Saturday, January 11, 2014

Giancarlo Stanton is the old man of the Marlins' outfield

Giancarlo Stanton has been one of the youngest players in baseball for so long that it seems surreal that he could be the old man of the Marlins' outfield this coming season. Heading into his age 24 season, Stanton looks to be joined by young guys, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who both had a successful first taste of the Majors in 2013. Despite the youthful nature of Stanton and his outfield mates, this could actually work out quite well for the Marlins.

Let's start out with Stanton himself. Despite the fact that he has hit 117 homers before he turned 24 years old and despite the tape measure of many of those homers, he has still been a bit of a disappointment. He has not been able to stay on the field the last two years and his strikeout rate is one of the highest in baseball. Plus, his fielding seemed also to stumble in 2013. His career has had superstar written all over it, but the reality has been less than so.

But you have to consider the age as well. He could easily come into his own and be the kind of player we have expected him to be. There were some positives in 2013 in what was otherwise a disappointing season. While he still struck out 140 times, his plate discipline improved and his swinging strike rate (though still enormous) went down. There seemed to be a little more selectivity in what he was swinging at in 2013.

Projection systems still love the guy. The Oliver projections have him averaging six WAR per season for the next five seasons with plenty of power and despite the continued strikeout rate. I still think he can be even better if he can stay on the field, plays better on the road and improves on his strikeout rate. I still see a superstar there.

And I see fun things for Christian Yelich too. He did quite well in his first 62 games in the Major Leagues. The former first round draft pick for the Marlins in the 2010 draft held his own despite being only 21 years old in 2013.

What I liked best about his debut was that he held onto his plate discipline from the minors to the big show. He walked over eleven percent of the time and finished with an on-base percentage of .370 for the Marlins. His ISO and slugging percentage did not show what he did in the minors, but that will come.

I also loved that he stole ten bases for the Marlins without once getting caught. Yelich held his own in the outfield and did not make an error in 2013. The fielding numbers show that he is much better in center field than in left and center is where he should be stationed from now on. His one fielding flaw is that he does not have much of an arm.

The weakest link of the three to me is Marcell Ozuna. I like his play in the outfield and it will be a tough decision whether to use him in center or left with Yelich. But his offensive game leaves me a bit concerned.

Ozuna showed no plate discipline in his 70 games in the Majors. He swung at 35.5% of pitches out of the strike zone. And while that is not quite in Josh Hamilton territory, it is a high rate. Combine that with his swing and miss rate of over 12% and that is a problem. He only batted .265 despite a BABIP of over .320 and that concerns me as well. A major league outfielder with little power and a .303 on-base percentage is a problem.

Ozuna showed some occasional power in the minors and that would be welcome if that reappeared for the Marlins. He was an .820 OPS guy in the minors despite being so young. If he can improve his on-base percentage and have a little of that power show up, then he could be useful, but I am not that optimistic on him. The projection systems are not either. So we will have to see what happens.

Not all the youngsters the Marlins throw at the Major League wall are going to stick. It is a risky strategy, but I like it too. Why not find out what young players can do rather than paying fringe veteran players a million or two to do the same thing.

But it is strange that Giancarlo Stanton has become the old man of the Marlins' outfield at the age of 24. It has the potential toe be a very good outfield. Or it could fall apart. Either way, it will be interesting to see how it all works out for the Marlins.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hall of Fame voting results are disappointing

The Hall of Fame ballot was stuffed with at least sixteen candidates worthy of HOF honors. Three got in. And while I have no qualms with the three players elected and should at least be happy that the HOF party in July will celebrate something more than dead people like last year, the lack of inclusion of so many others is vastly disappointing.

It is also disappointing that the vote has dredged up even more vitriol between the older writers and the "sabermetric crowd." Don't believe me? How about Jon Heyman saying twice on the MLB Network reveal show his disappointment that the said "sabermetric crowd" cost Jack Morris his election after fifteen tries? How about a Seattle-based beat writer defending his stupid observation with the typical "I get paid to do this" snarky answers? How about others who during their HOF vote columns mention that it is not a Hall of WAR?

It is disappointing that the PED issue is still the white elephant in the room. Without direction from the Hall of Fame itself, the writers become judge and jury over an entire era. And they are not alone as opinion polls of casual fans would not elect the PED-suspected writers either. See Deadspin's post on the ballot they purchased from a writer to see that the fans would not have elected Bonds and Clemens either. So the writers cannot be fully blamed here. There is enough blame all around including those that ingested or injected to get us in this mess in the first place.

And so an entire era is condemned to not include the best players of that era. Well, yeah, three players from that era were elected today, but only because the writers deemed them clean, as if we can really ever say that with certainty. And no matter what they did or did not do, Bonds and Clemens were two of the best players in the history of the game. What the heck is a Hall of Fame without those two and Pete Rose?

It is disappointing that Biggio--a worthy candidate--is deemed vote-worthy and just missed by two votes when his clearly better teammate, Jeff Bagwell, missed my dozens of votes.

It is disappointing when voters still say things like, "I don't care what the numbers say, you had to be there and see them in action." Seriously?

It is disappointing when so many voters when faced with sixteen great options only voted for one to three players on their ballots. Seriously?

It is disappointing when Tom Glavine gets more than 90% of the vote because writers wanted him and Greg Maddux to go in together and then say that their vote is emotion-free. Emotion-free is the exact opposite of such pairings voting. And who said that being a journalist meant a lack of emotional investment? Was Walter Cronkite not a journalist when JFK was killed and when men landed on the moon and Cronkite truly displayed emotions at both instances? It's a stupid argument.

It is disappointing when voters continue to state that a player's first ballot should be only considered when they were the best of the best. A Hall of Fame player is a Hall of Fame player. Ballot manipulation does not make any such sense. Either a player is or he is not. If he is, what difference does it make if you vote for him the first time?

It is disappointing when statistical arguments for players like Mike Mussina and Tim Raines are rejected by half the voters or more because they are statistical arguments.

I agree completely with Mike Bates when he said that he has tried not to care about the Hall of Fame but cannot help but be passionate about what happens. How can you not be passionate about a sport that is in our blood to the point where we write about it every day? We have these arguments and we have Deadspin doing what they did because we feel powerless and held hostage by 571 keepers of the flame.

By the way, I applaud Dan Labatard or whatever his name is. That took guts and, yes, passion!

Another year of Hall of Fame results are in. I am glad for Glavine, Maddux and Frank Thomas. They deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. It is truly frustrating and emasculating that so many other deserving players will not be standing next to them in Cooperstown in July.

Free Ike Davis

The Ike Davis Experience in New York needs to end. It is as simple as that. The former first round draft pick who showed great promise in the minors and in flashes in the big leagues is just stuck with the Mets and needs a change of scenery. It remains to be seen if such a change will change what has become a nightmare for the player, his team and the fans. But the Mets cannot commit to him at this point and the only shot he seems to find himself again is to go away.

When you look at Ike Davis' numbers, they are just goofy. The difference between the first half Ike Davis and the second half is like two different people. Who knows why. Maybe he needs a sports psychologist or something. But it really is a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing.

In the second half, Ike Davis is a career .869 OPS guy. In the first half, he is a .697. He has a career OPS of .584 in May with a .184 batting average. In contrast, his batting average for September is .289. And there is more.

In the first half, his strikeout rate is 25.4% and his walk rate is 10.1%. In the second half, his strikeout rate is 22.1% and his walk rate is 14.9%. It is freaky.

His real struggles last year included facing left-handed pitching. He was awful against them to the tune of a .406 OPS. But as with Granderson and Long on the other side of the city, strategies against southpaws can be taught.

Everything came to a head last year. He had his typical terrible first half. He got sent to the minors where he was absolutely great and he finished the season with the Mets decently. But his power disappeared. He has a .192 career ISO and that fell to .129 in 2013. His home run per fly ball ratio fell from over 21% in 2012 to 11.8% in 2013.

It just gets to the point where the player just seems all messed up. And Ike Davis is all messed up. He needs to get out of New York where the managerial and coaching staff has been stable for several years and go get a fresh perspective somewhere.

But where? The need for first basemen around baseball is slight. The best locations for him to have a chance to resurrect his career would be for the Brewers or the Pirates. The Pirates are back to the Gaby Sanchez option. I have never been a fan of Sanchez who can hit for average occasionally but offers little else.

The Brewers currently have journeyman, Juan Francisco, as their first baseman on their depth charts. Seriously? Ike Davis would have to be an upgrade over that. Rumors are that the Mets are asking a lot for Davis. They should not. They should just move him for something useful.

This is a case where a team like the Mets is stuck with a puzzle they cannot figure out and Ike Davis is languishing in New York and his career is rotting before our eyes. For their own sake and for Davis', the Mets need to trade him soon to a good home like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee and see if Davis is done or the next Chris Davis.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Nick Markakis: A-wrist-ed development?

Nick Markakis was the one player on the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and 2008 that teams did not want to face at the plate. After a very good rookie campaign in 2006, Markakis became a star in the next two seasons and compiled 11.6 rWAR during those two seasons (10.6 fWAR). In 2013, this same Nick Markakis became one of the least valuable players in baseball with -0.1 WAR on both major stat sites despite playing 160 games. What happened to Nick Markakis? Was this a case of a-wrist-ed development?

Markakis came within a whisker of that magical .300/.400/.500 slash line when he finished, .306/.406/.491 in 2008. He was the eleventh most valuable player in 2008 with the fourteenth highest wOBA in baseball. His fielding was also rated excellent with Baseball Info Solutions giving him 22 runs above average in right field. Fangraphs gave him eleven runs above average. Either way, Nick Markakis had, by 2008 become one of the best players in baseball. He was 24 years old.

But then he started slipping. It was not real perceptible at first. His wOBA fell to a still healthy .349 in 2009. That same stat improved a bit to .353 in 2010 but fell again to .333 in 2011. His once promising career was heading in the wrong direction as even his fielding slipped precipitously.

The slide could be seen most dramatically in the slugging percentage. Since 2008, when his slugging percentage finished at .491 as stated, these are his successive three seasons: .453, .436, .406. There was clearly something going wrong with Markakis.

We received a bit of a clue when Markakis underwent surgery early in the 2012 season to remove parts of his hamate bone in his right wrist. It can never be good when something is so messed up that they have to remove parts of your body to fix it. That surgery gave a clue that perhaps Markakis was slipping due to an ailing wrist.

But here is the confusing part. Before going on the disabled list on June 1, 2012, Markakis was having a bit of a renaissance. He had hit eight homers by that time and had slugged over .500 in May of that season. After he returned from the surgery on July 13, he was pretty decent over the next several months. He only hit a couple of homers a month, but his wOBA rebounded to .359. His season ISO of .174 was his highest since 2008.

But then CC Sabathia broke his thumb with a pitch on September 8, 2012 and his season was finished.

And then came last year. Despite coming to the plate 700 times in 2013, Markakis only hit ten homers and 24 doubles. Both were less than what he did in 471 plate appearances the year before. His slugging percentage of .356 was the eleventh lowest among all qualified players. His walk percentage was down. His OPS was .685, the seventeenth lowest of all qualified players.

Due to his positional fielding not highly valued in right field and with diminishing results as a fielder to go along with that, Markakis hit bottom as a Major League player. His fWAR placed him as the fifth least valuable player of all qualifying players in 2013.

Source: FanGraphs -- Nick Markakis

When Markakis was hitting on all cylinders, the Orioles gave him a six-year, $66 million deal that looked like a great investment at the time. 2014 is the last year on that contract unless some sort of miracle happens and the team wants to take his $17.5 million option, that same contract has become a burden for the tight-cash team in Baltimore. His $15 million salary in 2014 for a player who had a negative value in 2013 is a big problem.

But is there any hope for Markakis to return to some of his former glory? You cannot tell from the projection systems. Steamer has him rebounding only slightly to a .334 wOBA and 1.4 WAR, but that is nowhere near where he was. Oliver projections is much more pessimistic and not only thinks Markakis will finish 2014 with a .308 wOBA and 0.7 WAR, but never sees any hope for him in that system's five year projection.

Nick Markakis enters his 30th year season in 2014. While decline is the norm from here on in, that decline has already happened on a grand scale. But he is still young enough to turn it around. But can he or will he? The numbers do not make it seem likely. He hits more ground balls than at any time in his career, his home run to fly ball ratio has taken a dive and only his line drive rates give any kind of hope. Has this once fearsome hitter turned into a slap hitter?

The Orioles have not made a splash this off-season except in a negative light with the Balfour fiasco. Once again, they seem to be playing things close to the vest (cliche alert!). For the Orioles to have any kind of chance in the AL East, they will need Nick Markakis to return to some of his former glory, especially for the $15 million they will be paying him. Whether Markakis has that kind of player left in him remains to be seen. All the numbers show us is a sharp and sad decline from what was once a promising career.