a team that started 0-6, and at one point was 2-10, that's remarkable. Since that 2-10 start, the Red Sox have rattled off a 27-12 run, including a seven game winning streak, a five game winning streak, and an ongoing four game winning streak. They've been getting contributions from all over, including the injury replacements in the rotation. Both Wakefield and Aceves are a combined 3-0 in the rotation, a huge improvement from the struggles of Daisuke and Lackey. In their 24 2/3 IP as starters, the two have only allowed 5 earned runs, good for a 1.82 ERA. If they both keep it up the Red Sox could have a tough decision on their hands, once Lackey is ready to come off the DL.

Lately, the bats have been contributing just as much. In their finale of the Cleveland series and the opener of the Detroit series, the Red Sox won 14-1 and 14-2. This was the first time in the history of the team that they had won consecutive road games by 12 or more runs. In their last three games, they've done a spectacular job knocking out the opposing starting pitcher. Mitch Talbot, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello combined for 8 IP, while allowing an incredible 21 earned runs. All three had pitched well so far in 2011, with Scherzer and Porcello both sporting ERAs right around four. After their starts, both Tigers starters had ERAs right around four.

Hell, in their their 4-2 win over the Indians earlier this week, Jason Varitek even managed to throw out two consecutive base runners. Over the last three full seasons Varitek has caught 17% of the runner attempting to steal on him. Assuming that number is representative of his true talent going forward, that puts catching two consecutive base runners at just under 3%. When the 3% likelihood things are coming up, you know things are going well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Red Sox notes

Although he didn’t end up pitching for the Red Sox, as he was sent down in the flurry of moves surrounding the activation of Dan Wheeler and the trade for Franklin Morales, I noticed that Michael Bowden appears to have turned a corner as a reliever. He was the low upside starter who seemed destined for trade bait, but as a reliever his strikeout rate it up (10.6/9, up from 6.8/9 for his career in AAA) and his walk rate is down (2.3/9, down from 2.9/9 for his career in AAA). Those numbers indicate he could be a viable MLB reliever for the Sox, especially given how weak the bullpen has been so far this season. Since they have other pitchers who don’t have options remaining, the Red Sox will likely only turn to him if guys like Albers or Atchison don’t get the job done.

It’s nice to see Wakefield pitch well, since he’s going to be in the rotation for a bit. It’s doubly nice to see him handle the NL well, backing up my post from last year. Wakefield wasn’t striking a ton of batters out (3 K in 6 2/3 IP), but he managed not to walk anyone and got more ground balls than fly balls. For a guy who has a career ground ball percentage of 40%, that’s a nice little start.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia seems to finally be capitalizing on the promise that led him to be ranked as high as the 18th overall prospect by Baseball America and be the centerpiece in the trade that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta. It is a small sample size, but in his last ten games Salty has hit for a .323/.382/.677 line, with three home runs and two doubles. His hits have come at key times, including driving in the only run in the Red Sox 1-0 win over the Tigers on May 18th. The strikeouts (8 in the 31 at bats over his last ten games), mean that his batting average will come down, but even if he's hitting .250/.320/.425, Saltalamacchia will be a big step up from the catching in the first month and a half. Despite the hot bat, the Red Sox are being fairly conservative with him – his 10 game run has actually been spread over 16 Red Sox games and includes one where he was a late inning replacement and did not bat. If he does continue to hit the Red Sox will have very little choice but to give him the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate, especially with Varitek struggling with a .526 OPS, which is 52% worse than the league average.

Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew passed away this week, after a long battle with esophageal cancer. Many writers have already weighed in on his career and life, but for whatever reason he’s always stuck out in my mind. It's funny to say that for a player I've never seen play (not even a highlight) and has absolutely to affiliation with any team I root for. I think it was a baseball card that was found in a giant shoe box of my dad’s old cards. I don’t think it was valuable, most of his cards were mid-1960’s Topps and a mint Killebrew is only a few bucks on EBay, but all that black ink on the back was exciting. And I’m not sure if I could come up with a better name for a slugging third baseman. Harmon Killebrew. He just sounded like he destroyed baseballs. Even after the steroid era, Killebrew is still 11th overall in home runs and he can thank steroid testing for keeping him there. Manny Ramirez was only 18 behind him, and if not for his 50 game suspension a couple years ago and his second suspension this year, Killebrew would almost certainly be bumped to 12th by now.

In many ways, Killebrew was one of the first modern sluggers. He struck out a lot for the era (20%, with a single season career high of 25%), which led to a fairly low career batting average of .256. But he also took an awful lot of walks, leading to his very solid OBP of .376. When you consider the fact that he played most of his career in the era of the 15” tall mound, when top pitchers such as Bob Gibson put up ERAs in the 1’s (1.12 for Gibson in 1968), Killebrew’s offensive production, particularly his .509 slugging percentage, is that much more impressive.

(photo credit: cthoyes)

Monday, May 16, 2011

More random thoughts

So this is how a winning team plays. After finally making it to .500 by sweeping the Yankees in New York in a rather impressive series, the Red Sox looked like they were going to blow the game, falling behind the hapless O's by six runs. But the Red Sox struck back for five in the fifth, one in the sixth, before getting two in the ninth off an Adrian Gonzalez walk-off double that just missed being a home run.

Jose Bautista continues to be an incredible hitter. He may very well be the best hitter in baseball right now. In a well publicized stat, he's hit 70 home runs since the start of last year (54 last year, 16 so far this year). Number two? Albert Pujols at 49. His current line is .368/.520/.868, good for an incredible 1.388 OPS, good for a .230 point lead. What is also incredible is that despite his power, he's only driven in 27 RBI. Given his 16 home runs, he's only driven in 11 team mates. That's only 40% of his RBIs are teammates, 10% lower than any other hitter in baseball.

The Indians/Royals 19-1 blowout was ugly, and was over after the Indians put up 10 runs in the fourth off of Vin Mazzaro. I thought I'd take a look at how fluid the Pythagorean winning percentages are at this point of the season, and how a single blowout can change the expected winning percentage dramatically. Pythagorean winning percentage is pretty easy to calculate, and was developed by Bill James to estimate what a team's winning percentage should be. It is runs scored squared, divided by the sum of runs scored squared and runs allowed squared. Coming in to the game, the Pythagorean winning percentages looked like this, with the Indians ahead, but the Royals still projected as an above .500 team:

Pre Blowout Scored Allowed Pythgorean Season Wins
Cleveland 181 140 0.626 101
KC 187 174 0.536 87

After, it is a different story. The Indians, now the proud owners of the best run differential in baseball, which goes nicely with their best actual record in baseball, are now a 108 win team, based on the runs they've scored and allowed. The Royals were not quite so fortunate, dropping from a projected 87 win team, to a below .500 79 win team. That isn't to say that last night should really change anyone's opinion about the Royals by 8 games over the course of the season, but more of an illustration about how the tools we use can be sensitive to extreme results.

Post Blowout Scored Allowed Pythgorean Season Wins
Cleveland 200 141 0.668 108
KC 188 193 0.487 79