Friday, November 11, 2011

What Would You Offer Jimmy Rollins?

The free agent market has two elite shortstops. One is younger but has injury concerns. The second is going to be 33 at the end of this month and has injury concerns. The older one is the better defender while the younger one has a more potent bat. The younger one has compiled 9.9 fWAR the past three seasons despite the injuries while the older one has compiled a 9.3 fWAR despite some injuries but more playing time the past three seasons. The younger one, Jose Reyes, seems poised to make a lot of money. The older one, Jimmy Rollins, seems poised to be disappointed. What is Jimmy Rollins worth and what would you offer him?

Rollins' defense will make him sorely missed if the Phillies let him walk. With a pitching staff of aces three deep and another on the cusp, it would seem that there is a case in protecting them with one of the premier fielding shortstops in baseball and paying him accordingly. But the Phillies face a similarly hard choice as the Yankees in that Rollins is in many respects the face of the Phillies and has come to the stage of his career where you have to be concerned over the length of his deal. Rollins is going to want five or six years. From his current age, three years would seem to be the intelligent offer length.

And Rollins has a point in wanting to make some money at this stage of his career. He's been vastly underpaid for his entire career. His last five years at $8.0 to $8.5 million has been one of the best deals for a team in baseball. It would seem from that perspective that Rollins would have no interest in giving the Phillies a home town discount. And he would have a case. And yet, offering him a substantial raise after three troubling seasons would seem to dampen his team's enthusiasm to go longer than three years. Perhaps they could be creative and offer him three guaranteed years and two option years. But again, it seems hard to imagine Rollins accepting that kind of offer.

Further complicating the Phillies' position is the loss of Ryan Howard who is looking at a huge loss of playing time to at least the early part of 2012 if not more due to his Achilles tendon injury. Jayson Werth was missed in the line up even if he faltered in Washington. The Phillies struggled on offense to some degree in 2011 and losing Rollins to any other shortstop not named Jose Reyes would be a further erosion of that offense. Despite a dreadful 2009 and an injury riddled 2010, Rollins did bounce back some on offense this past season, though he isn't the hitter he was in his younger days. Rollins was a force on offense from 2006 to 2008 but after six seasons in a row of slugging .420 or higher, Rollins has come in at .374 and .399 the last two seasons with his ISO dipping to .131 the last two seasons after a career of averaging .160.

As attractive a place as Philadelphia is to hit, the home/road splits are decent for Jimmy Rollins, so there are no real worries that his home park would add many bennies to his current value. We can take that out of the equation. What is more worrisome is that after five seasons of double-digit triples and two others that were close, Rollins only hit two of them last year and only 22 doubles in 631 plate appearances. But at least his home run to fly ball ratio remains stable as does his walk percentage and strikeout percentage. If Rollins were to have a few seasons in a row where his legs rebound to good condition, his offense could again improve to somewhat of his former levels. He is still an elite base stealer. But again, after his last three years, which is the real Jimmy Rollins, the post 2008 Rollins or the pre-2008 Rollins? Logic would seem to dictate that it's the former and not the latter.

So what would you offer him? This observer thinks that three years at $40 would be fair market value with a couple of mutual options. Anything higher than that or a longer guaranteed period would be stretching the boundaries of good sense. But good sense hasn't ruled free agent signings in quite a while. Here is a WAR chart comparing Rollins to Jeter and Reyes. The Fangraphs chart gives you a visual (click on the chart to see it better. Rollins is the blue line, Reyes is the green) of what GMs are dealing with. It's a tough one, isn't it?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Putting on the Fritz

Memories are the soul of a baseball fan. Images of our baseball past always float consciously and subconsciously wherever we are and through whatever we are doing. The baseball present is as good as it gets because the action is right in front of us in a visceral way. We are cheering as hard as we can for our teams and players. But always just beneath the surface are little jolts of things we've witnessed before. There is a lot of similarity with music as current songs and melodies remind us of melodies of the past and how those made us feel.

For this writer, the past was the Yankees beginning from around age six in New Jersey. That's not really the truth. Dad took us to a game and watched them on television but they were usually Mets games. It doesn't seem as if the Yankees became the entire baseball reality until about 1967 and after Dad died. Those were Police Athletic League years when the coach would take us to Yankee Stadium or days when Mom had to work on Saturday and gave us two young boys five dollars each to take mass transit to Yankee Stadium rather than sitting home with no one to take care of us. 

The faith of a child is unlike that of being an adult. There was always hope during Yankee games despite the teams being mediocre at best and awful at worst. At that age, we didn't really have a big world view of the standings. Each game was an event in and of itself, whether at the ballpark or watching on the old black and white television in our bedroom. Each of these events was hosted by Phil Rizzuto on the television or by Bob Sheppard at the stadium. Rizzuto was our uncle and Sheppard was God.

Since each game was an event, it was baseball fandom at its purest. We didn't really care that Horace Clarke or Tom Tresh were awful in their entirety. All we cared about is that their double or single happened to win the event we were watching at the time. The love of statistics takes away some of that purity. Now, we don't really swoon at a single by Ramiro Pena because we know he is awful. If he hits a single and wins the game, we are flush for the team and not by Pena. It was the reverse in the early life of this Fan. 

Oh perhaps we had a peripheral idea that Horace Clarke wasn't a very good baseball player. After all, we watched him every day and he failed far more often than he succeeded. Most Yankee hitters during that time stunk. Heck, the 1968 team had a slash line of .214/.292/.318. Yup, that was the 1968 Yankees. The year before that, they hit .225 and in 1969, the team hit .232. It was kind of hard to find hitting heroes back in those days. It was the pitchers that stood the tallest. Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson, Stan Bahnson, Lindy McDaniel and others. They were very good pitchers. And they kept their team in the game often enough to keep us young fans interested.

For years, the top two were Stottlemyre and Peterson. Sure, the former was always the favorite with his clean, All-American looks. He looked like what a ball player and a dad should look like. But the latter was our second favorite and why not? He was out there 35 to 37 times a year and we didn't miss watching very many of them. Between 1966 and 1972 (seven seasons), the pair combined for 491 starts and 3,551 innings. Combined, they threw 180 complete games over that time span and induced (combined) 48 double plays a season. When a pair of pitchers averaged 70 combined starts a season, 507 innings and 26 complete games a season, they were going to be a big part of your fan life. And they were very good on teams that did not field very well or hit very well. And you know what? They were pretty good hitters too.

Stottlemyre got more accolades. He was a part of five All Star teams. Fritz Peterson only pitched in one. Stottlemyre won twenty games three times. Peterson only once. But you really can't pick one over the other. Stottlemyre finished his career with a 2.97 ERA and Peterson at 3.22. But Peterson really fell off the table (he must have had a bad arm) after 1972. Stottlemyre had almost double the career rWAR. But between 1966 and 1972, they were equally terrific. And some of Peterson's numbers are eye-popping.

Fritz Peterson pitched over 2200 innings in his career and finished with a career walks per nine inning rate of 1.7. He is the only left-handed pitcher since 1900 that can say that. He led the league in WHIP twice in a row in 1969 and 1970. He was the last pitcher to throw more than 270 innings in a season and finish with a WHIP under one (1969 - 0.996). He led the league in fewest walks per nine innings five straight seasons. All of them were under 2. In 1968 he walked only 29 batters in 212.1 innings.

Mel and Fritz were our heroes. Between 1966 and 1972, they combined for 214 wins (a combined 31 per season). For fans who lived in the moment when each game was an event, these two pitchers always made it an entertaining and close game. And despite the team being mediocre to terrible for most of those years, they gave us plenty to cheer about. The cool thing is that all these years later, their stats live on and they were as good as they are remembered to be.

P.S. For a great interview recorded with Fritz Peterson two years ago, click this link and enjoy.

BBA Link Fest - Style in General

The world has gone nuts this past week. Between the sad case of a kidnapped catcher and the sad case of the Penn State football program, our heads are spinning. Much prayers are offered for the safe resolution of the former and the same goes for the children involved in the latter's case.

Meanwhile, writers in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance General Chapter are still cranking out great work. Don't believe the Fan? Then check out these links.

MLB Reports had so much good stuff this week that it was hard to choose. So you are offered two. The first is speculation on what lies ahead for Johan Santana. Remember him? The second is about how a subtraction could ruin the Texas Rangers.

Mike Schwartze of MLB Dirt makes predictions on where the top fifty free agents end up. We need to keep score and see how Mike does.

Major League A-Holes likes having the Chicago White Sox fly under the radar. Good stuff.

Right out of Left Field, we have ourselves a new All Star team. See what the Fan did there?

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor goes all Ken Tremendous on us. Nah, Theo is much, much better.

Did you know that CBS's Survivor has a baseball player involved this season? The Hall of Very Good fills us in. Hey guys, it looks like he screws up next week.

Grubby Glove has a fun feature called, "What's Wrong With This Card." Check out this week's installment.

Daniel Clark's choice of prospects to feature this week over at the Golden Sombrero is Michael Choice. That makes this link sort of symmetrical.

The Baseball Index reports on the Arizona Diamondbacks this week. How about that Willie Bloomquist signing?

In a fun exercise, For Baseball Junkies compiled an All-decade team for the 1970s. Here is their
AL version.

Dugout 24 discusses their favorite baseball movie and the news it made this week.

TheNaturalMev wants to cleat up after listening to that leaked Ron Washington speech over at Diamond Hoggers.

The terrifically reliable Call to the Pen keeps putting out great reads. This one by Tim Holland takes us back to the 1981 strike. [[shiver]]

Robinson Cano is a Taiwanese rock star. Don't believe it? Baseballism has the story.

Christopher Carelli over at The Baseball Stance is concerned about some franchises in flux. Terrific read.

Ken and Eric over at Baseball Hall of Shame have their own free agent predictions. This is fun. We should have a general chapter contest!

Sooze of Babes Love Baseball is having a great week. Her take on Jorge Posada is especially entertaining.

So cool! More free agent predictions. This one is from Analysis Around the Horn.

Are you new to how free agency works in MLB? Eugene Tierney has just the post for you over at 85% Sports.

Jesse McGrath has a great recipe for how the San Francisco Giants can reclaim their thrown over at Through the Fence Baseball.

Sully of Sully Baseball gives us his "brilliant" analysis of the recent trade between the Royals and Giants.

Pro Sports Wrap thinks the MVP Award is a no brainer. Indeed.

The terrific @Bill_TPA, one of the stalwarts of The Platoon Advantage earlier in the week snubbed Ken Boyer for the Hall of Fame. Bill then tells us that third basemen are overlooked. Color the Fan confused. :)

Old Time Family Baseball shows us the Padres new uniforms. This Fan is not impressed...wait...with the uniforms! OTFB is always impressive.

That's the links this week folks. Have a good weekend. Pray for Wilson Ramos and think about our veterans tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Unique Talent of Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes has already compiled the third highest fWAR of all shortstops since he began his career in 2003. Only Derek Jeter (41) and Jimmy Rollins (39.3) have compiled more than the 33.4 that Reyes has put up. But when you consider that Reyes missed most of 2009 and only played half the year in 2003 and 2004, Reyes has compiled his WAR in almost 300 less games played than those other two. And while Jeter is in his late thirties and Rollins is 32, Jose Reyes at 28 should be in his prime and that's a bonus fact for any team now considering the free agent shortstop.

Let's face it, the talent level at shortstop isn't deep. And considering that the position is considered one of the most important positions on the field, Reyes will be getting a nice chunk of change for his services. The one hesitation on everyone's mind is the trouble Reyes has had with injuries the last three years. But when he has been on the field, the man changes the game.

When looking at Jose Reyes, you have to go beyond the mere batting title he won this past season and look at the totality of his game. While not the defensive shortstop Rollins has been, Reyes is certainly better in the field that Jeter. The excitement he generates is incredible. His 99 triples compiled before his 5,000th career plate appearance hasn't been accomplished since 1927. His rate of scoring per game of 70 percent since he began his career is two percentage points above Rollins in that same time frame and just slightly ahead of Jeter. Reyes has already stolen 370 bases in his career, seventy more than Rollins in that same time frame. During his career, his ten percent strikeout rate is third among all shortstops during that time period with only Omar Vizguel and Orlando Cabrera striking out less. And you certainly wouldn't put Reyes in the same batting company as those two long-time shortstops.

The only two dim spots for Reyes statistically are that his home run power has diminished, which considering where he has played the last few years makes that understandable. The other is his walk rate, which for a guy with his speed, would really add to his game. His fielding metrics have slipped to the slightly negative range the last two seasons.

Reyes is an infectious and joyous player to watch. His energy on the field seems to lift his team and it certainly makes him a fan favorite. It will be hard for Mets' fans to see him go. The odds of Reyes resigning with the Mets seem astronomical. They are a team that has already acknowledged that they won't be competitive in 2012. The ownership has been in scrambling mode for the past year financially. If Reyes were to re-up with the Mets, it would be a shock.

So where will he go? We've already heard his name in rumors all over the league. His name has been linked to the Brewers and the Marlins. Every writer around baseball is making predictions. This writer might as well throw his hat into the ring. Jose Reyes will sign with the Miami Marlins. That team is suddenly looking to spend money (it must be one of those every ten year things), have a new ballpark opening up this season and have a shortstop with all kinds of talent that doesn't seem to fit the position anymore (Hanley Ramirez). Ramirez can move to third which is already a position of weakness for the Marlins and in the process, the Marlins would strengthen both infield positions on the left side of the diamond.

Why would Reyes go there? He is from the Dominican Republic and a warm weather team would seem to suit him. The warmer climate would be easier on this legs. It's hard to imagine a player with his birth place to consider the northern clime of Milwaukee over Florida if the money was close.

Wherever Reyes ends up, that fan base will get one of the most thrilling ballplayers in baseball today. Reyes is a unique talent who is a game changer and therefore a franchise changer.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Yankees Rotation Options for 2012

Before the 2011 season started, mass hysteria swept among Yankee fans and those fans that root against them for perceived rotation woes. They whiffed on Cliff Lee. Andy Pettitte rode off into the sunset. They didn't get any other options signed or traded and instead cobbled a rotation around two over-the-hill, high mileage pitchers, Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia. Those two pitchers out pitched all other competitors in spring training. Dillin Betances and Manny Banuelos got all the ink, but the old farts got the job. And somehow, it all worked. Garcia was solid all season and Colon was great for the first two-thirds of the season before regression hit (or he ran out of gas). It would be hard to imagine the Yankee brain trust to want to go into 2012 with such an unstable situation again. But what are their options?

The way this writer sees it, only two rotation spots are secure. C.C. Sabathia is one of the best in the game and the Yankees took care of his opt out business quickly and efficiently. And Ivan Nova has shown that he is a big league pitcher and can give the Yankees solid innings. His leg injury in the playoffs is a bit of a concern and will be until we see what the spring brings. So the question really concerns what comes after these two.

A.J. Burnett is signed long term and finished the 2011 season on a bit of an uptick, but two terrible years overall has to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. For a guy who is supposed to have great stuff, his fastball was rated to be the worst pitch in all of baseball last year. With $33 million still owed the pitcher for the next two years, it's hard to believe the Yankees will just cast him off, but if they could trade him for any kind of value, they darn well should.

Phil Hughes is another puzzle. Many experts viewed his 2010 season with a bit of skepticism. He won eighteen games, but had a high homer rate (the new Yankee Stadium was particularly unkind to him) and he faded at the end of the season. Then last year, he had lost velocity and much movement on his fastball and after a few disastrous starts to start the season, he was sent to build up his arm. His second half was more promising and his September was actually encouraging. But here's the problem. After building him up via pitch counts and inning limitations, he's back to the beginning again and will have to be monitored. And the Yankees have never seemed committed to him starting and waffle slightly with his usefulness out of the bullpen. A lot will be told when we see how the Yankees approach Hughes when Spring Training starts.

And then what? Sign C.J. Wilson? Baseball writers are really torn about Wilson. He's had two really good years in a small ballpark and his team has gone to the World Series twice. But for the kind of money he is asking, there is huge risk in being stuck with another Burnett contract. If the Yankees could land Wilson for two years with a third year option, that would be ideal. But the odds of that happening are as good as Penn State getting good publicity in the next month or so. Mark Buehrle's game would fit well into Yankee Stadium, but the odds heavily favor him returning to Chicago. Chris Capuano built up some value with his solid season for the Mets last season. But his injury history is scary and his penchant for giving up homers is even scarier.

What of internal choices? Banuelos and Betances showed last year that they are not ready. Both had impressive strikeout numbers but equally unimpressive walk numbers. They both need to show that they can consistently throw strikes before they can be trusted on a big league mound. Adam Warren and David Phelps seem the two likeliest options at this point. Both have been stretched out to the 150+ inning level in Triple A and both have decent arms. Phelps has better control from the numbers and throws slightly more strikeouts. Both should receive a Spring Training invite to see what they can do.

A sleeper pick for this writer would be Shaeffer Hall. He's 23, has been stretched out to 150+ innings and he's a lefty. If the Yankees fail to acquire a left-handed starter, this would be a good person to look at for a spring invite. Hall pitched most of the season in Double A, but did pitch a game in Triple A at the end of the season. He's not a big strikeout guy, but he has excellent control and seems to keep the ball in the park. D.J. Mitchell is another sleeper pick with a solid season in Triple A last season.

There might be slightly less pressure this off season for the Yankees to make a free agent splash. The Rays are amazing but consistently have to play the low-salary game. The Red Sox seem to be in a bit of a flux this off season with question marks of their own. Brian Cashman has built up his farm system and has collected quite a few prized arms. The question is whether their ever quest for a title can allow them to go with young talent.

Personally, after watching this team a lot last season and into the post season, this team really missed Andy Pettitte more than anyone else. A left handed starter behind Sabathia seems so important when the team plays half its games in Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees can't land one, then Schaeffer Hall should be given a shot. Even without the lefty aspect, the Yankees have a system stacked with arms and could go with a youth movement. Warren and Phelps could be given shots as well as Hall or Mitchell. It just seems so unlikely that the Yankees would have the guts to go such a route. To be sure, they will be interesting to watch this off season.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Barry Bonds Still Causes Us Heartburn

The next baseball season will put us five years removed from the last season that Barry Bonds played in the majors. And yet, more than any other player, his career continues to be a bucket of water on top of the door waiting for us to walk in and get wet. We can't, in light of events that were perceived to occur, put his career in perspective. At least with Mark McGwire, we have his admission to his steroid use to put his career in some kind of box. But McGwire was really a two trick pony. He walked and he hit homers. Bonds was a superstar in all aspects of the game. Thus his alleged use of PEDs seemed to elevate all facets of his game (except defense). The seasons he had from 2001 to 2004 leave us staggered for some sort of reality other than the one we have to live.

By the age of 35, Barry Bonds was having a Hall of Fame career. He had already won three MVP Awards. But his career WAR path was decidedly below the paths of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. See the WARgraph below courtesy of Fangraphs. As you can see by the graph, Bonds at 35 was below Ruth and below Aaron though on a similar trajectory. Starting at age 36, which includes the record homer year of 2001 and the next three seasons, Bonds makes a change in his trajectory as it shoots up and overtakes Henry Aaron. It is that late life jump in trajectory that drives us crazy. If Bonds had the seasons he had between 2001 and 2004 as a younger man, it might not affect us the same. Why? Because every conventional wisdom we have indicates that players regress from the age of 30 and onward. Bonds not only did not regress, he had the best years of his career.

2001 was the year that Bonds broke the single season home run record with 73. The record had stood from 1961 and Roger Maris to 1998 when both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa topped Maris for a single season. But McGwire's record was eclipsed just three years later. We have the famous story where Bonds supposedly told Ken Griffey Jr. that he was upset that lesser players were getting all his accolades and he was going to use the stuff they were using to get his attention back. And he did get it back. But at what cost?

As hard on our sensibilities as 2001 was, at least in was Bonds on his own making the history. Barry Bonds after 2001 wasn't the only complicit party. Starting in 2002, managers around baseball became part of the story and became just as guilty in creating the records that Barry Bonds later set. For example, after 2001, Bonds had the single season homer record. But his season that year still came in just behind Babe Ruth's single season OPS record set in 1920. But managers in baseball are just as complicit in allowing Bonds to surpass both his own 2001 OPS with the OPS compiled in 2002 and 2004, both years of which flew by the Ruth record.

How was Bonds able to have better OPS seasons in 2002 and 2004 than the year he hit 73 homers? Intentional walks. A superstar like Bonds was going to get his share of intentional walks. And year after year, managers walked him from between 14 times to a peak of 43 in 1993. But after 2001 (35 intentional walks), it got downright silly. He was intentionally walked 68 times in 2002, 61 the following year and an unbelievable 120 times in 2004. Those intentional walks allowed Bonds to beat Ruth's OPS record in 2002 and then break it again and set the all time mark in 2004. To this writer, those 120 intentional walks in 2004 are a bigger stain on the game than anything Bonds did to improve his play. Those walks are a stench that will never leave these nostrils.

Can we extrapolate the data to see what kind of year Bonds would have had in 2004 without those 120 walks? Perhaps. Those 120 plate appearances can be broken up this way. With Bonds career walk percentage, he would have walked 24 of those plate appearances. With the 96 plate appearances remaining, hitting at a .362 clip like he was, Bonds would have had 35 more hits. Of those 35 hits, at the rate Bonds was hitting doubles, triples, sac flies and homers, he would have had thirteen more homers, seven more doubles and another sac fly and triple. Bonds' actual slash line that season was .362/.609/.812. If you do the math as this writer has done, the slash line becomes, .362/.517/.783. Instead of the 1.412 OPS that Bonds actually accumulated, it would have been 1.300 or below Ruth's record of 1.3791. Similar results are constructed with his 2002 totals if you take away those 68 intentional walks.

Of those 120 intentional bases on balls in 2004, 79 of them were from within his own division. And on face value, you can say that their aim was to limit the damage Bonds could do on their chances to win the division. And you can even say it worked as the Giants failed to make the post season in 2004. But did it really work? Giants number five hitters only had a .705 OPS and number six hitters had a .767 OPS for the Giants that year. so perhaps it can be perceived as good strategy. But also consider that the number five and number six hitters combined for 219 combined runs batted in (many of them Bonds on base with a free pass or those ahead of Bonds already on base when he walked). So the strategy seems a wash in this writer's book. 

The statistical part of this writer knows that intentionally walking batters increases a team's ability to score. The old school part of this writer considered such a strategy an act of cowardice. But could it go beyond just those two thoughts? Was it planned? Can the conspiracy theory be at work here? A friend on Twitter brought up the conspiracy theory when discussing the freeze out of Bonds in the majors after his last season in 2007. Bonds still wanted to play, but he never got an offer. Colleagues of this friend brought up that Bonds was probably too much of a headache at that point and plus, was 43 years old at the time. Yes, that could explain things. But at age 42, Bonds was still able to put up a 1.045 OPS. Sure, an American League team would have loved production close to that at the DH, right? What if the freezing out of Bonds in baseball after the 2007 was organized? What if the intentional walks from 2002 to 2004 were as part of a plan to keep Bonds from breaking Aaron's career homer mark? We'll never know of course. But it sure smells.

Personally, this Fan will never get over what happened between the 2001 to 2004 seasons. They altered the landscape of statistics. With the arc of speculation involved with what Bonds did to enhance his performance, those numbers will never feel real. They created records that may never be broken. The game will endure and as the magical season and post season of 2011 showed, the game is as healthy as ever. But a shadow exists and we will never really come out of that shadow. Well, maybe we will, but it won't be for a long time.