Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Revisiting the Red Sox' last great, MLB ready hitting prospect

There has been a lot of talk about Xander Bogaerts and his upside, and rightfully so. As a 20 year old he destroyed AAA, held his own in the regular season hitting .250/.320/.364, before becoming an onbase machine in the playoffs, posting a .412 OBP to go with his .482 slugging. Coming in to this year, Baseball America ranked him as the #8 prospect in the game. His spectacular season, coupled with some graduations and disappointments, has him in the running for the #1 spot overall. It has been a little while since the Red Sox had such a highly regarded hitter ready to contribute at the major league level, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at past top prospects.

Who it isn't
As I made this only about hitting prospects, we can leave out Clay Buchholz (#4 in 2008) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (#1 in 2007, but he doesn't really count as a prospect anyway).  Jon Lester didn't even crack the top 20 at his peak (#22 in 2006). Recently departed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury reached #13 in 2007, but failed to be a top 10 prospect. Nor is it anyone who is still in the Red Sox organization. Dustin Pedroia, perhaps the best player on the Red Sox team right now, topped out at #77 following the 2005 season. Baseball America would probably like to have that one back, but there were real concerns about Pedroia's size, ability to generate any power, and his rather unorthodox "swing as hard as I can but still make contact all the time" approach. I think those things led some folks to wonder if he could hack it against major league pitching. Thankfully, they were wrong.

Hanley Ramirez is probably the closest "obvious" name out there. He was ranked #10 by Baseball America for the upcoming 2005 season, but after scuffling in AA, I think it would be a stretch to call him a consensus major league ready player. Granted, he went on to be an instant star for the Marlins, but I don't think anyone saw that coming, maybe even the Marlins.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sox sign Edward Mujica, Uehara lite?

Today, December 5th 2013, the Red Sox announced a 2 year, $9.25 million contract with former Cardinal closer Edward Mujica. This comes 364 days after the Red Sox signed former Ranger reliever Koji Uehara to a one year, $4.25 million deal with a vesting option.

A quick glance at Mujica's season statistics indicate some cause for concern. First, his strikeout rate in 2013 was below average, at a rather pedestrian 6.40. For comparison, all pitchers struck out 7.57 batters per nine innings, while relievers struck out batters even more frequently (8.29 K/9). Second, Mujica's shiny ERA (2.87) masks a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA of 3.71, precisely reliever average. Third, although Mujica recorded 37 saves in 2013, he imploded in September posting an 11.05 ERA and was a non-factor in the Cardinal's World Series run, throwing only 2 innings in the entire postseason.

However, I believe this is a solid signing for the Red Sox and Mujica could return a great value for them just as Uehara has. Why?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sox pick the middle ground at catcher, waste money

I understand why some writers, such as Buster Olney, Tim Kurkijan, and Gordon Edes, and  are saying that the Red Sox made a good choice in sticking with a short term solution at catcher, leaving room for their prospects to make an impact in 2015. I don't have a problem with the decision to not block Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, in fact I advocated it in an earlier post. However, Pierzynski is an $8.25 million lateral move from guys like Ryan Lavarnway or Dan Butler. To quote Keith Law (ESPN Insider only), "Pierzynski doesn't get on base, doesn't hit for power, and is a below-average receiver, now entering his age 37 season and looking slower than ever at the plate."

Friday, November 22, 2013

The do-nothing solution at catcher

If the Red Sox miss out on Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the presumed solution is to go after Dioner Navarro. Despite playing only half a season, Navarro had the 2nd best season of his career (by wins above replacement) and set career highs for batting average, OBP, and slugging (.300/.365/.492). For comparison, those numbers actually top expected $100 million dollar man Brian McCann's .256/.336/.461 line across the board. Granted, no one is expecting Navarro to top McCann in 2014. Despite that, the Red Sox would do well to avoid Navarro.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Starting Pitching Primer, or, Is John Lackey's Contract Just like the Sox?

The Red Sox find themselves in an interesting position with starting pitching, heading in to 2014. Most importantly, they don't need to be involved in the starting pitching free agent market. There is a paucity of starters on the market, especially top tier arms, and every pitcher available has some real question marks around them.

Masahiro Tanaka, from the Japanese Pacific League, is coming off an incredible 24-0 season and is expected to be posted. However, importing Japanese pitchers has been a mixed bag - sometimes you get Darvish, sometimes you get Daisuke, and the cost could be well over $100 million. Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are the next best arms available, and both were good pitchers in 2013, but both were also among the worst pitchers in baseball in 2012. Santana is looking for 5 years, $100 million, and Jimenez is likely looking in the same neighborhood. Finally, Ricky Nolasco is the final pitcher in Keith Law's top 50 free agents. Nolasco is looking for 5 years, $80 million on a track record that doesn't look substantively different from Ryan Dempster's last fall. A solid, if unspectacular track record of throwing 180-200 innings. There is some value in that, but I'm of the mind it falls a lot closer to Dempster's two year, $26.5 million deal, than Nolasco's aspirations.

The defensive cost of losing Drew

Defensively speaking, how much would the hit be to switch from Drew and Bogaerts at shortstop and third, respectively, to Bogaerts and Middlebrooks? This is a tricky question to answer, because you're trying to project two very young, unpredictable players in Middlebrooks and Bogaerts. On top of that, Drew had a gruesome ankle injury at the end of 2010, which makes his 2011 numbers an outlier.

Bogaerts at short and third
In a comment on an earlier post, I was asked about what to make of the fact that Bogaerts was a plus defender at short and a well below average one at third. The simple answer here is not much. Bogaerts only logged 110 innings in the field and defensive stats don’t even stabilize in a single season, so his numbers overall aren’t meaningful, let along splitting them up by position. Scouts say that Bogaerts would be an about average shortstop, so the simplest thing would just be to give him a 0 for defense. At shortstop, that’s no small feat. At third, it becomes less clear. The rough estimate would be that he would be save 5 runs, per calculations by Tom Tango.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking Ahead: Losses

After winning the championship, the Red Sox have a lot of players coming off the books. These include core contributors, including the entire swath of up the middle hitters, and guys you may have forgotten will be getting a ring for 2013.

Oh yeah, you were on the team (2013 salary)
Joel Hanrahan ($7.04)

Just as with Bailey,  Hanrahan came over in a trade with the Pirates, in one of the larger moves of the offseason (or so we thought at the time). Unfortunately, Hanrahan was bad, then injured. He pitched a mere seven innings ($1 million/inning!), before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Given that he's a Proven CloserTM, someone will probably take a flier on him on a one year deal with a team option, but we're probably looking at a return around the All Star Break next season. He won't be a great loss, doubly so given the emergence of Uehara as a closer and Uehara's affordable $4.25 million option, which vested in September, but the $7 million is always nice to have.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rebooting the blog to bask in the brilliance of a championship

It's been an awfully long time, but I wanted to try and start writing again, in part to enjoy the current success of the Red Sox, and in part to get in the practice of writing a lot, to help with my dissertation.

I'll be looking at free agent losses, the roster as it stands for 2014, upcoming prospects, and free agents in the next week or two.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

An Extremely Unusual Start

On Friday night, Alex Cobb had one of the most unusual lines you'll ever see from a starting pitcher.

4 2/3 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 5 H, 2 ER

So, Cobb got a total of 14 outs. Twelve were via the strikeout (one of the strikeouts reached first on a wild pitch). Two of the hits were home runs. That means that Cobb only had five balls in play. Of those five balls in play, two were infield singles and two were ground outs.

Looking at the underlying numbers, Cobb was just as dominant. Of Cobb's 117 pitches, 77 were strikes, for an about average total. However, aside from the two home runs, the Padres were clear completely lost at the plate. They swung at 57 pitches and swung and missed at 22 of them (38%). For comparison, 10% is a good swinging strike rate, and Yu Darvish has the highest swinging strike rate on the season (16.7%).

To top it all off, Cobb managed to strike out four batters in the third inning. Despite that, he allowed a run, as Will Venable reached on a wild pitch strike out, stole second, stole third, and then scored on a balk. Cobb then struck out Yonder Alonso to end the inning. It was only the 30th time than an AL pitcher has struck out four players in an inning and the 60th overall. Striking out four batters in an inning is one of the rarest occurrences in baseball, just behind a perfect game and the unassisted triple play.

All told, this might have been the most dominant start when a starter didn't even manage to qualify for a win.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On swinging strikes, swings in the zone (or lack thereof), and strike outs

Following up on the comment on my Clay Buchholz piece, I wanted to examine how the swing percentage on pitches in the strike zone impacted strikeout rate. Thanks to Fangraphs excellent and customizable leader boards, I was able to get data for pitchers from 2006 to 2012 who threw for 100 or more innings. I did not want to go much farther back, as strikeout rates have changed considerably over the last few years, but also, swinging strike percent and swing rate on pitches in the zone are not available prior to 2005.

What are the Data I'm Using?
So, given 100 IP in a single season from 2006 to 2012, I had 986 total records from 306 different pitchers to go with. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to treat each season as independent, even though we might expect different seasons from the same pitcher to be related.

Creating the Basic Model
I used these 986 data points to create a linear model predicting strike out rate in K/9 IP using the swinging strike percentage. I originally considered adding the season to the model, as strikeout rates have steadily risen over the time period I'm looking at. While season was a significant predictor of K/9 IP when it was included in the model (more recent = more strikeouts), it didn't add much to the overall fit and only had a very minor impact on the model overall. In ecology, we often describe this as statistically significant, but not biologically significant. It often happens when you have a large sample size. Also, in general, I strongly prefer the simplest model possible, especially when adding variables marginally improves the fit. Guess I'm just a big fan of Occam's Razor. Without further ado, the relationship between swinging strike rate and strikeout rate is:
K/9 = 71.8*(Swinging Strike %) + 0.7892

The R2 for this model was 0.6693, meaning that swinging strike rate explains 67% of the variability in K/9. That is a huge proportion, but it does leave room for improvement.

Examining the Residuals
A residual is the difference between the expected value from the model and the actual model. A positive residual means that the pitcher had more strike outs than our swinging strike model thought they should, while a negative residual means the opposite. In general, a lower residual means a better fit for the model, but you can also look at the residuals to see if there is anything consistent about them. In our case, we’ll look at the percent of swings on pitches in the zone. To do this, I ran another linear regression, trying to predict the residuals using the zone swing percent. This showed a significant trend, but with a much lower predictive value than the swinging strike rate (R2=0.136). When your residuals have a trend, it means that your model isn’t capturing something, but for our purposes, it is a good thing. It means that when pitchers have a lower rate of swings against pitches in the zone, they have a higher strikeout rate.

The Low Swing Pitchers
Over the entire data set, the average swing rate at pitches in the zone was 65%. Unlike some other stats, there isn’t as much variability in swing rates at pitches in the zone. The lowest average belongs to Doug Fister (55.5%, over the course of three seasons), while the highest belongs to Scott Baker (72%, over two seasons). Another way to look at the data is to examine whether or not the pitchers with the low swing rates on pitches in the zone have a high residual. In short, the answer is yes. Four pitchers averaged a zone swinging rate of 60% or lower, and had multiple seasons on record. Here are their numbers – remember, a positive residual means that a pitcher was striking out more batters than the model predicted.

Residual (K/9)
Zone Swing %
Doug Fister
C.J. Wilson
Jake Arrieta
Mike Mussina

So, we see a consistent pattern at the extreme ends. But, does swing rate on pitches in the strike zone explain most of the variability in K/9?

The Biggest Departures from the Model
To examine this, I looked at the pitchers who had: 1. The highest residuals, and 2. At least three years of data. If the biggest departures from our expected results (largest residuals), all have a lower than average swing rate on pitches within the zone, that would provide even stronger support that swing rate within the strike zone controls how . Of the 15 pitchers with the highest average residuals, only two have swing rates below 60% (Mussina and Wilson), while an additional six have zone swing rates slightly below average (60-64%), and five have zone swing rates that are about average (64%-66%). None of the pitchers with consistently high residuals have above average zone swing rates. Interestingly, many of the high residual pitchers who had  average to slightly below average zone swing rates also walked a lot of batters. If you increase the number of walks you hand out, you'll also increase the number of batters you face, which in turn should lead to a higher K/9. For example, think about two different pitchers. Pitcher A strikes out 25% of the batters he faces and walks 10% (Yovanni Gallardo) and pitcher B strikes out 25% of the batters he faces and walks 6%. Pitcher B is clearly the superior pitcher, but pitcher A will likely have a higher K/9.

Residual (K/9)
Zone Swing %
Yovani Gallardo
C.J. Wilson
Erik Bedard
Mike Mussina
David Price
Ubaldo Jimenez
Tim Lincecum
Zack Greinke
Jonathan Sanchez
Clayton Kershaw
Oliver Perez
Tommy Hanson
Josh Beckett
Daniel Cabrera
Jon Lester

So What Does This All Mean?
I think there are several conclusions we can draw here. First, a lower swing rate at pitches in the strike zone does consistently lead to a higher K/9. Second, if a pitcher has a high swing rate at pitches in the zone, they probably won't outperform their predicted K/9 based on swinging strike rate. This makes sense; lots of swings will lead to more balls in play, which in turn will lead to fewer strikeouts. Third, there are other factors that aren't captured by just looking at swinging strike rate and zone swing rate. Most of the pitchers with the highest residuals in the model did not have extremely low zone swing rates. This may be attributable to "stuff" in general, so perhaps delving into PitchFX data would lead to a clearer picture there.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What has improved with Clay Buchholz?

Clay Buchholz has been the Red Sox best pitcher, and even edges out Dustin Pedroia as the Red Sox best player overall. He currently has a spectacular 1.19 ERA, and even more surprisingly, is striking out more than a batter per inning. While the ERA obviously won’t stay below 1.50, I thought it was worth a closer look to try and figure out where his strikeouts are coming from.

What Hasn’t Changed?
Before we get into the details too much, it is important to round up the usual suspects. Buchholz is not throwing a new pitch; he is still using the fastball, cutter, change up, and curveball that he has since introducing the cutter in 2011. Nor has he changed his approach. Buchholz still throws his four seam fastball about half the time and his cutter about 20% of the time, followed by his curveball and changeup with about equal frequency. Since Buchholz was hampered by injuries to start 2012, you might expect an increase in velocity, now that he is healthy, but we also don’t see a surge in velocity for Buchholz. In fact, Buchholz’s fastball is about one mile per hour slower than 2012. Buchholz’s control isn’t better either – he is still walking about the same number of batters (3.11/9 IP) and he is throwing the same number of first pitch strikes, too. Finally, and most perplexingly, we don’t see a change in his swinging strike rate.

Swinging Strikes and Strikeouts 
The big surge in strikeouts without an increase in swinging strikes is very odd. Swinging strikes and strikeout rates are tightly linked (R2 = 0.65 in 2012 for qualified pitchers), and swinging strike rate usually stabilizes before strikeout rate. Without an increase in swinging strikes, we should probably expect to see a big drop in Buchholz’s strikeout rate over the rest of the season. Needless to say, that would mean that he wouldn’t be the ace we’ve seen in the first month. Based on a linear regression from last season’s stats (it is still a bit early to be using 2013 stats), we should expect Buchholz to have a K/9 of 6.67, instead of 9.32. That strikeout rate would mean his expected ERA (xFIP) would be about 4.00 – hardly an ace, and maybe not even a #2.

A Silver Lining
There is one metric that Buchholz has improved significantly in – batters are swinging much less often at pitches in the zone this year (58%, compared to 65% in 2012). Currently, a 58% swing rate at pitches in the zone is the 10th best in the majors, and would have led the league last year. If batters aren’t swinging at pitches in the zone, that could mean two different things: 1. Batters are getting fooled by Buchholz’s pitchers, or 2. Buchholz is working the corners effectively, so although the pitches are in the zone, they are not good ones to hit. Looking at Buchholz’s heat maps showing where he is throwing pitches, nothing immediately jumps out at me to indicate that Buchholz is working corners better than previous years, however it is rather hard to compare the 2013 season to previous years because of the big difference in number of pitches thrown.

Trickier Pitches? 
If Buchholz is fooling batters, we might be able to see some improvement in the movement of his pitches. Thanks to PitchFX data, we have an amazing treasure trove of data. There is not a significant change in the amount of movement for Buchholz’s changeup or curveball, but he has added an inch of movement on his fastball and cutter (this combines both horizontal and vertical movement). Most of the movement for the cutter has been horizontal movement, which is not surprising as cutters often have more run when thrown slightly slower, and Buchholz is throwing his cutter two and a half miles per hour slower than last year. However, of the two pitches, only the four seam fastball has shown improvement. A big part of that improvement has been in the swing rate within the zone, as hitters have offered at fastballs in the zone 7% less often in 2013. The biggest improvement in that category is with the curveball; hitters have gone from swinging at curveballs in the zone 42% of the time, to an incredibly low 22% of the time. Although the overall movement of the curveball hasn’t changed, how it is moving has. Over his career, Buchholz has gone from having a fairly traditional 12-6 curveball (one that drops pretty much straight down, from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, if you were looking at a clock face) to one that has a lot more horizontal movement; at this point, he’s almost throwing a slurve (combination of a slider and a curveball), with over 10” of horizontal movement. Traditionally, most scouts prefer a 12-6 curveball, and a slurve often has a bad reputation, however, this pitch is working for Buchholz.

Looking Ahead 
Whether or not the slurve remains effective, particularly in getting called strikes, will be key for Buchholz’s continued success. I think a lot of that will depend on whether or not hitters adjust to the new, more horizontal movement of the pitch. If he can continue to fool hitters, he may be able to maintain an elevated strikeout rate, without having a typically high swinging strike rate. A regression to model strikeout rate using swinging strikeout rate and zone swing percentage indicated that a lower swing rate at pitches in the zone leads to a higher strikeout rate overall, and greatly improves the fit of the model (R2 = 0.83, compared to 0.65 with just swinging strike rate). According to that model, Buchholz’s K/9 IP would be about 7.50, leading to a much more palatable predicted ERA of about 3.50. Now that looks more like a #2 starter.

Koji Uehara in a Nutshell

This week was fairly representative of Uehara on the whole. He appeared in 4 games, throwing 4 innings. He showed excellent control, walking no one in those four innings, while striking out four batters. Unfortunately, Uehara gave up a couple of home runs - a shot to Billy Butler that tied the game in the 8th and a home run to Chris Young that cut the Sox lead against Oakland to one.

That is pretty much what you can expect from Uehara. Lots and lots of strikeouts (10.13/9 in 2013, 10.75 in 2012), almost no walks (a microscopic 0.84/9 in 2013, 0.75/9 in 2012), and lots of fly balls (59% in 2013, 51% in 2012). Sometimes, those fly balls are going to leave the yard, often times in bunches. Thankfully, they'll usually be solo home runs. The home run Uehara gave up to Butler was a crusher, leading to a Sox loss in extra innings, but on the whole Uehara is going to be an excellent contributor to the bullpen. The one thing we can't count on, though, is health. Uehara only threw 36 innings last year, and typically needs to have a day off between appearances. But while he is healthy, the Sox should enjoy the ride.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Breaking Down Webster's Debut

Thanks to the double header and the Lackey injury, the Red Sox called on Allen Webster. Webster was one of the two main prospects in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and wasn't expected to pitch at the major league level outside of a September call up.

Good : The control. Coming in to this season, Webster had issues with walking too many batters (4.2/9 IP in AAA last year). The Red Sox believed this was in part due to where he pitched on the rubber, and shifted him to always throwing from the extreme first base side. So far, that appears to have worked. Webster walked three in 10 innings in AAA, and only walked one in five innings against the Royals, continuing his improved control from spring training (1 BB in 11 IP). At one point David Ross stuck out his right leg as Webster was getting set to pitch. The Royals announcers thought that it was a trick to confuse the batter, indicating that the pitch was coming inside when it really was going outside, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps Ross was simply reminding Webster to stick with his spot on the rubber. The release points from PitchFX indicate that he did a very good job having a consistent release point, both horizontally and vertically.

Bad: The command.The difference between command and control is a bit tricky, but to sum it up as briefly as possible, good control means you're not walking guys, good command means that you're putting the ball where you want it to go. Webster left several pitches either in the middle of the plate or waist high that led to two home runs and a double. He also got away with several other pitches. Thanks to his stuff, he may be able to get away with the occasional fat pitch, but major league hitters can handle a waist high fastball on the outer half, even if it is going 97. Webster only allowed two home runs in 130 innings in AAA last year, but allowed the same number in one start.

Good: The stuff. Webster had all three pitches working for him at points during the game. His sinking fastball was sitting mid-90s, and touched 97. He got several swings and misses from his strongly breaking slider and got at least one batter looking on a nasty front door change up. All told, Webster had five Ks to only one walk, had 14 swinging strikes (17%, an elite number, albeit in a single game), and on top of that he was generating lots of ground balls (7 GB outs to 5 FB outs).

Bad: The stamina. This is a bit of a nitpicky criticism, but Webster clearly is not quite ready to be a major league starter and take the ball every five days. The Red Sox were understandably cautious with him in this game, only allowing him to throw 84 pitches, but Webster was appearing to tire towards the end of his start. Although his fastball velocity did not drop significantly in the later innings, he didn't seem able to reach back to get to 96 or above in the fifth and sixth innings. Part of this is likely due to it being early in the season, as the Red Sox have taken to slowly building up minor leaguers arm strength, but Webster has had issues with stamina and efficiency in the past. In 2012 he only averaged 4.5 innings per appearance (24 starts, plus three relief appearances), but even if you toss out the three relief appearances that average is still only 5.4 innings per appearance. This is something that will hopefully improve over time.

All told, it was a great debut for Webster, and one that was probably five months earlier than the most optimistic projections indicated. It is still early, but so far the returns from the Adrian Gonzalez deal look promising. It wouldn't be shocking to see Webster be a contributor down the stretch, especially given the lack of other options should an injury befall a Red Sox starter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An elaborate hypothetical: Revisiting the two Adrian Gonzalez trades

The Adrian Gonzalez era in Boston was a tumultuous, abbreviated affair, lasting only 628 calendar days and only 386 regular season days. Sadly, those regular season days were the only games Gonzalez played, as the Sox missed the playoffs in brutal fashion in 2011 and clearly were headed nowhere in 2012. Following that disastrous finish to 2011 and several months in to the ugly 2012 season, the Red Sox managed to unload Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford on to the Dodgers, while acquiring two elite arms in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster, along with two fringe-MLB players in Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus, both of whom are now in the Pirates system. In under two years, Gonzalez had gone from savior to scapegoat, impending free agent to owner of one of the richest contracts in baseball, from Theo Epstein as his general manager to newcomer Ben Cherington, and from the west coast to the east coast and back again. Now that the smoke has cleared a bit from the terrible 2012 that precipitated the events, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at both Gonzalez trades, as well as the contracts that were key to getting the deal done from the Red Sox's perspective, and see how the Adrian Gonzalez era affected the team.

The Original Deal
The original trade for Adrian Gonzalez with the Padres was an on again, off again affair. The Red Sox and the Padres had a deal in place, but the Red Sox wanted a negotiating window in order to secure an extension, as Gonzalez was set to become a free agent following the 2011 season. The Red Sox and Gonzalez were unable to reach an agreement during this initial negotiating window, and the trade seemingly had fallen apart. However, eventually the Red Sox and Gonzalez reached a deal, and the trade was officially completed on December 6, 2010. The Red Sox and Gonzalez eventually agreed to a 7 year, $154 million extension, but postponed announcing it until after Opening Day due to MLB luxury tax implications. It was the 9th richest deal in baseball history at the time. The Red Sox had finally found their impact bat to replace Manny Ramirez. Despite playing in a cavernous stadium and surrounded by a weak lineup, Gonzalez put up spectacular numbers, averaging 34 home runs and 105 RBI with a .900 OPS. On the road, he was putting up video game numbers; he hit almost two thirds of his home runs on the road, and his OPS was over .100 higher. Put him in Fenway Park, and he would be peppering balls off or over the Green Monster.

The cost for Gonzalez was high, but not astronomical. The Red Sox sent three of their top 10 prospects to the Padres - polished righty Casey Kelly, who had good stuff and an excellent feel for pitching, but who struggled in AA after being aggressively promoted; breakout first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was coming off  a 25 home run season split between A+ and AA; and toolsy outfielder Reymond Fuentes, whose youth and athleticism made up for his lack of production in the minors to that point. With an aging core, a lack of depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and David Ortiz coming off a mediocre season and one season removed from his terrible 2009, the Red Sox were clearly in win-now mode and were going to make a run at getting back to the World Series for the first time since 2007.

Evaluating the Original Deal
We now have over two years of perspective to look back on the original Gonzalez deal, and it seems to grade out favorably for the Red Sox. Despite the team's struggles at the end of 2011 and in 2012, Gonzalez was a good player overall, even factoring in his subpar 2012. Casey Kelly had to undergo Tommy John surgery this spring, and won't pitch until next spring training at the earliest. While he remains likely to be a major league pitcher, he does not have the stuff to be a frontline pitcher. Reymond Fuentes is no longer much of a prospect after continuing to struggle to translate his tools to production; Fuentes was not ranked by Baseball America, Fangraphs, or Baseball Prospectus when reviewing the Padres' minor league systems. The prize of the deal appears to be Anthony Rizzo, who will be starting as a major league first basemen; unfortunately for the Padres, he'll be doing it for the Theo Epstein run Chicago Cubs. Following a disappointing showing for the Padres at the major league level in 2011, Rizzo was traded to the Cubs for pitching prospect Andrew Cashner, in a rare prospect for prospect deal. Then San Diego GM Jed Hoyer, who had since become the GM for the Cubs, admitted to rushing Rizzo, but a bit more time in the minors seems to have paid off for Rizzo. Rizzo hit 15 home runs for the Cubs in half a season of playing time in 2012, and now is their starting first baseman. Sadly for the Padres, Cashner is now a reliever, and after all was said and done, they have very, very little to show from trading away their best player since Tony Gwynn.

The Out of Nowhere Signing
Days after the Gonzalez deal was completed, the Red Sox made another massive move, signing left fielder Carl Crawford to a seven year, $142 million deal. It was a totally unexpected move, but was well received by analysts and the fanbase alike, and the Red Sox were anointed the favorites in the AL East, and even the AL as a whole.

Opportunities Missed
The cost of the Gonzalez trade and spending $20 million per year on Carl Crawford was that third baseman Adrian Beltre, who led the team in WAR in 2010, was no longer part of the plan for the future. Beltre had signed a one year "pillow contract" in order to reestablish his value, and it worked like a charm. He signed a five year, $96 million deal with the Texas Rangers. Despite being in his 30s, Beltre has continued to produce at an elite level both with his glove and his bat, averaging just under six wins above replacement in his two seasons in Texas, and eaisly outproducing both Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Beltre was also a great clubhouse presence, so long as you didn't touch his head.

The Former Hero
The 2007 postseason cemented Josh Beckett's reputation as a clutch postseason performer. He was spectacular in his four starts, allowing only four earned runs in 30 innings, while striking out 35. His 2008 and 2009 seasons were not as strong, but he maintained an elite WHIP throughout. Unfortunately, everything fell apart in an injury abbreviated 2010. With free agency looming following the season, the Red Sox signed him to a four year, $68 million extension. In 2011, Beckett seemed to return to form with a 2.93 ERA, but his 2012 would be something else entirely.

The Summer of Discontent
I won't get into the details of the 2012 season too much, but it is important to recognize just how horribly things went. They opened 0-3, then 1-5. Bobby Valentine called out Kevin Youkilis, who was a major clubhouse figure and one of the hardest workers on the team, for not working hard enough.  It took them six tries when they were at .500 to get a winning record, before finally going to 25-24 on May 29. At the end of June they were 41-36, only to lose seven of the next nine games to limp into the All Star Break at 43-43. Will Middlebrooks, one of the few bright spots to the season broke his wrist August 11, to cap off a 3-8 slide. Carl Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow on August 23rd, finishing the worst season of his career and one that had been plagued by injury issues.  Josh Beckett put up a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts, while refusing to apologize or acknowledge his role in the infamous and likely overblowBut the real coup de grace was on August 23rd, when the Red Sox lost to the Angels in extra innings despite leading 6-0 after two innings, and 9-8 in the 6th, and 11-9 entering the 9th, thanks in large part to malcontent and bullpen arsonist Alfredo Aceves giving up five runs in an inning plus. By the next day, the Red Sox would be headed in a completely different direction.

Blowing It All Up
News of the deal first started to break on August 24th, when Adrian Gonzalez was held out of the lineup for the series opener against the Royals. Supposedly a massive deal was in place with the Dodgers, sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles. Deals this big are rare in August, as players have to clear waivers in order to be traded. If a team places a player on waivers and another team claims them, the original team can just let the player go, along with his contract, to the claiming team. If no one claims them, then they cannot be traded until the season is over. With about $140 million worth of guaranteed salary left of their deals, Carl Crawford, who was facing a year long recovery from elbow surgery, and Josh Beckett, with his ERA north of 5.00, cleared waivers easily, unfortunately, thanks to the contracts associated with them, they were less than worthless on the trade market. Adrian Gonzalez, on the other hand, was claimed by the Dodgers. Despite Gonzalez having the worst season of his career and with almost $150 million remaining on his new extension, there wasn't really any expectation that he would be traded. Teams place players on waivers all the time, in part just to gauge potential interest in them. Gonzalez was claimed by the Dodgers, meaning that no team in the American League put in a claim and that no team with a worse record than the Dodgers in the National League put in a claim either. This was a minor miracle, especially given that teams will often put in claims on players just to block potential deals. Perhaps no one thought the Red Sox could really trade Gonzalez. Perhaps no other teams wanted to take the risk that they'd be stuck with such a large contract. Either way, everything fell into place for Ben Cherington and the Red Sox.

The Boston Herald first broke the story (now behind a paywall), and other media outlets quickly followed suit in reporting that the Red Sox were able to dump the bad contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, at the expense of Adrian Gonzalez. Not only that, but the Red Sox were receiving real prospects in return, primarily in the form of starting pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa. The Red Sox also sent cash to the Dodgers; normally $11 million is a lot to be included in a trade, but when you're shedding $285 million worth of salaries in the process, $11 million is a drop in the bucket.

Somehow the Red Sox cleared two contracts that were considered to be worthless.

Somehow, the Red Sox ended up sending less than half as much cash in their trade which cleared $285 million worth of salary than the Angels needed to send this spring ($28.1 million) to cover the remaining $42 million on Vernon Wells' deal.

And, most importantly, somehow the Red Sox acquired two starting pitching prospects who were in the upper minors and have front of the rotation upside.

God Bless Ned Colletti and the new Dodgers ownership.

In one move, Ben Cherington completely remade the franchise and set on the rocky road to rebuilding a successful team. Gone were the oversized free agents of the twilight of the Theo Epstein era. Gone was the playoff MVP of the last World Series team.

The Pieces Coming Back
In many ways, the players sent to the Red Sox are ancillary parts of the evaluation of the deal. They do, however, have the ability to turn the deal from a good one to an absolute fleecing. As I mentioned above, both Webster and de la Rosa have top of the rotation stuff. Both sit in the mid to upper 90s, with Rubby complementing his fastball with a devastating slider and Webster adding a slider to his heavy sinking fastball. As with just about any pitching prospect, there are major question marks surrounding them. Rubby de la Rosa is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and many scouts believe that both will end up in the bullpen, because of their slight builds and health issues. Only time will tell how they develop and what their roles will be, but as they are already in the upper minors, appearances this season or next are not out of the question.

Summing It All Up
In the end, it really comes down to this simple question: Would you trade the 2010 versions of Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Reymond Fuentes for the 2012 versions of Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa? I think the answer is yes, but it is hard to say knowing that Rizzo will develop into a starter at first, but Kelly is facing Tommy John surgery. What if I threw in $250 million worth of financial flexibility? Not much of a question anymore, is it? Of course, to make it all work you need $250 million in bad contracts to begin with. For what it is worth, the architect of the $250 million worth of bad contracts agrees.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Home grown talent

When Theo Epstein took over the General Manager position before the 2003 season, he said he was going to turn the Red Sox into a "$100 million player development machine", meaning that they would develop their own players, so that they wouldn't have to go out and overspend on free agents. Now, more than ever, that philosophy is critical to success, given the rates at which teams are resigning their own players. Even small to mid market teams, such as the Reds, Mariners, and White Sox are resigning star players to often extremely long deals to prevent them from reaching free agency. The kings of this strategy are the Tampa Bay Rays, who have Evan Longoria under contract through 2023 (no, that isn't a typo) thanks to two different six year extensions, the first of which paid him only $17.5 million for six years (total, not annually), plus three club options totaling $30 million for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons. On top of that they have super utility player Ben Zobrist signed through 2015 for very reasonable salaries and burgeoning ace Matt Moore signed through 2019, if all his options are picked up.

So what does that mean for the Red Sox and other big market teams? Quite simply, if you don't develop from within you'll be forced to spend more money to get less production on the free agent market. Given the importance of developing from within, I thought I'd take a look at the Red Sox history in developing talent and where they are headed from here.

As you can see from the chart, the 2013 opening day lineup had more home grown players than any other year since 2003, when Epstein took over. A few minor notes about the chart - both Nixon and Nomar were still on the roster in 2004, however they did not start opening day. Nomar was limited to under 40 games before being traded and Nixon played 48 games, thanks to a variety of injuries. Because both were starters, but hurt, I've included them in the 2004 total. Also, I am counting Varitek as home grown, despite originally coming up through the Mariners' system, as he was a AA prospect when he was acquired and was not particularly highly rated at the time of his trade.

Now granted, Iglesias and Bradley were only in the lineup due to injuries to Stephen Drew and David Ortiz, respectively, but the new wave of talent may finally be arriving in Boston. Also, you might note that most of the bars stick around for six or seven years, which is how long it takes to accrue enough service time to become a free agent. For example, you can see the core of the 2007 - 2012 teams were Youkilis, Pedroia, and Ellsbury, but that the Red Sox are starting to see some of those players depart. Dustin Pedroia, who was in his seventh opening day lineup in 2013, isn't going anywhere, thanks to a contract extension through 2014 with a team option for 2015, but Youkilis was traded away before becoming a free agent and Ellsbury will likely either be traded or allowed to walk following this season.

With the departure of Youkilis and the imminent departure of Ellsbury, getting this new influx of talent is critical. The Red Sox have already anointed Middlebrooks as Youkilis' successor, thanks to a great few months last season, and Bradley turned heads in spring training with his .500 OBP, which he's managed to keep up for the first two games of the regular season as well. Xander Bogaerts may force his way into the discussion, after dominating high A and AA as a 19 year old, but at the moment his two most likely positions, shortstop and third base, already have young, cost controlled players manning them, in Middlebrooks and Iglesias. Outfielder Bryce Brentz reached AAA last  and struggled mightily, but a good season and he could be in consideration for an outfield job next year, should Ellsbury depart. Beyond Brentz and Bogaerts, the upper levels of the minors do not have any prospects who could make a difference in Boston over the next two years.

On the other side of the ball, things are not nearly as interesting. The Red Sox have really only used three starting pitchers they developed in the last decade - Derek Lowe, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and recently, Felix Doubront. Lowe was a staple on the Red Sox, albeit in a wide variety of roles from 1998 to 2004, when he was allowed to depart as a free agent following the World Series win. Since Lester's dramatic return from non-Hogkins lymphoma, which saw him go from being diagnosed with the disease to clinching the Red Sox sweep of the Rockies in the World Series in his very first post season start. Lester's 2012 was one of the worst in the major leagues, you can do a lot of damage with 200 innings with an ERA approaching 5.00, but he retains the skills to be a potential ace. Buchholz has been up and down with the Red Sox as well, with a 2011 cut short by injuries and a horrendous start to the 2012 season that marred his final line, but hopefully with the return of former pitching coach John Farrell both Buchholz and Lester can return to form. Doubront remains a rather raw, unfinished product; he has great stuff and can strike out a lot of batters, but neither the approach nor the results are there yet. If the Red Sox hasn't been so destroyed by injuries last year, he likely would have returned to AAA. However, with the lack of depth and Doubront being able to hold his own last year, he has another crack at the rotation for 2013.

While the major league home grown pitchers haven't been as interesting as the hitters, the reverse is true for the upper levels of the minors. Thanks to the Red Sox convincing the Dodgers to take on a quarter of a billion dollars in guaranteed contracts in exchange for the Dodgers' top two pitching prospects, the upper levels of the minor leagues are jammed with potential impact arms. Matt Barnes, a 2011 draftee, and Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster, the aforementioned Dodgers' prospects, all could be ready to contribute to the majors in the next year. Two college pitchers, Brian Johnson, a low ceiling, high floor lefty out of Florida, and Brandon Workman, a big righty with a great fastball and not much else, could also be contributing in the next few years, whether it is in the back end of the rotation or the bullpen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Worst Team of the Century

Note: After putting this list together, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference both changed their replacement level calculations, so that they now match. Of course, this also means that these numbers no longer match what is available on either website.While the exact WAR values have changed, these players are still the worst at their positions since the year 2000.

My previous post on Jose Iglesias, where I discovered that Neifi Perez had the worst year out of any player in the last 20 years has inspired me to put together the worst lineup possible, going back to 2000. For all positions, I used a minimum of 400 plate appearances, but this only affected a couple of the players. Generally speaking, if you're at the most negative extreme of production, you needed a lot of at bats to do it.

Catcher - Michael Barrett, Expos, 2001, -0.8 WAR
Catcher actually does fairly well compared to the other positions, perhaps because few catchers get to 400 plate appearances if they are terrible and the fact that most teams carry two or three that they use in a regular rotation. In 2001, 24 year old Michael Barrett put up a .250/.289/.367 line for the now defunct Montreal Expos. While this was only slightly worse than the positional average, he also gave back 13 runs on defense. Despite posting a -1.7 and -0.8 WAR in consecutive years, Barrett continued to develop and became a solid catcher for the Cubs, averaging 2.8 WAR for the Cubs in 2004-2006. Unfortunately, Barrett suffered a concussion in 2007 with the Padres, followed by another one and broken facial bones on a foul tip in 2008. These, and a shoulder injury, effectively ended his career as a major leaguer.

1B - Aubrey Huff, Orioles and Tigers, 2009, -1.8 WAR
Coming in to 2009, Aubrey Huff was arguably one of the more underrated hitters in baseball. Toiling away on poor Baltimore and Tampa Bay teams, Huff had two four win seasons and another 3.3 win season. Fresh off a 32 home run, 4.0 WAR season in 2008, Huff fell apart. In the year 2009 the ERA of the pitcher was about to dawn, but first basemen were still real first basemen, corner outfielders were still real corner outfielders, and small, furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were still real small, furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. Huff's strikeout and walk rates stayed the same, but his BABIP dropped 50 points and his isolated power dropped 100 points. Not a winning combination. Huff managed to bounce back in 2010, putting up the best season of his career and was the best hitter on the World Champion the Giants. Huff turned his career year into one last lucrative contract, resigning with the Giants for two years and $22 million, but was a below replacement player in both 2011 and 2012.

2B - Mike Lansing, Rockies and Red Sox, 2000, -1.5 WAR
Our first Red Sox player on the list. In 1997, Lansing was a 4 win player, but followed up that season with a 0.4 WAR season in 1998 and an injury plagued 0.0 WAR season in 1999. Unfortunately, things got worse in 2000 with more playing time. Lansing struggled with the Rockies and was traded to the Red Sox and put up a combined .240/.292/.365 line in a highly charged offensive era. Lansing was an average defender, but his terrible batting line led to his terrible overall performance. For whatever reason, the Red Sox kept him on in 2001, giving him 382 plate appearances and allowing him to put up another negative WAR season. Lansing attempted a comeback with the Indians in 2002, but it was derailed by a back injury in the minors.

3B - Pedro Feliz, Astros and Cardinals, 2010, -1.9 WAR
Feliz was a solid second division starter throughout most of his career for the Giants and the Phillies, before signing a one year, $4 million deal with the Houston Astros. A common recipe for appearing on this list, Feliz has a good glove and not much of a bat. In 2010, Feliz' defense got markedly worse, being below average for the first time in his career, while also putting up his worst hitting season. His typically low walk rate dropped to an abysmal 3%, while he was also unlucky on balls in play, with only a .228 BABIP. After hitting for a .554 OPS for the Astros in the first half of the season, he was traded for cash, a low level prospect, and the right not to have to pay him any more to the Cardinals. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, he managed a .482 OPS in 120 at bats. Feliz signed a minor league deal with the Royals in 2011, but didn't make it out of spring training.

SS - Neifi Perez, Royals, 2002, -2.9 WAR
Neifi Perez is the proud owner of the worst overall WAR of the last 20 years. Perez never had an above average season with the bat, but solid defense and playing a middle infield position was enough for him to post seasons where he was above replacement. Unfortunately, that all went to hell in 2002, his first full season with the Royals following a midseason trade in which the Royals shipped out Jermaine Dye. Perez had his worst full season with the bat, having career lows in average, OBP, slugging, isolated power, and was an astounding 61% worse than average and coupled it with a glove that was -13 runs. Perez was hurt by a low average on balls in play, but he really wasn't helping himself, either. Perez managed to play for five more years and managed to recover in 2003 to put up a 1.1 WAR for the Giants.

RF - Brennan Boesch, Tigers, 2012,  -1.3 WAR
Brennan Boesch appeared to be on the verge of a breakout coming in to 2012. In part time play he put up 16 home runs and contributed 1.7 WAR for the Tigers, and was expected to be the Tigers starting right fielder. Full time play did not work out well for Boesch, as he stumbled badly putting up a .240/.286/.372 line. His walk rate dropped, his strikeout rate rose, and his power dropped. To top it all off, Boesch was worth -12 runs in the field. Boesch will have a chance to rebound in a more friendly environment in new Yankee Stadium. As a left handed pull hitter (10 of his 12 home runs were hit to right field), Boesch should benefit from the short porch in right, much like Ichiro did in his half a season in New York.

CF - Bernie Williams, Yankees, 2005, -2.2 WAR
Following the 2006 season I remember the Yankees not resigning Bernie Williams, and I wondered how that happened. He was Bernie Williams! Their best center fielder since Mickey Mantle. Well, now that I know the numbers a bit better, it makes a lot more sense, Bernie Williams just wasn't Bernie Williams any longer.  From 1995 to 2002 Bernie Williams was the best and most consistent center fielder in baseball, averaging 5.1 WAR per season, and only once dropping below 4.9 WAR (4.2 in 1996). By the tail end of that stretch his glove didn't really play in center any longer, but his well above average bat still did. In 2003 and 2004 Williams put up slightly above average hitting numbers, but was barely above replacement thanks to his poor defense. In 2005, it all fell apart, though. His play in center field cost the Yankees 29.3 runs, and hit offensive line was below average too. He hit .249/.321/.367 when the league average hitter was hitting .264/.330/.419. Williams "bounced back" in 2006 to a -1.2 WAR, but most of that was through fielding that was bad, instead of historically bad. After the Yankees showed no interest in resigning Williams, he retired from baseball at the age of 38.

LF - Raul Ibanez, Phillies, 2011, -1.3 WAR
In December 2008 the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to a three year, $30 million contract that was universally derided by analysts. After all, Ibanez was about to turn 37 and had been an ok, but not great outfielder for the Mariners. Ibanez responded to the deal by putting up the best season of his career, setting career highs in home runs (34) and slugging percentage. Unfortunately for the Phillies and Ibanez, multi-year deals are not evaluated on their first year alone. Ibanez returned to his more normal production in in 2010,  and fell of a cliff in 2011, in part thanks to a massive decline in his walk rate, and terrible fielding, as measured by UZR. It was awfully bad timing for Ibanez, who was hitting the free agent market again. He landed as a bench bat on the Yankees and made good use of platoon splits, the short porch in right field, and avoiding wearing a glove as much as humanly possible to bounce back to a 1.1 WAR season. Ibanez is now a Mariner, after signing a one year, $2.75 deal, but will likely find Safeco Field much less forgiving.

DH - Adam Dunn, White Sox, 2011, -3.0 WAR
From 2004 to 2010 Adam Dunn was as consistent a power source you could possibly imagine. In fact, he hit exactly 40 home runs from 2005 to 2008, then followed that up with consecutive years with 38 home runs. He was a three true outcomes player - lots of walks, strike outs, and home runs. When the White Sox signed him to a four year, $56 million deal they thought they were getting that consistent power and shifting him to first base and designated hitter from the outfield would minimize remove most unfortunate side effects of him playing the field (-128 runs of fielding "value" for his career). Unfortunately for the White Sox, Dunn went from a three true outcome player to a two true outcome player. His strikeout rate skyrocketed to a career high 35.7% , his isolated power (slugging minus batting average) dropped from an elite .276 to .118. Dunn fell just short of qualifying for the batting title in 2011, but his .118 ISO would have ranked 121st, out of 145 qualifiers and behind such power hitters as Coco Crisp, Yunel Escobar, and Erik Aybar. Despite his spectuacularly bad season, Dunn bounced back in 2012, hitting 41 home runs. The power was nice, but his average was still .204. Despite the return to form home run wise, Dunn's strikeout rate lingered in the mid-30s. If that rate climbs at all, Dunn could return to being a non-factor offensively, even if he hits 40 home runs.

All told, this team provides a combined -15 WAR. Since we'd expect a replacement level team to have a .320 win percentage, or 52 wins over the course of a season (per Baseball Reference), this team would expect to win 37 games, good for a 22.8% win percentage. While this team would be worse than the 1962 Mets, the worst team in the modern era, they would escape the ignominy of being the worst team ever as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders won an astounding 13% of their games (20-134).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just how badly would Jose Iglesias have to hit in order to be below average?

With Stephen Drew slow to return from a concussion and without a clear time table, as if often the case with concussions, just ask Justin Morneau, the Red Sox are considering Jose Iglesias at short to begin the season. It all depends on his contribution with the other aspects of his game, so let's see if we can get some rough estimates there. A quick reminder - I'll be discussing value in terms of runs here, but at the end we'll discuss it in terms of wins. The quick and dirty conversion from runs to wins, whether they're runs saved defensively or runs scored offensively, is one win equals 10 runs.

Everyone considers Iglesias the best defender in the minors, and the advanced metrics for his career put him at saving an astounding 41 runs over the course of a full season. Granted, these metrics take much longer than one month to stabilize and this would have put Iglesias as twice as good a defender as anyone else in baseball, but the advanced metrics support the assertion that Iglesias is an elite defender. Last year the best defenders saved just over 20 runs, and since 1950 40 different shortstops have had seasons where they saved 20 or more runs, led by Mark Belanger's 1975 when he saved 33 runs. Given Iglesias' defensive pedigree and universal defensive acclaim, I think 20 runs over the course of a full season is reasonable, and this could be a fairly conservative estimate.

Iglesias is fairly fast, but does not have blazing speed. He seems to have good base running instincts, but does not run very often (12 SB, 3 CS in 400 PA in AAA last year, 75% success rate for his career in the minors). As far as comparables, Rafael Furcal (the current version, not the 46 steal version from 2005) who stole 12 bases and was caught 4 times seems like a good fit. In 2012, Furcal was worth 2.5 runs on the bases. This value includes other aspects of base running, such as advancing on hits, but for simplicity's sake, we'll pick our comparable using stolen base numbers.

Finally, we get to the last numbers on the positive side of the ledger. First of all, Fangraphs defines "replacement level" as -20 runs per 600 plate appearances, so we get to add 20 runs to Iglesias' total. Also, shortstop is an extremely thin position. It has been said over and over again, but the golden age of shortstops is long past us. The average shortstop hit .256/.310/.375 in 2012, so the bar is rather low for Iglesias. That level of league wide production puts the positional adjustment at 7 runs. This means that just by playing shortstop, Iglesias get a bonus of 7 runs over a position like third base, where hitters were about league average, or even more for a position like first base or a corner outfield spot where hitters are penalized for their position, given the expectation that they hit above league average just to be average for their position. So, just for playing shortstop in the majors, Iglesias gets +27 runs to his overall numbers.

So up to this point, we have Jose Iglesias being a 50 run, or five win player, in 2012 if he can just manage to have no negative value as a hitter. For example, Alcides Escobar's 2012 batting line of .293/.331/.390 was worth exactly zero point zero runs. Unfortunately, Iglesias is extremely unlikely to match that kind of production, having hit only .266/.318/.306 in AAA last year. But, in order to have positive value for the Red Sox, he'd only need to be better than -50 runs. According to Fangraph's calculations, Drew Stubbs (-20) was the worst hitter in the league last year. Negative thirty runs is awfully hard to come by, but a nice comparable might be Cezar Izturis' 2010*. Given 500 plate appearances, Izturis hit an incredible .230/.277/.268. Those numbers actually match Igelsias' AAA numbers nicely, adjusting them to the better competition in the majors (.229/.272/.263). Iglesias does have youth on his side, though. He is only 23 and has plenty of room to grow, and this spring training he has six extra base hits in 46 at bats, compared to 11 in 353 at bats in AAA last year.

* The worst batting line of the last 20 years comes courtesy of the Royals, who rolled out Neifi Perez's .236/.260/.303 line for almost 600 plate appearances, good for a mind boggling -42 runs. Sadly, his fielding wasn't doing him any favors either, at -13 runs. This all led to Perez putting up the worst season in the last 20 years at 2.9 wins BELOW replacement and negative eight million dollars worth of performance , and after he was the centerpiece the Royals received after trading away Jermaine Dye to get him. Somehow the Royals managed to foist him and his $4 million salary off on the Giants, where he rebounded to a 1.1 win season, thanks in large part to a return to form defensively.

Overall, this analysis backs up the general assertions that if the Red Sox put Iglesias in the lineup right now, he'd be a two win player. Whether or not that will stunt his development as a hitter or if his failings on offense will affect his focus on defense is an entirely different set of questions. Concussions are tricky injuries and Drew's may linger over the course of the season; if that does happen, the Red Sox may be in the tricky position of balancing using the best shortstop they have on the roster at the expense allowing that player to continue to develop in the minor leagues.