Monday, November 26, 2012

Would you trade Jon Lester for Wil Myers?

According to Bob Dutton, of the Kansas City Star, my completely made up rumor has legs and the Royals are considering Jon Lester in exchange for Wil Myers.

The Kansas City Royals are currently looking for frontline starting pitching, and are supposedly dangling consensus #1 overall prospect Wil Myers.  Myers is coming off of a season where he hit .304/.378/.504 with 37 home runs between double and triple A.  He also won nearly every possible award for a minor league hitter, despite being young for the level.  If I had to pick one player in the minors to make an impact on the 2013 season, it would be Myers.

Lester, on the other hand, is only under contract for one year at $11.6 million, followed by a $14 million option.  During both of these years, the Red Sox are likely to be rebuilding, waiting for the crushing of your talent to arrive in the majors, led by Boegarts, Bradley, and Barnes.  Lester has been in a slow and steady decline from his spectacular 2009, as well.  Much of this may be tied to his declining velocity - he's lost a full mile per hour off his four seam fastball since 2009, but he has also moved away from his cut fastball, throwing it only 13% of the time in 2012, compared to 25% in 2011.  The reason why seems quite clear - it just wasn't getting the job done.  In 2009 and 2010 Lester's cutter was a devastating weapon, and was easily his best pitch.  In 2011 the cutter was still his best pitch, but not as effective as the previous two years, and by 2012 his cutter was below average and his worst pitch overall.  Just how exactly did Lester go from being the starter with the second best cutter in baseball to one that was well below average?

In examining the PITCHf/x data that is available from Baseball Prospectus (courtesy of Brooks Baseball), a few things jumped out at me.  First, he isn't tipping his pitches with his release point - the cutter and four seam fastball are coming out of the same window in 2010 and 2012, his best and worst year with the cutter.  What has shrunk considerably is the difference in velocity.  Just like with a changeup, a bigger difference in velocity produces better results for a cutter.  In 2010 Lester threw a 94 mile an hour fastball and a 90 mile per hour cutter, but in 2012 his fastball velocity had decline to 93.5 mph and his cutter had risen to 91 mph.  That shrinking velocity gap is worrisome, but more worrisome is the loss of movement on the pitch.  Between 2010 and 2012 Lester has lost 1" of horizontal movement and 2" of vertical movement differential between his cutter and four seam fastball.  This loss of movement and velocity differential has led to an elevated home run per fly ball rate for the cutter, rising from a miniscule 2.3% in 2010 to 11.3%.

The million (multi-million really) dollar question is what is at the root of this change?  If you think it is something fixable, then the Red Sox should probably just hang on to Lester.  Unfortunately, there isn't anything in the numbers that jumps out as an easy fix, such as an inconsistent release point.  If the Royals are dead set on trading for a frontline starter, and Myers is on the table, then the Red Sox need to be talking to them.  Given that Lester is coming off a down year, he might not even be enough for Myers, but former top prospect Eric Hosmer is coming off of a down year and could be an intriguing fit for the Red Sox, who have a massive hole to fill at first base for the next five years.  The Red Sox probably don't want to give the impression that they're blowing the team up, but the opportunity to add a young, impact hitter should have Cherington pondering just how much of a PR hit he's willing to take for the long term outlook of the franchise.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What is Dan Haren worth?

Depending on who you want to use, Dan Haren was either a 1.8 win pitcher last year, or a -0.6 win pitcher.  The difference stems from Fangraphs  using a pitcher's expected, fielding independent ERA (FIP), while Baseball Reference uses their actual ERA.  Either way, if you're trading for Dan Haren and paying him $15.5 million, you're not using 2012 as your point of reference.  Coming into the season, Haren had been about as consistent as a pitcher can be, posting four win seasons since 2005, including three seasons of six plus wins above replacement in the four seasons from 2008 - 2011.  Injuries derailed his season, but given that he's effectively on a one year deal, he's an intriguing option.

Looking to the recently completed Ervin Santana trade, the Angels may not be looking for much in return for Haren.  Sisk, the relief pitcher acquired in the Santana deal, tops out as a lefty one out guy, and even as such, may not even sniff the majors.  They'd likely want more for Haren, but the Red Sox happen to have an abundance of what the Angels need - relief arms.  After a core of Frieri, Downs, Walden, and Jepsen, the Angels relievers were pretty rough, leading to a team reliever ERA of 3.97, good for 12th in the American League.  Although the Red Sox were 11th in the league, they do have spectacular relief depth.  Alfredo Aceves could be a good match - he obviously needs a change of scenery following the repeated issues in Boston last year, and the Angels could use him as a swingman.  With an exodus of starting pitchers, including potentially losing Zach Grienke as a free agent, and a reliance on young arms, the Angels could be very thin in their rotation, so Aceves could slot in there.  Alternatively, if their pitchers resign and stay healthy, Aceves could be a multi-inning reliever from their bullpen.  Despite Aceves having a projected salary of $2.6 million after arbitration, the Angels would actually save money by trading away Haren, since he has a $3.5 million buyout on his option year.  The Angels may not want Aceves, given his discipline issues in both Boston and New York, but even still the Red Sox have a plethora of arms that are fairly fungible, such as Rich Hill, Scott Atchison (who would be under team control for another four years), or Theo Epstein's "replacement", Scott Carpenter.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Edwin Jackson, baseball vagabond

Edwin Jackson has had one of the more interesting baseball careers.  Given how many different teams he's played for in his 12 parts of seasons in the majors, he might choose a different adjective, though.

In the early to middle 2000s, Jackson was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, topping out as Baseball America's #4 prospect in 2004, and was in the top 100 2003-2005.  He debuted as a 19 year old for the Dodgers in 2003, but never managed to crack their rotation in his other two seasons there, never accumulating 30 innings.  Thanks to an impressive amount of roster mismanagement, burning options in those years, the Dodgers needed to either put Jackson on their major league roster or lose him to waivers.  Instead, the Dodgers traded him for two mediocre relievers, Danys Baez and Lance Carter, and Jackson found himself headed to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who were still a baseball laughing stock.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When one door closes...

another opens.

With the glut of outfielders the Diamonbacks had, Chris Young had been identified as a potential target for the Sox.  In theory, he could provide what they had hoped Mike Cameron would provide - good defense, a lot of walks, and a low, bbut tolerable average.  With the trade to the Oakland A's, Young is clearly off the market. However, it also means that the A's admittedly no longer have room on the roster for lefty masher Jonny Gomes.

Despite only accumulating 333 plate appearances, striking out in 30% of his plate appearances, and being a below average defensive player, Gomes managed to be a 2 win player last year, according to Fangraphs.  How did he do it?  Well, he absolutely crushes left handed pitchers, putting up a .974 OPS last year and a .904 OPS from 2009-2011.  Against righties, well, it is best if he doesn't face them; a .700 OPS is pretty rough for a corner outfielder, and Gomes has a reputation as a butcher in the outfield.  

So how could the Red Sox use him?  With a rather large vacancy (at least salary wise) in left field, the Red Sox could sign Gomes to play left field against lefties and keep Ross in right.  Against righties, the Sox could stick with Ryan Sweeney in right and play Cody Ross in left.  Alternatively, they could dip into the free agent market and grab a big name, but declining player in Ichiro Suzuki.  A left handed hitter, Ichiro could provide elite defense in right, plus a cannon for an arm, both massive assets in the spacious right field of Fenway. His power is almost completely gone, with his slight power resurgence being completely a product of the Yankee Stadium short porch, but with a high batting average, good speed, and the ability to play center if Ellsbury gets injured, Ichiro could be a great fit for the Sox, too.  

Put Gomes in left and Ross in right against right handers, and Ichiro in right and Ross in left against lefties, and you've got a nice platoon that hides the major weaknesses of Gomes and Ichiro, while emphasizing their strengths.  Whether Ichiro is willing to leave New York is another question entirely, but if he is, he could be a significant contributor.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kicking the tires on: First base options

The Red Sox have a massive, and rather unexpected, hole at first base following the Adrian Gonzalez trade.  In one of the worst free agent years in recent memory, the Red Sox won't have much luck nabbing a big bat to instantly fill Gonzalez's shoes, but there are some interesting options.

The traditional first baseman market is a bit of a disaster.  Lance Berkman, who was expected to be the best option coming in to the offseason, had a season derailed by chronic knee injuries and may even retire.  Former top prospect Adam Laroche broke out at age 32 and now will have his option picked up by the Nationals.  I think we're all already seen enough of James Loney, although if nothing else comes together, he could be a one year fill in.  Carlos Lee had his second terrible season in three years, and has a reputation for being a clubhouse disaster.  And Carlos Pena had his strikeout rate move north of 30% and his average drop below .200 again, all while hitting a six year low in home runs.  Slim pickings indeed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One man’s attempt to fix the Red Sox

The Red Sox have an awful lot of work to do this offseason. They’re already on the right path thanks to the Bobby Valentine firing; no it wasn’t all his fault, but a good portion of it sure was. Here are some ideas that I think would put the Red Sox back on the path to being a successful franchise.

Step 1. Purge the Malcontents. No, we don’t need to exile them to Siberia, but maybe a baseball Siberia like Houston would be nice. Vincente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves were in the news far too often for all the wrong reasons. The Red Sox bullpen is actually quite deep, with potentially excellent relievers like Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortenson, Rich Hill, and Andrew Miller all splitting time between Pawtucket and Boston. Padilla is a free agent at the end of the year, so they just need to let him walk. Alfredo Aceves is entering his second arbitration year, so he is under team control for two years, so they should be able to trade him for a low level lottery ticket, like the Manny Delcarmen/Chris Balcom-Miller trade with the Rockies a couple years ago, OR…

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Go figure...

The Red Sox season has been a mess for the most part, but they finally did make it over .500, hopefully for good.  It did take six tries, losing at 0-0, 10-10, 11-11, 21-21, 22-22, 23-23, before finally beating Verlander at 24-24.  Of course, they managed to beat the reigning Cy Young award winner and MVP.  Granted, it did take two tries, as Verlander pitched 8 shutout innings against the Sox on opening day, before Valverde blew the save.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Prospects to Dream On

The Red Sox farm system has been thinned out a great deal, with the team trading upper level prospects for established players.  Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, and Mark Melancon all figure to be significant contributors in 2012 and beyond, but those trades have left the Red Sox with very few significant prospects who could contribute in 2012.

There are, however, many high upside players who just finished seasons in A ball.  The Red Sox have four players on Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein's top 101 prospects list, with SS Xander Bogaerts leading the way at 32, with Brandon Jacobs at 46, and potential Kevin Youkilis replacement Will Middlebrooks at 55.  Keith Law has Bogaerts as the Sox top prospect as well, and includes catcher Blake Swihart in his top 100, but Middlebrooks and Jacobs both missed the cut.  Also in the system is outfielder Bryce Brentz, who Goldstein ranked at the #6 prospect in the system, and is coming off a massive 30 homerun season, split between low-A and high-A.  Finally, there is Sean Coyle, who flashed signs of promise in his full season debut at low-A as a nineteen year old, hitting .247/.362/.464.  But what can we expect from them?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A little foresight saves the Red Sox a bundle

At the start of 2010 it looked like four massive stars at first base would be hitting the market - Adrian Gonzalez, then on the Padres, Albert Pujols from the Cardinals, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, and Prince Fielder from the Brewers.  After the massive bidding war between the Red Sox and Yankees for Mark Teixeira, which led to his 8 year, $180 million contract, I'm sure the agents for all four were looking forward to their massive payout.  A funny thing happened on the way to free agency, though.  In April of 2010, Howard re-upped with the Phillies a full two years before hitting free agency, with a five year, $125 million deal.  In December of 2010, Adrian Gonzalez was traded from the Padres to the Red Sox.  Although he officially agreed to his 7 year, $154 million extension in April, of the following season, the general consensus was that the extension had been agreed upon, but was not officially completed until the following April because of luxury tax implications.  Finally, both Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols made it to free agency. The Angels went hard after Pujols, signing him to his massive contract, the second largest ever signed, in early December, while Prince Fielder had to wait until just this week for bad luck for Victor Martinez, who tore his ACL, opening up a spot in the Tigers lineup at DH.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Yankees are the AL East Favorites

In one day the Yankees turned a very quiet offseason into one that addressed their biggest weakness, by trading for Mariners starting pitcher Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda.  While the Yankees got by last year with major contributions from Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Ivan Nova, and at least a lot of innings from AJ Burnett, if nothing else, none of those three could really be considered a real #2 or #3 starter behind Sabathia.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Red Sox play the waiting game

Right now there are three solid starters on the free agent market - Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt.  According to ESPN's Keith Law, they are the 11th, 13th, and 22nd best free agents coming in to this offseason, and the 2nd, 4th, and 6th best starting pitching free agents, not counting Yu Darvish, who had to go through the posting system.  Coming in to the offseason, Jackson was looking for $15 million per year over five years, Kuroda for $15 million for one, and Oswalt for $8 for one.  Quite simply, the market has not been there for any of them, and now, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, the price for all three has dropped substantially, to the point where even Jackson maybe considering a one year deal.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Red Sox offseason so far

Ben Cherington had his work cut out for him this offseason, with regard to the pitching staff.  Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz were locks for the rotation, but beyond that very few pitchers had a set role.  With the trades for Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey, the Red Sox pitching staff is starting to take shape.  We're also getting a good idea of how Cherington will operate as a GM, with his willingness to wheel and deal, but not with the top prospects.

1. Daniel Bard will be given every opportunity to start.  I am still not convinced this is the best course of action, but you don't trade for two late inning relievers if you're keeping Bard in the pen and have two gaping holes in the rotation.  Given Bard's issues with repeating his delivery, which has led to some terrifying walk rates in the minors and rough patches in the majors, his complete lack of success as a starting pitcher at the professional level, and his shallow repertoire (93% of the time he throws a fastball or slider, and his third pitch, a change up, is average at best), this seems like a disaster in the making, but the Red Sox seem committed to it.  Getting 200 innings out of a pitcher rather than 60 is a no brainer, assuming the performance is remotely similar, but I'm not convinced that Bard will stick in the rotation.  Even if he does, it wouldn't shock me to see the Red Sox go some form of a six man rotation in June when Matsuzaka comes back from Tommy John surgery.