Saturday, November 10, 2012

What should teams pay Zack Greinke?

The equation between what teams should pay a free agent and what they end up paying him do not always match up. The free agent history of the past thirty years is littered with bad contracts. So, if you are a general manager and the prize free agent on the market is Zack Greinke, what should you pay him? Is he closer to Sabathia-type money at $23 million per year or he is closer to Weaver-type money at $16 million per season? Let's take a look.

To look at a value for Zack Greinke, the feeling here is that you have to throw out 2009. That season is looking more and more like an outlier for Greinke. In 2009, he doubled his high for WAR from any other of his most recent five seasons. To add that season in to the equation would be what Greinke's agent should do. But for a general manager, that season should not figure into calculations.

There are a couple of reasons to think this way. First, in 2009, Greinke peaked as far as his velocity is concerned. His fastball was a mile per hour slower this past season and his slider is down almost a full three miles per hour from 2009. The second reason is that his FIP has never come within a half a run of what he did in 2009 either before that season or since. 2009 was an outlier. And general managers should be wary of listening to negotiations that include that season.

Instead, the GM should base his decision on Greinke's last three seasons. Something could be said that perhaps 2010 was an outlier in the other direction. Whether he was bored in Kansas City or unhappy with his team and life situation, who knows. But number one, Greinke earned that season if he did not compete to his full capacity and number two, it really wasn't as bad a season as it appears. His FIP in 2010 of 3.32 is not that far off the mark from what he has done the past two seasons.

Viewing all of that, 2010 should be included in the valuation. So we are left with three seasons to determine what Greinke should be paid.

Looking at the last three seasons on the leaderboard, Greinke has been the seventh best starting pitcher in baseball the last three seasons. Ahead of him are (in order): Verlander, Lee, King Felix, Halladay, Sabathia and Kershaw. Right behind Greinke is Weaver. During those three seasons, Greinke is eighth in FIP and fifth in xFIP (pick your poison there).

Of the three main valuation sites, Fangraphs, and, Fangraphs gives him the highest WAR total at 14.2 fWAR. B-R is much lower and comes in at 8.4 and BP comes in at 9.5. If you average those together, you get an average on the three sites of 10.7 WAR(P). A single win above replacement was valued in 2012 at $4.32 million. If you do the math, then based on his average WAR from the three sites, he should be valued at $15.4 million per season.

But that is not going to get Greinke. Not at that price. Some experts believe that the value statement is a bit different when free agency is involved. They estimate that each win above replacement for free agents is $4.8 million. This makes sense because teams are bidding against each other and inflation has to be factored in as well.

If we go by the $4.8 million figure, then Greinke should be worth $17.2 million per season. By comparison, Weaver will make $16 million this season and the two are so close in performance for the past three seasons that this dollar figure makes sense. Actually, if you average all the years of Weaver's contract, he will average $17 million per season.

From this observation desk, Weaver was slightly underpaid which makes sense since his was a contract extension and not a free agent situation. There is no hometown discount involved for Greinke.

Looking at Greinke and Weaver, there is a comfort level at paying Greinke $17.5 million per season. One argument that may be presented here is that over the past three seasons, Greinke has a better xFIP than Sabathia. So shouldn't Greinke then be paid closer to Sabathia money?

No. First of all, the two pitchers have started the exact same number of games the past three seasons. But Sabathia has pitched seventy more innings. He goes deeper into games. Weaver has one more start in the last three years than Greinke and has forty more innings. So again, all other things being close, Greinke should get paid more at the Weaver level than at the Sabathia level.

So now that we have established that $17.5 per year is a comfortable number, how long should the offer be? Weaver's contract is for five years and takes him to his Age 33 season. Weaver and Greinke are the same age. Sabathia's deal takes him to his Age 35 season with an option for his Age 36 season.

Taking Greinke to his Age 35 season should be comfortable for general managers. Sure, there is risk involved for any lengthy deal. But Greinke is a pitcher and not a fireballer. He has five pitches in his arsenal. And he has good control of all of them. As long as his arm stays attached with good health, he should be good to go. He has pitched over 200 innings in four of his last five seasons and the only reason it didn't happen in 2011 was because he was playing basketball or something.

Bottom line? Six years at $17.5 seems about right, making the total deal worth $105 million. An option year with a buyout for a seventh year could be thrown in. It seems hard to imagine that Greinke would settle for anything less. Another option would be to offer slightly more per season for only five years with an option. But any team that offers him $20 million or more per season would be overpaying him.

But then again. You know somebody will, right?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Where does Josh Hamilton fit best?

Josh Hamilton has to be the most interesting superstar that has played in this generation. While playing often with such skill that music from The Natural plays in the background, he brings trepidation because of his history and what that history has supposedly done to his ability to stay on the field. And when was the last time that a player finished a season a with .387 wOBA and a .930 OPS and been considered such a disappointment? We expect Hamilton to fail. And yet more often than not, he doesn't. All these side stories make him the most fascinating free agent in recent history.

Most experts agree that anything beyond a four-year contract would be stupid when approaching Josh Hamilton. From this chair, anything beyond a four-year contract for ANY player is stupid. So this isn't just a Josh Hamilton thing. And yet, Hamilton will probably looking for a minimum of seven years. Why wouldn't he? This is his chance to set himself up for life. A deal similar to Teixeira's would be possible if he was any other player with his pedigree.

But naturally, teams will have a concern about his health and his stability and ability to day by day fight his demons. The fact that he will be 32 in May only complicates his situation and really makes anything beyond a four-year deal risky to say the least.

The other concerns for teams will be his diminishing discipline at the plate. Hamilton has always been a free swinger. But his normal range was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone some 35 to 37 percent of the time. But 2011 saw that number rise to 41 percent and 2012 to 45 percent. That seems to some as a breakdown in approach. His swing and miss rate jumped to 20 percent this past season, easily a high for his career. And his 25.5 percent strikeout rate was nearly six percentage points above his career average.

But even so, gosh, he hit 43 homers and knocked in 128 runs. A full 25 percent of his fly balls went over the fence. And just in case you credit his home ballpark too much, his home OPS was .937 and his road OPS was .924. He hit 22 homers at home and 21 on the road.

Expect teams to be conservative and if so, his market should settle in where it should. But where does Josh Hamilton fit best? Obviously, with his power and the fact that he hits left-handed, the Yankees would be a perfect fit. But that team is trying to stay fiscally conservative for 2014 so that does not appear to compute. Other teams like the Dodgers may covet him and be willing to spend that kind of money, but that park would not be friendly to Hamilton's game and he should avoid that unless he cares more about the dollars than where he fits best.

Here are two destinations where he makes the most sense for what his game is and where he can succeed the most:

1. Atlanta. Chipper comes off the books this season and while Hamilton would stretch the budget a bit, Atlanta would be close to Hamilton's childhood home of North Carolina. He has hit well in the Braves' home ballpark. The Nationals are going to be tough to hang with judging from their current talent. A bopper like Hamilton who is also a better hitter than people give him credit for would go a long way to making the Braves uber-competitive for the foreseeable future.

2. Baltimore. If you look at Hamilton's career splits, he has raked at Camden Yards. Other than his home parks in Texas and Cincinnati, he has hit more homers in Baltimore than anywhere else. He also kills the Yankees and hits extremely well in Yankee Stadium. The Orioles would get that match up nine times. The Orioles have made great strides but left field remains one of their weaknesses. Hamilton would be killer in Baltimore and instantly help that team to be a factor for the next few seasons. Hamilton should flourish under Showalter and again, Maryland would not be that far from where he grew up.

3. Texas. His last year in Texas was not a happy event. And things ended on a sour note. Hamilton might be fed up with the whole thing, especially with the kid gloves the Rangers gave on trying to extend him. But Hamilton's numbers for the Rangers are without question. They will be seriously weaker without him.

Where Hamilton eventually ends up and what kind of deal he will get will be one of the most interesting stories of this off season. The three locations listed here might be the best fits for his services but they are not likely to be the favorites.

When your team loses

Stating that an election day is much more important in the grand scheme of things than a baseball season, is stating an obvious. But being a fan of both baseball and of this great country is similar in that when your team loses in either case, it hurts. There is one major difference here though. There has never been a time when you hope your favorite team loses in baseball. But tonight, it was hoped that the favored party would lose the presidential election. Because it is time for the favored party to get a clue.

From a personal standpoint, this was the thirty-eighth straight election. Like the Game Picks, none have been missed in all those years. This was only the second time that the candidate for president from the favored party was not supported. Why? Because the party has increasingly lost its way. Perhaps such a loss will cause the Republican Party to reshape itself. At least, that was the hope with the vote.

How did we get to this point? How did the party that led the fight against slavery become the party that cannot garner minority support if its life depended on it? And its life did depend on it. How did the party that spearheaded the process that brought down a communist USSR so lose its way? From a party that once cared about the decency of the lives of people around the world, it has become a polarizing party that does just as much to hurt people.

There is a point of admission here. Your host here is born again Christian. But it is again a team that has lost its way. It hurts deeply when the only time Christianity is in the news is when we once again attack a group of people and show our judgmental side. It is this team...that has become the polarizing force within the Republican Party that has caused it to lose touch with the people of this country.

It is this core constituency that polarizes Muslims, women, gays, African-Americans and Hispanics. But, William, isn't it your job as a Christian to work toward a more holy society? Well, yes, it is. But not in the way you would think. The caution is always, "Judge not or you shall be judged." It is my sole responsibility to take care of my own walk through this life and not worry about the choices others are making. The feeling has always been that it is easier to make a cave attractive enough that people want to enter it instead of beating them over the head and dragging them there. The best thing we Christians can do is to be a friend and show love to those around us. If we do that, then more will find what we have found.

But we do not do that. Do we show love when we treat gays like they are abominations? Would Jesus? Do we really believe or know for sure that you cannot be a Christian or saved if you are gay when all evidence points to that being a biological thing that happens in the DNA and not from a choice? And even getting away from that sticky argument, doesn't our favorite patriotic line that says that all men are created equal and deserve the pursuit of happiness?

The same Constitution that allows us this blessed freedom to worship without fear also guarantees equal rights of all citizens of this country.

We cannot continue to be the faith and the party of such moral polarization. Being a Republican is more than just being the moral watchdogs of the country. It was first and foremost a party of economic core beliefs. It is also a party that believes in American strength of military as the best deterrent of enemies that are against us. Those ideas have merit but are lost in the cattle call of moral issues that drown us in a morass of rhetoric.

The Republican Party must put aside its moral agenda. We must leave the abortion issue in the conscious of the people that have to make those choices. Reach out in love to those who are in unwanted pregnancies instead if you wish. The party needs to stop cowing to the moral stance of trying to vilify gays. The party needs to stop vilifying those on public assistance and instead work on ways to get them off the system. The party needs to embrace those who have entered this country illegally but are shown to be good people that work hard in this country and have been here for a period of time.

The Republican Party needs to stop being a hater of certain people and become a party that loves and supports people. The party needs to stop being a party of the rich and the white and the Christian and pushes everyone else away.

The Republican Party lost this presidential election. It should have. It deserved it. Now fix it. Become a party that goes beyond self-interest and tries to solve problems. Work with the president of the United States for the benefit of all instead of working from day one to get him out of office. Find a vision of who we are as a nation and all the people that make up that nation. This Republican is tired of wearing the moniker and is smothered in shame that we have come to this.

President Obama is our president. He deserves our support and our best no matter what party he came from.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Jacoby Ellsbury dilemma

Jacoby Ellsbury is in his walk year with the Boston Red Sox. He is also represented by Scott Boras, a fact that sends shivers down the spine of MLB executives. But in this case, both Boras and the Red Sox are in a bind. And that is because Ellsbury had this incredible out-of-body season in 2011 sandwiched in between two injury-riddled seasons preceded by two very productive, but un-2011-like seasons. Heck, that is a mouthful. But such is the dilemma of Ellsbury and the Boston Red Sox.

Blaine Blontz of MLB Injury News riffed off of a Michael Silverman piece in the Boston Herald and agreed that the Red Sox would be best served by trading Ellsbury now since the Red Sox seem to be in rebuilding mode and have a lot of needs and, because the team is unlikely to sign Ellsbury to an extension with Boras' history of taking his clients to the open market. But there is a real problem with trading Ellsbury right now.

First, teams will be wary from his injury history in two of the last three seasons. Is Ellsbury turning into another Grady Sizemore? The types of injuries Ellsbury has suffered are worrisome too. Last year, a shoulder injury suffered on April 13 shelved him for 71 games and then in late September, Ellsbury was having a problem with his right wrist.

Secondly, at this point, nobody really knows if 2011 was simply an outlier or if Ellsbury can be that kind of player again. So how do you value him? Is he valued like Bourn or like Kemp? A betting man would bet after looking at his career that 2011 was an outlier.

If you look at his entire career--including the minors--2011 was the only season where Ellsbury put together any kind of sustained power. If you look at his home run to fly ball ratio since 2008, the percentages go like this: 2008 (7.0%), 2009 (4.6%), 2010 (0.0%), 2011 (16.7%) and 2012 (4.7%). What number seems out of place there? Exactly.

The other thing that stands out about 2011 is that it was his lowest year for ground ball percentages. For his career, Ellsbury has averaged a 48.1% ground ball rate and a 1.51 ground ball to fly ball ratio. But in 2011, he averaged 43% and a 1.26 ratio in those categories. In other words, the season he had in 2011 has all the signs of an outlier.

Supporting that argument is that most of his other statistics have remained static. Ellsbury has pretty good plate discipline and always ranges in the 24 to 27% range in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. And his swing and miss rate has always been decent in the 4.7 to 6% range. And yet, his walk percentage has never been great and is at 6.7% for his career. As a lead-off batter, his .346 career on-base percentage is better than the norm but not by much (.324 and .328 in baseball the past two seasons respectively).

And so there is a lot of confusion on how to value Jacoby Ellsbury offensively. Looking at his other skills, he is a fantastic base runner though his base stealing totals have tailed off a bit since 2008 and 2009. His fielding is firmly above average, but the two leading stats sites disagree on how good. Fangraphs rates him much higher defensively than does. But still, he is an excellent center fielder.

After looking at all these numbers, what would any team consider a fair trade value for a one year rental of Ellsbury's services? That would be extremely difficult to pin down. Sure, a team may really covet him and make the Red Sox a sweet offer. But otherwise, the offers for him might be disappointing.

As bad as the Red Sox were in 2012, they have a solid core of decent to good players and if the pitching comes around, could still contend for one of the two wildcard spots in 2013. A Jacoby Ellsbury somewhere in between 2011 and the rest of his career would go a long way to help that cause if he was healthy. The team could then make him a qualifying offer after the 2013 season and at least pick up a draft pick and have the benefit of his production this year at a reasonably inexpensive rate of pay.

Conversely, if the 2013 seasons ends up being nearly as horrid for the Red Sox as 2012 was and Ellsbury plays well, then his trade value might be better waiting until the July 31 deadline. The only risk of course to not trading him now is if he does not play well or gets injured again. Then the Red Sox will not be able to give him away.

Expecting Jacoby Ellsbury to repeat what he did in 2011 is the longest of long shots. But if he can stay on the field, it is not beyond reason to expect him to finish around .770 in OPS with good base running and outfield play. If he shows he can do that, some of the dilemma will resolve itself and the Red Sox can probably do better hanging on to him until the trade deadline--or until the end of the season if they find themselves in contention.