Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jose Fernandez's conservative projections

Jose Fernandez's rookie season, as a 20 year old starting pitcher, started out as an interesting conversation piece. He had a couple of spectacular starts offset by some so-so starts, generally depending on whether he was home or away at the time. By the end of 2013, he was the talk of baseball writers and won the Rookie of the Year honors. Despite how he finished 2013, projection systems are taking a conservative approach to how Fernandez will perform in 2014.
First, let's look at the projection systems' numbers and then a discussion of them will follow:
System, IP, K/9, B/9, ERA, FIP, WAR
  • ZiPS: 154, 9.53, 3.16, 2.57, 2.87, 4.5
  • Oliver: 118, 9.67, 3.27, 2.74, 2.86, 2.6
  • Steamer: 192, 10.01, 3.35, 3.35, 3.05, 3.8
  • Fans: 201, 9.72, 2.87, 2.83, 2.97, 4.2
  • PECOTA: 186, 9.77, N/A, 2.44, N/A, 4.6
If we average them all out, here is a list of how the projected numbers stack up to his 2013 numbers:
  • IP - 170, less than 2013
  • K/9 - 9.75, higher than 2013
  • B/9 - 3.16, higher than 2013
  • ERA - 2.79, higher than 2013
  • FIP - 2.94, higher than 2013
  • WAR - 3.94, lower than 2013.
As you can see, the average of the five projection systems paint a picture of a pitcher not as successful as last season. Two of the five systems projected his WAR at equal to 2013 or higher. They all projected more strikeouts per nine but higher ERA and FIP numbers.
The projections are, in fact, conservative. Is there a good reason to be? Well, sure. So many things can happen to a pitcher. There are pulled muscles, blisters, line drives hitting them like tiny dodge balls, sore shoulders and elbows and just plain bad luck. And consider that of the 79 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season, only 46% of them, or 36 of them pitched 200 innings or more. Pitching is a tough gig.
But what if Jose Fernandez stays healthy and pitches 200 innings or more? What can we tell from last year? What we did see was a pitcher who gained mastery and unbelievable numbers as the season progressed.
In his first ten starts covering April and May, Fernandez went 2-3 with a 3.78 ERA with a 1.204 WHIP. Here is how he did each month after that:
  • Jun: 2-1, 1.67, 0.928
  • Jul: 3-1, 2.08, 0.857
  • Aug: 3-1, 1.15, 0.846
  • Sep: 2-0, 0.64, 0.786
Unbelievable, eh? He was getting better as the season went along. As you may or may not know, during the season, I pick the games every day to predict which team will win or won't win. In the first half, if Jose Fernandez was at home, I would pick the Marlins to win. If the Marlins were on the road, I would pick them to lose if Fernandez was pitching. After the first half, I always picked him to win. It did not matter if he was home or on the road.
This is a special pitcher who just happens to be heading into his Year 21 pitching. There is something exciting about him and when he pitches, he is the kind of pitcher that everyone wants to watch. The only thing that can derail him is some sort of injury and you really have to root against that happening with all of the fibers in your body if you are a baseball fan.
It is easy to understand the computer models being conservative. Things happen to pitchers. So much that actually occurs in the game are out of their control. His fielders have to field, his batters have to get ahead in the game to keep him on the mound and his catcher has to frame and block pitches well.
But there is a lot in his control. Even as a freshman pitcher, he got batters to swing at 31% of his pitches out of the strike zone. I think his walks will come down significantly. I think he has adapted to pitching on the road and getting batters to hit less fly balls on the road (which the records show he did). For gosh sakes, he led the league with only 5.3 hits per nine innings! That is remarkable.
If he stays healthy--and man, I hope he does--I see no reason why his ERA cannot again finish under 2.50, his winning percentage stay above 60% and his strikeout to walk ratio to improve. I see no reason why he cannot go 200 innings at least and yet keep his WHIP under 1.00.
I cannot wait to see what he does because pitchers like him do not come around very often. If Jose Fernandez does not finish with 6 WAR or higher, I will be totally shocked and disappointed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Charlie Snow Day

The life of a writer is not always kind. Here I am with a snow day which means (with the holiday on Monday) that I have a four day weekend. Great, I thought, I will have plenty of time to write. A rare occurrence of late. The problem is that I have no ideas at all. My first thought was lame. Maybe I will do an All Star Team of players with winter-like namesJ.T. Snow would play first. But that idea went down the drain after the former Giants' first baseman. But I did see a guy who piqued my interest that no one else will care about. His name was Charlie Snow and he played one game in 1874.
That's right, 1874. He played his one game for the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association, a league that is still debated about in its inclusion as a Major League Baseball league.
I could bore you with the history of the Brooklyn Atlantics, but if you were interested, you can check them out on their Wikipedia page. Suffice it to say that the Atlantics were the champions of baseball starting in 1859 and for several years that followed. But when the National Association began in 1869, the Atlantics did not join until 1870 and lost all their best players. By 1874, they were a bottom tier club. Tommy Bond, later a twice-40 game winner with the Boston Red Stockings started 55 games and went 22-32.
The team played in Capitoline Park in Brooklyn, New York in 1872. A drawing of the ball field is shown below:
1870 capitoline small
The team moved to Union Park after.
One of the guys Tommy Bond might have thrown to was a catcher who played one game. His name was Charlie Snow, or Charles M. Snow. Snow was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on August 3, 1849. His parents, Benjamin and Laura Snow were both born in Maine.
By the 1860 census, Benjamin was out of the picture and Laura was a single mom listed as a housekeeper. The same was still true in 1870, but Laura, Charlie and sister Ida were now living in Boston.
Some time between that census in 1870 to 1874, Charlie made his way to Brooklyn. He lived there the rest of his life. Despite his one game with the Atlantics, his is listed in the 1880 census as a ticket agent and in all subsequent census records as a stationary salesman or the manager of a stationary store.
But he had that one game in 1874. His time on the field must have been brief that game because he only had one plate appearance. And, of course, Charlie Snow set the record for batting average that would be tied several times since because his one plate appearance resulted in a single.
That would be interesting enough as a curiosity. But his day in the field was also interesting. According to Charlie Snow's player page, in that one game played behind the plate, mostly likely catching Tommy Bond, Snow had three chances in the field and botched them all. That's right, he had three chances and made three errors. His fielding percentage was a big fat zero.
Snow lived in Brooklyn the rest of his life, as stated, and died in August of 1929 and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery there. There is one game to his record. He was perfect in his career batting and totally imperfect with his fielding. Not much of a story here, but that's all I could come up with on this Charlie Snow Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brantley extension shows changing MLB economy

Michael Brantley will not blow you away with his statistics. He is slightly above league average for his bat, a good base runner with just barely acceptable stolen base success and a league average fielder. And yet, in these days where the cost of a win keeps going up, the Cleveland Indians spent $25 million spread over four years and a fifth could cost them another $11 million to extend Brantley. And it still ends up being a good deal for the Indians. Say what!?
This is not to belittle Michael Brantley. He is a nice player. He is useful. He is better than replacement. But with Michael Bourn in center field, Brantley is a left fielder without power and decent on-base skills. He will give you about a .320 wOBA and a range of 1.5 to 2.0 of WAR. And that is worth $25 million? These days, it is actually worth more.
A win (the "w" in the WAR equation) is currently worth $5 million. That figure has risen from about $3.7 million in the not too distant past. Brantley had his typical season in 2013 and was worth 1.7 WAR. If you do the math, 1.7 times $5 million is $8.5 million in value. $25 million spread over four seasons is $6.22 million a season. So you see that despite Brantley not being a "star," he is now a bargain.
Even if you accept the team option of $11 million at the end of the deal for the fifth year, you still stay ahead. That would make the total deal worth $36 million over five years or $7.2 million per season and you are still ahead.
According to one projection, Brantley should be worth a total of 7.5 WAR over the next four years. He is entering his Age 27 season. Regression models show two peak years and then a gradual decline. 7.5 WAR is currently worth $37.5 million, or $12.5 million over what the Indians will be paying him.
If you add in the fifth year, then Brantley should compile 9.2 WAR or $46.2 million of value for $36 million the team will have to spend. That is a good deal no matter how you look at it. And even better, the deal will end before Brantley starts to really slide down over the regression cycle of his career.
One other point is overlooked here. The price of a win keeps going up. The four year contract that is already a bargain for the Indians becomes even more so if the cost of a win keeps rising the way it has.
It is understandable if the first reaction to the total cost of the contract for a player just north of average like Michael Brantley seems like a whole lot of money. But it is really a good deal for the Indians in today's market. We are just going to have to get used to meh players being this expensive.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ranking Joe Mauer among first basemen

The Twins have seen enough of Joe Mauer getting dinged and dented behind the plate and will make him the team's permanent first baseman. While most will lament that Mauer's extraordinary contract makes sense only if he is an elite catcher, the money is not the point here. It is better for the Twins to get some value for their money with Mauer at first for years than to see him ground into dust within two or three years behind the plate. The question being pondered today is: What kind of value will Mauer bring to first base?
Fortunately, this is possible because over the years, Mauer has put in some time at first and has logged 471+ innings there. While the Twin City's star will lose his positional value as a catcher to one considered of little value at first, the extra playing time should close the gap pretty smartly.
Let's take a look at where he could stand around the Majors for first basemen. The starting point is defense.
One site gives his his time at first a 2.6 runs above average which translates to 8.6 runs over the course of 150 games. Another site puts that number at 3 and 7. Where would that rank among the first basemen of last season? Would you believe that the higher number would have ranked him second and the lower number fourth?
If you add in the positional part of the equation, his overall fielding worth as a first baseman will end up somewhere between the -2.5 to -4.0 range. That sounds awful, but for first basemen, it is very good.
Let's move to base running. The two big sites have a discrepancy of two runs. One says that the last three years have been at -1 while the other says it is a plus one. Average them together and you basically get a league average base runner. Where does that put him among first basemen based on last year?
Would you believe tied for fifth? Mauer has always been a great athlete and not your typical lead-pants catcher. Since first basemen are not known for their speed either, Mauer rates quite favorably.
Now everyone's favorite part--offense. If you throw out Mauer's first cup-of-coffee season and divide his batting runs above average by nine, Mauer has averaged 23.4 runs a season. But since he was mainly a catcher, he has averaged only 127 games a season.
Last season, Mauer compiled 25 runs (or 26 depending on the site) in only 113 games! With perhaps 150 games possible or more playing first base, would not 30 runs be a reasonable expectation? It could go higher. In 2012, Mauer played 147 games and compiled 31 runs. Thirty to thirty-five runs above average seems the sweet spot here.
If we stick with the lower number, that would place Mauer sixth in the Majors among last year's first basemen. Out of thirty teams, that's pretty darned good.
If you average the three skill sets together and do the division, Joe Mauer seems likely to finish as either the fourth or fifth best first basemen in baseball. If he has a really good and healthy season at the plate, he could end up as high as third.
Fourth seems the likely destination. Since two of the three projection systems I looked at for this piece have him at an estimated 5.5 WAR, then fourth seems very logical. And by the way, with the way a win is valued these days, that is a $26 to $28 million player and above his contract value ($23 million) for the season.
Pushing Joe Mauer to first base makes perfect sense for the Twins. He will still be the team's best player and they get to keep him in the lineup more often (barring some fluke injury). And contrary to all the naysayers, if Mauer hits like he always has or even slightly less, he will still earn his contract, first baseman or not.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Projecting the five least valuable players of 2014

Without much else to do in this dead zone waiting to see where the last remaining free agents wind up and Spring Training games, looking at projections is a fun way to pass the time. Whether you do this for fantasy baseball purposes or--if you are like me and do not play fantasy--just for the fun of it, There is a lot of stuff to sort through and ponder. Projection systems are difficult to wrap your head around because some project actual playing time and others assume everyone is going to get 550 plate appearances. The latter, I suppose, is helpful in case a player breaks out in Spring Training and ends up as a starter (which rarely happens). What I thought I would do on this Sunday afternoon was cull through the various projection systems and determine who the five least valuable players would be in 2014.
Such an exercise is harder than you think. First, I have an artificial number of projected plate appearances of 450. I want to consider starters and not part-time players. Secondly, I have to figure out which of these players will actually get the playing time he is projected to obtain. For example, one of the lowest rated was Brett Wallace. But he was just DFA'd by the Astros and doesn't figure to catch on with a full-time gig anywhere else. And lastly, most of the projection systems have to agree on the lack of value a player will have in 2014.
After making my list, a discussion on the merits of each will occur. Think of it as sort of an over/under type discussion. For disclosure sake, I used PECOTA, Steamer, Oliver and Fans projections. I used MLB Depth Charts to confirm possible playing time.
Okay, the list:
  1. Garrett Jones - Average Projection of 0.23 WAR
  2. Raul Ibanez - Average Projection of 0.3 WAR
  3. Mitch Moreland - Average Projection of 0.55 WAR
  4. Adeiny Hechavarria - Average Projection of 0.65 WAR
  5. Ryan Ludwick - Average Projection of 0.78 WAR
Garrett Jones - Jones holds one of the most extreme L/R splits in the Majors with less than a .600 OPS against left-handed pitching and in the high .878 against right-handed pitchers. He is penciled in as the platoon partner with Jeff Baker at first base. That would be a good thing for Jones as he is capable of hitting more than twenty homers. If he can field first base at near league-average level, he could score 2.0 in WAR. If he plays full time or spends any time in the outfield, all bets are off.
Raul Ibanez - The projections are logical since Ibanez is 41 years old and should never wear a glove. But the Angels only need him as a DH and have plenty of outfielders. So unlike last year in Seattle, Ibanez should only be a DH. That said, will he get 400 plate appearances? He won't if he is platooned (and he should be). Based on offense alone, he could get 1.5 in WAR.
Mitch Moreland - Moreland has no home at first base with the Rangers' addition of Prince Fielder. MLB Depth Charts has him listed as the Rangers' DH. Plus, he has spent plenty of time in the outfield too. Moreland's career doesn't seem to be going anywhere and I think these projections are pretty money.
Adeiny Hechavarria - Not only is his name a bear to spell, but he was awful for the Marlins last season. And still, he is pegged as their starting shortstop again this year. I don't think he will ever hit and a sub-.300 on-base percentage could be his norm. He gets bonus WAR points for his "important position" on the field, but doesn't score all that well as a fielder. If he reaches 1.0 in WAR in 2014, it will be a surprise.
Ryan Ludwick - I kept hearing last year that the Reds will be okay once Ludwick comes back from injury. And it made me scratch my head. Yeah, he had a pretty good 2012, but that is the anomaly for him over the past five seasons. The Reds have him penciled in as the starting left-fielder. I think it is a pie-in-the-sky scenario for them. He is not great in the field, and 2012 aside, his bat has been missing since his days with the Cardinals. I think his projection is fair. His positional ranking hurts him, his fielding hurts him and I don't see him repeating 2012 for offensive production.
There you have it. The projections have spoken. But of course, nobody knows how any player's season will go until he actually plays the games.