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.