Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Looking to 2015

Busy summer.  I'll try harder.

I had a thought last night, and remembered that I have an avenue for with which to write those thoughts down when relevant.  As such, here goes.

I don't exactly have a ton of faith in the 2015 version of the Jays, as it stands right now.  I think, for the most part, that AA assembled his team for three years with the Dickey and Reyes/Buerhle trades.  It can't be a coincidence or a mistake that AA traded off all of his high-level prospects in the 2012 offseason, meanwhile having most of a team signed through 2015.  Obviously the idea was to win during those years, and then figure it out in 2016/17 when that comes, since the strong low-level farm system would graduate to the bigs by those years, and all kinds of contracts would be off the books.

The reason I don't have faith in the '15 club, of course, is because it's going to be more-or-less the same club that didn't win enough in '13 and '14.  There was reason to have faith this season, because of all the injuries and starts from Chien-Ming Wang.  It's not the same team, obviously-- full season of Bautista, full, non-tumored season of Melky, solid performances from starters-- but this team is still like 15 games back in the division.  And that's a Baltimore team who hasn't gotten anything out of Matt Weiters, and a combined 0.8 fWAR from Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Davis.

Anyway, my somewhat verbose and mostly opinion-based point is that the team will be fairly similar next season, and even with the 5 wins of regression that the O's are due, it still might not quite be enough.

Dickey, Buerhle and Hutchison* are all practically guaranteed to be back next year, as are Bautista, Edwin, Lind, Reyes, Lawrie and Navarro.  Those are the expensive guys, at least-- there are guys like Stroman, Tolleson, Mayberry, Cecil, Goins, Valencia, the bullpen, etc. who are either 0-3 players making the league minimum, or are hitting arbitration salaries and are cost-controlled.  None of whom will make a shitload of money, so we won't really worry a whole lot about that, whether they even get contracts offered to them or not.  The bulk of the money is being paid to the first 8 guys I named there.

*- Hutchison might get to Super-2 and has had a pretty reasonable season.

The Jays have $96MM committed to salary for 2015, before totalling in arbitration salaries, club options and league-minimum salaries.  So that's not including, say, the ~$500k owed to the guys making the minimum-ish (Gose, Stroman, Goins, Loup, Redmond, Jenkins, Tolleson) or the relatively small salaries owed to Cecil, Mayberry, Valencia, Francisco, etc., assuming they're all retained, which they won't all be, or the cost of retaining McGowan ($4MM), Happ ($6.5MM), Morrow ($9MM), Lind ($7.5MM) or Thole ($2MM?)-- I expect McGowan and Morrow's options to be declined.  Once all that fun stuff is tallied up, we're looking at something like $125-140MM already committed to 2015.**

**- I'm using this spreadsheet, taken from Cot's, plus guesstimating on options, arbitration, and non-tenders on this one.  I'm certainly not an expert on arbitration salaries, so I sort of guessed there, but I don't think that should be so far off that it takes away from the point.

I have Happ, Thole and Lind getting their options exercised, Morrow, Santos and McGowan getting declined.  McGowan could get his exercised, I suppose, given that his bullpen slash against is .205/.279/.377.  I also have Juan Francisco, George Kottaras, Munenori Kawasaki and Dan Johnson being non-tendered, with Danny Valencia and Jon Mayberry getting an arb offer to go along with the obvious offers to Lawrie, Cecil and Hutchison.  Don't think Delabar got enough service time this year to get super-2.  Either way, I don't think it's going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

The big thing with that spreadsheet, however, is the subtraction of Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen and Colby Rasmus.  That's $19MM off the books, with practically all of that going to Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes, and Dioner Navarro's raises, plus arb raises, so the Jays have right around as much committed to next year ($~130MM) as they spent this season ($137MM), and there will be holes on the roster 7 days from now.

The Jays have already announced that they plan on extending a qualifying offer to Melky, which should be in the $15MM area, and I'd guess that there is some mutual desire to sign Melky back for another couple years.  I'd ballpark his deal at 3 or 4 years, somewhere around $11-14MM/season, though it really depends what kind of discount he'd give the Jays, and how much we agree with his defensive numbers pulling his salary down.  If we trust Fangraphs or Baseball-reference, Melky's defense has cost the Jays about a win this season.  There's also the PEDs thing.

Rasmus has a replacement, and has in fact already been replaced, so let's not worry about that.

Janssen's departure will leave a pretty obvious hole in the bullpen.  Sure, that could be patched up by moving people around (i.e. letting Loup/Cecil/whoever close, calling up Jenkins or Delabar or Rasmussen full-time), but at the end of the day, Janssen has been really solid since becoming a reliever, save for the half-season immediately after getting sick and losing a bunch of weight and strength.  It seems as though Janssen is gone, because I expect someone is going to see 4.5 years of success against 0.5 seasons of poop and call it a hunch.  I'd totally be on board with having Janssen back next year, though, and expect to be very sad when he signs with Tampa Bay or Oakland, even with the reduced strikeouts.

The options with Janssen are to re-sign him in the $5MM/yr range, or to go find someone else that can be in the bullpen in his place.  If it's going out and finding a closer, it's going to cost at least that much.  If it's going out and getting a random warm body, it's probably going to be a cheaper option that perhaps isn't quite as reliable, but at the end of the day, pre-illness Janssen was on pace to be worth about a WAR.  Not a horribly difficult amount of production to replace.

My issue with letting him walk, though, is that there are already holes in the bullpen with Janssen.  They won't keep Sanchez in the bullpen (they had better not, anyway), and McGowan probably isn't worth exercising a $4MM option for.  When your third best reliever, and best righty, is Todd Redmond, there may be an issue.

Let's just assume that Melky and Janssen re-sign, and for simplicity's sake, for $10MM and $5MM respectively (backload the contracts, see if I care).  That's $15MM on top of ~$130MM.  $145MM for:

Thole Navarro
Lind Encarnacion Lawrie Reyes Valencia Izturis
Bautista Mayberry Gose Cabrera

Dickey Buehrle Hutchison Stroman Happ
Loup Cecil Janssen Redmond

Depth/minor leaguers.

That last category can include whoever it needs to to fill the roster, though 4 relievers probably isn't enough-- Pillar, Tolleson, Kawasaki, Goins, Pompey, Delabar, Sanchez, Nolin, Jimenez-- but it's probably not incredibly important unless one of those people takes over for someone listed above (injury, for example) and pulls a 2 WAR season out of their ass.

$145MM is an $8MM or so increase compared to this year.  Don't you think that if an extra $8MM next year is fine, that an extra $8MM this year would have been too?  Like at the trade deadline?  Or even before the year?

I guess you could decline Happ's option and trust Nolin/Graveman/Sanchez/Norris to fill the rotation, or stick Graveman in the bullpen, or trade Buehrle for absolutely nothing other than salary relief, but that's all kind of academic at the end of the day-- this team apparently wasn't good enough to win and they should have a pretty similar, albeit worse roster next year, even if they can re-sign Melky.

That's because it's not all money; the bulk of these guys are getting older.  Hutch/Stroman/Gose/Lawrie are obviously exceptions to that, but there's a lot of people on the wrong side of 30 in this team.  Reyes (currently 31), for example, isn't really providing a whole lot of defense at short these days.  Bautista (33) just played his first full season in 3 years, while Edwin (31) and Lind (31) have both missed time with injury.  Dickey (39) has been, by definition, average for the last two years, and Buehrle (35) probably isn't a 3+ WAR pitcher going forward.  Happ, Izturis, Navarro, Tolleson, Valencia, Mayberry, McGowan and Redmond will all be at least 30 at some point next season.  I'm not saying these guys all suck, or will suck next year, but it shouldn't surprise us if we see some decline, since typical peak is age 27-29.

The plan was to win last year.  The plan was to win this year.  The plan is still to win next year, before turning it over to the next wave.  Stroman, Sanchez, Hutchison, Lawrie, Norris, Pompey and Gose, another year or two down the line, looks like a pretty good foundation to build around.  Beyond that, I don't think it's a mistake that Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey, Buehrle, Janssen, Melky, Navarro, and Happ all have contracts whose guaranteed years expire either after this season or next (Romero and Morrow were supposed to fit in to this as well).

The Jays have just $27MM committed to 2016 (options, buyouts and arbitration take that up to a conservative estimate of $65MM, assuming Bautista and Edwin get their options exercised, $5MM each for Hutch and Lawrie in arb, $4MM for Cecil; Options for Dickey, Thole and Izturis bought out). That leaves a shit tonne of room to extend guys like Stroman, Sanchez and Hutchison if needed, but it also leaves room for guys in the farm to develop and find themselves in the bigs with plenty of payroll flexibility.

Beyond that, the Jays have been incredibly aggressive in the last couple drafts, trying to stock themselves with as much high-upside talent as possible. This year, though, they went ahead and grabbed a bunch of college guys who will hopefully be ready to contribute around 2016-2017, or will at least be close enough to the bigs that they can be useful trade bait.

I realize this may all sound a bit convenient, and predicting the future isn't exactly easy at any point in time, so I guess the big takeaway from all of this is that even if they're terrible in 2015, which they won't necessarily be, the Jays have 1 player under a guaranteed contract for 2016 and beyond, and that's Jose Reyes. Even if there isn't some grand plan for 2016, there's no way that everyone that's on the team right now will be both (a) good, and (b) willing to re-sign here come 2016. The combination of money to spend (even if Rogers is holding out on us!), some quality young guys in the bigs right now, and some really good recent drafts might make this a cheap little juggernaut a couple years from now.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Today, in Poorly Managed Games

I'll start this one off by saying that I really like Gibby, and think he's a pretty good manager in general. The big things that a manager is responsible for are done more-or-less correctly: he manages his bullpen better than most, he flirted with the idea of Bautista in the 2-hole for a while before eventually succumbing to being a people-person, and he'll even give you a pretty nice soundbite every now and then when explaining what's on his mind.  Gibbons, especially when compared with that clown beside him in the above picture, is a great manager.

If I have one complaint about his style, though, it's the way he gets his guys to run in to outs way too often, especially with the offense that he's got at his disposal.  Today's game, for example, saw an awful lot of that.  There was the good old bunt-to-stay-out-of-a-double-play-for-a-double-play trick, which made me want to break something.  Obviously, it's ultimately the player that happens to not get the bunt down successfully, but there are just so few situations that warrant donating an out to the other team that you could probably get away with never bunting ever and being okay.  And the Jays still scored 7 runs!  Play for the big inning, you might get a big inning every now and then.  Play for one, you apparently don't even get that.

Ron Roenicke, on the other hand, makes me glad that we have Gibby, bunt forceouts and all.

This may have been the most poorly managed game I've seen in years, and I watched a shitload of Reds games over the last few years when Dusty Baker was hitting Zach Cosart and his sub-.300 OBP 2nd all the time.  It's not batting order optimization is worth a whole hell of a lot over the course of a year, especially when most managers are reasonably close to optimal, but you just know that someone who bats their worst non-pitcher batter in the 2-hole consistently does something way worse fairly often too.

Anyway, let's go through this game and cringe at all the things managers did today.

  • Gibbons comes out to argue a call that got overturned after a review, which automatically results in an ejection.  This may or may not have been because he was thirsty, and he maybe just wanted to stir his team and home crowd up, so we'll kind of let this slide for now.  Pretty silly though.
  • Roenicke got tossed on a not-even-close check swing call on a ball that hit Steve Tolleson on the foot.  Perhaps he and Gibby both needed a beer.
  • Roenicke questionably lets Wily Peralta start the 7th inning, his fourth turn through the meat of the lineup, having thrown something like 107 pitches to that point.  Both Melky and Bautista get on base to start the inning.
  • Gibbons pinch-hits for Lind, presumably because Roenicke brought a lefty in, only to have the replacement bunt, planning to give away an out anyway.  May as well let Lind try to accidentally run in to one, as helpless as he is vs. LHP, or let Mastro swing away and take advantage of the platoon situation.  The result, however, was a double play that turned a first-and-second-nobody-out spot in to a 2nd-base-with-two-out spot, and let the Brewers bypass Edwin Encarnacion via an intentional walk, thanks to 1st base being open.  Assuming Mastroianni gets his bunt down successfully, it's still 2nd-and-3rd with 1 out, and Edwin is still getting walked to bypass the better hitter and to set up a double play.  In total, sub Lind for 2 outs, further Bautista, and a skip-your-turn for Edwin.  We also don't know that his spot in the order won't come up again in a higher leverage spot, which it did.
  • With 2 outs in the 7th, Anthony Gose is brought in to pinch-run for Bautista, taking him out of the game in a tie-game in which his spot is likely, though not guaranteed, to come up again in the 9th.  Of course, this doesn't matter if the game is close, or if Bautista is feeling sore.  I would guess that there's a bit of fear that Bautista's hamstring isn't at 100% and the idea of him busting it for home and sliding in on a close play is at least a bit scary.  Still, with two outs, there's a decent chance that it makes absolutely no difference and that Bautista is coming out of the game way too early.
  • I suppose I can live with Loup coming in and facing all those righties, but you're going to have to rely on McGowan or Santos in a spot like that.  Maybe they weren't available.  A rather small complaint.
  • I'm assuming Gibby is in the tunnel calling the shots after his ejection, so having Gose bunt there is stupid, although less so than the Mastro one.  It might make sense if Bautista is in the game, but it's Darin Mastroianni in his place.  Roenicke (or whoever he was barking orders at from the dugout) promptly brought in a RHP, who struck Mastro out....
  • ... and pitched to Edwin with a base open and two outs.  That pitcher happened to be Brandon Kintzler, who has a not-insignificant reverse platoon, meaning he's been much worse vs. RHB this year.  On deck is Dioner Navarro, who, as a switch-hitter, would be batting lefty, which would favor Kintzler.  Kintzler not only pitches to Edwin, but he gives him 3 balls in the first 4 pitches, getting behind and in to a hitter's count.  The result is a three-run shot and the end of a ballgame that apparently neither of these two first place teams really wanted all that bad after all.  Francisco Rodriguez, meanwhile, did not pitch against Encarnacion and was of little impact during that 2-out, 2-on jam, since he was sitting in the bullpen.
All in all, that wasn't a great look for either manager.  I hate to soapbox about bunting so much, yet here we are.  Having said that, bunting cost the Jays 3 outs, including two at third base.  That's a whole inning!  I'm about as big a Gibby apologist as there is out there, and he certainly does more good than bad, but that was a bunch of bad, compounded by a lack of execution.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Upgrading Second (or Third?) Base

Image stolen from The Star

Alright, so Brett Lawrie's out for another couple weeks, which means that if the Jays weren't standing pat figuring out what to do with the 2B situation before, they definitely aren't now.  I think we can all agree that Lawrie moving to 2B was a temporary solution, and that is made pretty evident by the way Juan Francisco has swung the bat in the last month or so.

Francisco, for the year, is swinging a .235/.315/.530 bat (128 OPS+), and that's certainly some decent production relative to other 3B's.  He's the lefty part of a platoon, and when he isn't being exposed to lefty pitching, he's obviously better, coming with a .264/.344/.586 line vs. RHP.  Things could be worse, especially when the next best option is, like, Munenori Kawasaki or Steve Tolleson or Jonathan Diaz or Ryan Goins or whoever.

The obvious problem here is that the bulk of Francisco's production came early on in the season.  Humor me while I cherry-pick some stats. I kind of guesstimated where the halfway point would fall, as far as plate appearances are concerned, so as to not make this a completely arbitrary endpoint, so there's still a flaw in what I'm doing here, but still; In Francisco's first 26 games with the Jays this season (102 PA's), he hit .292/.373/.629, with 8 HR's, 11 walks, and 36 strikeouts.  Since then, he's played 29 games (23 starts, 82 PA's) and has batted .173/.244/.413 with 4 HR's, 6 walks, and 33 strikeouts.  I'm sure I could make that look worse if I tried, but whatever, that's not the point.

The point is that he had a really hot start, and has sucked since, and teams are now adjusting to his tendencies of SWANGing and not being able to handle a breaking ball.  Despite the red-hot start, his offensive numbers for the season (slash-wise, anyway), when adjusted for park and league, are almost perfectly in line with his career numbers.

Which isn't saying anything in one way or another... he's a perfectly serviceable as a platoony-type backup guy that can fill in when Brett Lawrie can go play 2B and Ryan Goins is seriously considered as a candidate or whatever.

Which brings us to Steve Tolleson, I guess.  He's kind of the bizarro-Francisco, with less power and more defense.  He also has 3 hits in June.  Neither he, nor Juan Francisco are exactly world-beaters.  Both have holes in their swings, and neither are especially good defensively (Tolleson doesn't exactly have a reasonable sample though).

So yeah, Lawrie in a month or so, at which time, he'll come back in the lineup everyday, hopefully taking Tolleson and Francisco's place, as opposed to taking Muni's.  I say this, because I'm hoping Muni's spot gets replaced long before then.

Ideally, Lawrie can go back to 3B everyday, and the Jays can find someone who plays 2B. In theory, however, Lawrie can play 2B everyday if needed, which means the Jays are on the lookout for either a 2B or a 3B, which certainly widens the talent pool from which to search.  Let's have a look, the same way we did pitchers last week.

AL East

As is always the case, trades from within the division are rare.  The Yankees and Orioles are certainly still in the thick of it, and aren't going to strengthen the Jays.  The Red Sox aren't likely to help out either, and certainly aren't doing so in the form of Dustin Pedroia.  The Rays are pretty unlikely to trade Ben Zobrist within the division, but it would be friggin' awesome if they did.  He can play several positions serviceably, is still very good with the bat (walks!), and is still under contract next season for cheap.  If the Rays decide the Zobrist is available, he'd be a worthy upgrade for several teams, so the price should be steep.

AL Central

The Tigers aren't selling, and don't have anything really all that good in the infield anyway.  The Royals probably aren't either, though they may look to dangle Omar Infante if someone were to make an offer.

I don't think Cleveland opts to move any of Kipnis, Santana or Chisenhall, but they really need pitching, so who knows?  Still doubt it.

I wonder what the Twins would want for Trevor Plouffe.  He's going to start getting expensive (2nd time through arbitration this coming season), and the Twins have a couple of infield prospects coming through the pipeline that they might rather give playing time to.  Plouffe's numbers are deflated thanks to playing in some shitty ballparks (Minnesota, Detroit), but he still shows some power, the ability to walk, and versatility around the field.  Mashes lefties too. Let's get that done.

As far as the White Sox go, they might want to move Gordon Beckham, but that doesn't really scream upgrade.  He can get on base and kind of hit one out of the park by accident.  He's mashing lefties this year, but is usually pretty neutral as far as platoons go.  He's under control next year as well.  Might be a fit, but meh.  Conor Gillaspie is having a career year offensively, but upon closer observation, he's got a .388 babip and is a platoon guy at best.

AL West

The A's are buying, and probably kind of like what they have going on in their infield. The Angels aren't going to sell while they're in the wild card lead, unless it's a swap of something that they can address a weakness with.  There's nothing extra there, and they don't have any glaring weaknesses.  The Mariners currently hold the 2nd wild card, so unless they fall apart, they'll be buying as well.  Plus, Cano and Seager aren't likely to go anywhere.

Would the Rangers trade Adrian Beltre?  I doubt it, but maybe?  They need to make room for Profar with one of Andrus, Odor and Beltre, but that probably won't be an issue that they address until the offseason.  Odor isn't exactly a blue-chipper, so it might not even matter.

The Astros don't need to trade any of their infielders, as they're all either young, not good yet and under control for a while, or Jose Altuve, who is young, under control for a while, and good.

NL East

Atlanta is actually probably looking for a 2B, what with Dan Uggla being terrible and all.  The Nats apparently don't want to trade Danny Espinosa, but a change of scenery might do him some good.  There's going to be a little roster crunch when Bryce Harper comes back, and the odd man out will either be Espinosa or Denard Span, though both would be entirely serviceable bench bats, of which you need plenty in the NL.  The Marlins will sell if they come back to earth, which seems pretty likely.  Casey McGehee would be really interesting if he becomes available, but again, the Marlins would need to start losing soon.

The Mets probably don't want to trade Daniel Murphy, but that would be a nice fit if they change their tune.  Murphy is a good hitter, fields a respectable 2B, and has a year of control left after this season.  The Mets, though, apparently don't want to trade him at the moment, according to everything about him on MLBTR today.  You'd better believe that the Jays are in if Murphy is available though.

As far as the Phillies go, Utley has already said that he won't waive his no-trade clause, and the Phillies probably aren't going to trade him anyway.  There are no other options here, so let's move on.

NL Central

The Brewers are in the lead in that division, but they could still feasibly move Rickie Weeks, not that he's done anything of note in 3 years now.  The Cardinals are either sitting pretty in the infield, or buying something, so they're out of the question.

I'm not sure the Reds or Pirates believe that they're out of it yet, but if they do decide to sell, I don't really see a fit.  Nobody in the Pirates middle infield is all that good, and the Pirates seem to enjoy Pedro Alvarez too.  The Reds would probably trade Brandon Phillips if someone came asking, but he's signed through 2017 for like $72MM or something.  Todd Frazier seems pretty much entrenched in Cincinnati, but you never know.

Luis Valbuena is suddenly good, so maybe the Cubs sell high on him?  Otherwise, there's nothing useful there.

NL West

The Giants haven't gotten much production from 2B, and they'll look to improve there if Joe Panik doesn't pan out.  The Dodgers are buyers.

The Diamondbacks have Aaron Hill and Martin Prado, if they choose to sell, but Aaron Hill might be back to being bad Aaron Hill, and he's under contract through 2016, so if he is bad again, then it's an all too familiar albatrossy kind of thing.  Martin Prado might suck now too, actually.  Striking out more, walking less, decrease in power, etc.  Prado is also signed through 2016, although he has a much better history of being good than Hill, so there may be something left in that particular tank.

The Padres might trade Chase Headley, but it might be too late for them to get any real value from him.  He'd be a pure rental, he's making $10.5MM, and he might not even be league-average anymore.  Might be a flyer, especially getting him out of Petco.

Finally, with the Rockies, I'm not sure why they'd trade LeMehieu or Rutledge since they're both still young and cheap, nor am I certain either is an upgrade, but it could happen, I guess.

So yeah, there are a few candidates at 2B, but it's expanding the search field to 3B that really makes a few options appear.  I kind of like the idea of Trevor Plouffe if the Jays are in to cheap options, but there are some bigger names that could really bring the house down if they're available and, more specifically, available to the Blue Jays.  Zobrist, Beltre and Murphy would all be big additions for this year and next, but again, it's unknown whether those guys are available and if the Jays have what it would take to get that deal done.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

In Your Clubhouse, Taking Your Pitchers: NL Edition

He looks like a fucking alien
Dig right in, I guess.

NL East

Atlanta, Washington and Miami are all within a game of each other, but are also all a few games out of the wild card hunt.  If anything shitty happens in the division race, they're a lot more likely to be out of the playoff race entirely.  Anything is possible with these three teams as far as the division goes.

Atlanta could possibly consider moving a pitcher even if they aren't out of the race, but I kind of doubt it.  Some sort of pitcher-for-outfielder deal could happen, I guess, but I suspect Atlanta tries to add something using their prospect depth more than anything.  If they fall out of it, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang are both free agents, and they could probably sell high on Gavin Floyd too.  Sounds kind of wild, but a Colby Rasmus trade isn't entirely out of the question of they don't think he re-signs, and maybe a rental-for-rental trade could happen with Ervin.

Washington pretty much has no impending free agents, and have a reasonably good team right now, which suggests that they won't be making any major selling moves if they start losing.  They're more likely to acquire a piece that will help them next year too.

Miami is kind of a surprise contender right now, but they're all really young and under control for several years.  Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez are going to anchor that rotation for another few years behind Jose Fernandez, and the rest of the rotation has largely disappointed.  They've got some young guys coming through the system right now, so they might end up moving guys for some missing pieces down the road, but I largely expect Miami to either stay put, or to buy something that stabilizes the rotation and make up for the lack of Jose Fernandez.  I could see Steve Cishek being traded.

The Mets could really do anything.  They've gotten reasonable production out of Wheeler (not happening), Niese and Colon so far, and those guys would all be upgrades over JA Happ if both teams are willing.  Colon is signed through 2015 and is 40 years old, which always sounds risky, and Niese is a roughly league-average pitcher signed through 2016 (with club options taking him through '18).  Again, the Jays have said that they prefer rentals, but I wonder if they'd listen if discussions started-- The Mets should have Matt Harvey back next year, and need to eventually make room for Syndergaard, deGrom, Montero, and Jenrry Mejia if they want him to start (I feel like I'm forgetting someone from this system too).  It's hard to have too much pitching, especially during a rebuild, but I count 8 guys right there, plus Dillon Gee, for five slots.  Gee is a pretty strong candidate to move, especially given his low ERA but high FIP/xFIP, but that's more likely a move to a bad team that wants to take a flyer on him.

The Phillies are the most interesting team in the East.  They suck so bad, and they're paying so much money to do so.  The problem is that they gave pretty much everybody no-trade clauses.  They probably don't want to trade Chase Utley anyway, but he just signed his extension this past offseason and has a full no-trade, which, thanks to a provision written in to Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard's deals, gives them full no-trades too.

Cliff Lee is currently hurt, though he's apparently pretty close to rehabbing.  Scary thought, acquiring a recently injured (elbow, at that), 35 year-old who is owed about $45MM+ over the next two or three years (vesting option/buyout).  Pretty good pitcher though.  Oh yeah, he's got full no-trade protection that he'd need to waive.

Cole Hamels is pretty good, but is owed another $100MM or so through 2018 and would cost a ton.

AJ Burnett had a great year last year, and started this year killing it as well, but that's gone to shit.  He got beaten up pretty badly throughout the duration of May, though his last two starts have been a lot better.  Mind you, those two starts have come against the Padres and the Cubs, but there's still probably something there.  Worth monitoring anyway.  He's got a bit of a wacky contract situation for next year-- it's a mutual option for $15MM, or a player option for $7.5MM that has some escalators for games started.  And of course, limited no-trade.

There's nothing else really interesting there-- maybe Kyle Kendrick?  Kind of sucks-- but the Phillies really should be gutting this team and reloading for the future.

NL Central

I imagine the Brewers will be buyers.  They're in first place in the division with a 3.5 game lead, despite a run differential that suggests they should be right around even with STL.  STL is still projected to win the divison, but the Brewers have done enough to this point that they'll at least contend.  That leaves Cincinnati, the Cubs and the Pirates

It's hard to say what the Reds are up to.  They obviously still have some really good pieces, but they've disappointed two years in a row now.  That Bailey contract already looks like a mistake, and the Phillips one isn't much better.  Injuries have played some part in this, so they might just decide that they're still good and keep it together for next year.

If they do blow it up, they could eat some of Phillips' contract and get something back from the number of teams who are weak at 2B, they could move Latos for a good haul, they could move Chapman for a great haul, and they could move Johnny Cueto for a metric shit-tonne.  Mike Leake still has a year of control left and is only 26, and Alfredo Simon could be a good sell-high candidate, given that unsustainable ERA in the 2's.

I don't expect Cincinnati to blow it up, but if they do, it would be fireworks.

The Pirates have Francisco Liriano, a would-be rental that is sure to be moved, and has some decent peripheral stats.  He's given up HR's at an unreasonable rate, and his LOB% is way down, which mostly boils down to small sample bad luck.  ZiPS and Steamer projections both predict his performance to regress.  The only real problem is an increase in walks, but his line drives are down, his groundballs are up, and a 3.48 xFIP is pretty solid.

The Cubs are really the team that everybody is watching right now.  Jeff Samardzija might be the prize of the trade deadline, but Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta are all apparently on the block as well.  Samardzija has another year of control, and has pitched his bag off this year so far.  He'll cost a shitload, but it may be worth it to a team that is still looking to contend next year.  The Cubs are apparently scouting the Jays' minor leaguers, having looked at Daniel Norris recently.

Jason Hammel seems more the Jays' pace at the moment, however.  He's on a one-year deal and will be a strict rental.  Whatever's left on his $6MM deal is certainly affordable, and he's only under contract for another couple months, so he won't be incredibly expensive in terms of prospects.  He's having the best year of his career, and is only getting kind of lucky with batted balls.  He's striking out a lot of guys, is walking practically nobody, and even though his groundball rate is down, he's not giving up many HR's.

Edwin Jackson has a really high babip and isn't stranding any runners, but his FIP and xFIP like his work so far this year.  I still can't imagine having any interest in that contract though.  Arietta has pitched excellently for the Cubs so far, with FIP and xFIP under 3.  I'd expect he'd be expensive. Travis Wood has been reasonably good as well, and would probably be a slight upgrade over Happ, but he has 2 arbitration years left, so I don't expect the Cubs to trade him.

NL West

The Giants are going to go for their once-every-two-years World Series run, and are expected to buy.  The Dodgers are far from out of it, with their roster.    Everyone else is fucked.

The Rockies had it going early on, but have since cooled it down severely.  Jorge de la Rosa is a free agent-to-be, and is somehow giving up runs at an above-average rate, despite a .251 babip and a somewhat reasonable walk-rate.  Of course, a 15.9% HR/FB rate is a culprit, and Coors Field has something to do with that.  I'm nowhere near smart enough to try and determine what that could mean pitching out of Toronto, but JdlR could be a reasonable target.  He's actually a better pitcher at Coors than away from it for his career, which is sort of weird.  Tough case.

Jhoulys Chacin is another interesting guy.  He's got one more year of control through arbitration after this one, is still only 26, and had a 4+ WAR year in '13, despite being largely mediocre so far this year.  He's been fairly good away from Coors Field over his career, and the Rockies could decide to move him since he's getting more expensive.  It would certainly be selling low on him, so a deal seems unlikely there.

The Padres have gotten good production out of both Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner, despite being 14 games out of first place.  Both are on pace for 3+ WAR seasons, are getting more expensive, and are on teams that don't really have any chance of winning incredibly soon.  There's a Petco factor, mind you.

The problem there is that neither is a free agent until after 2015, so the Padres certainly don't have to trade either this year, even if they don't feel like exploring extensions.  I would expect them to look at extending Cashner for sure, but both are certainly trade candidates if someone is looking to control a player through next season.  Cashner is younger, and full of upside, while Kennedy is a bit more established as a league-average-or-maybe-a-bit-better pitcher with a ceiling.

Again, we need to be mindful of parks and leagues/divisions (i.e. pitcher vs. DH), but both have very good numbers this year and would be welcome additions.  I feel like Kennedy could be had for a respectable price, and that the Padres should listen and build up a young core.

Finally, the Diamondbacks have seemingly been out of it since the first two weeks of the season.  Brandon McCarthy is a free agent at the end of the year, and has been his regular old league-average self, complete with a bunch of ground balls and A 22.7% HR/FB RATE?!?!? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

This might be material for another post, or maybe google to see if someone's written it yet, but that's an outrageous amount of HR's and the only real question is whether or not he's throwing a bunch of beachballs.  His fastball velocity is up 2 MPH, he's struck out batters at a rate that's better than his career norm while keeping walks really close to what they've been, and he's getting more groundballs than ever.  By xFIP, which is better than FIP for samples of half a season, he's been pretty damn good, and his underlying numbers appear to be OK, so I think he'd be worthwhile to take a shot on since there can't nobody sustain 22.7% HR/FB, even in a bandbox like Chase Field or the Skydome, especially since his career rate is less than half of that, and roughly half of his career innings are in extreme hitter's parks (TEX and ARI).

Bronson Arroyo is signed through next year with an option/buyout for '16, which just sounds silly.  I doubt the DBacks would trade Wade Miley, as they'd be selling low.

So there you go.  As of right now, there aren't really a whole lot of guys that make a ton of sense, but there could certainly be some wiggle room.  Jason Hammel is the one sure shot to be traded and to have a nice market, assuming he stays healthy, and the Jays really should be all over that if they want a rental, but Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy are two other names to keep an eye on, especially if their performance starts to match their peripherals.  We'll certainly know more over the coming weeks, as teams get larger samples of data to look at, and the playoff picture becomes more pronounced.

Monday, 16 June 2014

In Your Clubhouse, Taking Your Pitchers: AL Edition

Despite how well he's pitched lately, it's pretty clear that, barring injury, if the Blue Jays were to acquire a starting pitcher to anchor the rotation right now, and really turn this team in to something nasty, it would be JA Happ being relegated to the bullpen or the minors or wherever the fuck.  Obviously Buehrle isn't going anywhere, and if Drew Hutchison can stay healthy and stretched out and not need an extra day or two between starts, he'll remain in the rotation as well.  Stroman's looked great in the rotation, albeit over a very small sample, and RA Dickey is also a pitcher.

No matter who gets bumped in this scenario, though, that's not really what I'm here for.  It's mid-June, and we're about 6 weeks away from the trade deadline.  We have some sort of idea who is going to be contending, and who is already fucking out of the playoff picture.  We may as well go through the teams and try to figure out who the targets may end up being.

There are some obvious targets: really good pitchers who are approaching free agency who are on really bad teams.  Jeff Samardzija was in the banner photo before I changed it, and David Price is there now.  Both are obvious targets, though both of these guys may end up being outside the Jays' price range, as AA has stated that the Jays prefer a rental over a player with more control; he doesn't want to move top prospects or crush the depth anymore than what was done last year.

I'm just going to go team-to-team, division-to-division and explore.

AL East

I don't really expect the Jays to get David Price, for a multitude of reasons.  The first is that they are in the same division as the Rays, and the second is that Price is controllable through next season. Price, in effect, would be pitching against Tampa next year, rather than, say, pitching in the NL-- Tampa wouldn't have to worry about running in to Price other than during inter-league series.  The Jays would also be paying a large price for a year and a half of Price, and they apparently don't want to go crazy with the prospect sales.

Erik Bedard has pitched reasonably well (albeit in a good ballpark and with a strong defence) in Tampa this year, on a one year deal, and he might fetch a low-level prospect.  Other than that though, the Rays have a bunch of cheap, controllable pitchers in their rotation, and have little reason to move them at this point.

For the same reasons as the Price thing, I don't really expect any other trades from within the division either; New York and Baltimore are doing well enough that they aren't going to be selling, and I don't imagine Boston has any interest in improving the Jays either, after the Farrell fiasco.

Having said that, if Boston does completely fall out of it-- and they pretty much need to play .600 baseball from this point forward to have any chance-- I would expect them to sell at least something.  They do have a few pitchers in their rotation right now that could be useful to someone, though a lot of their team is under contract through 2015 or later.  They do have some pretty decent pitching prospects if they wanted to move some starters.

Jon Lester is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and is having a great year, so he'll (a) fetch a lot in a trade relative to, say, letting him walk for a draft pick, not to mention the immediate return vs. a late first rounder who will take multiple years to develop, and (b) is going to cost a lot to sign long-term from 2015 onwards.  Lester has mentioned that he wants to stay in Boston for the rest of his career, but we all know how often that's bullshit.

John Lackey has rekindled his career last year and so far this year, and he also has an option on his contract for next year at $500k.  He makes what's left on his $15.25MM contract, and there's practically 0 risk at taking him on for next year.

Buchholz and Peavy have both been a mess this year, and Felix Doubront seems like the kind of arm you'd want to build around.  De La Rosa, Workman, and Webster are all on their way up or are there, so Boston might want to move something.

AL Central

The Tigers obviously aren't selling anything, and I don't think the Royals will either, unless they just go on a huge losing streak.  James Shields would be interesting if KC does fall off, but I kind of doubt that happens.  Cleveland probably hangs on as long as possible to make up their minds, so the two real sellers are Minnesota and Chicago at this juncture.

Cleveland is pretty likely to move Justin Masterson at some point if things do go any farther south, though he's largely stunk to this point in 2014; strikeouts are down, walks are up, and velocity is way down.  ERA estimators aren't exactly banking on his improvement, though his peripherals and batted ball numbers are close enough to being in line with his career numbers that a comeback wouldn't be a big surprise.  Might be worth a flyer.

The only other useful piece in Cleveland's rotation is budding ace Cory Kluber, and I don't see any reason they'd want to move him.

The Twins have Phil Hughes, but he just signed a multi-year deal in Minnesota, and I don't imagine they have a huge interest in dealing him halfway through the first year of that contract.  He's pitched very well to this point, and may have spun himself in to a situation where he can be of value to someone.  I guess the big issue is that he's pounding the strikezone, but isn't giving up any homeruns.  Moving from Yankee Stadium to Target Field is obviously going to do that, so his stats need to be taken with a grain of salt, but a 3.46 xFIP looks pretty good regardless.  I'd say that Minnesota wants Hughes to be part of the plan, though.

The White Sox have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and then absolutely nothing.  Sale would cost a goddamn fortune if the White Sox are even interested in selling him, which I doubt.  Jose Quintana just got a five-year extension this past offseason, and is probably also going nowhere, given how well he's pitched.  Everyone else in that rotation is a testament to why the White Sox are in last place in the division.

AL West

The A's are obviously buyers, and are actually probably buying starters.  The Angels are the current wild card leader, which makes them buyers too.  Seattle seems like they're going for it this year, so they're pretty unlikely to sell anything either.

Having said that, they're only a game over .500 and 7 games out of first in the division, so they're far from a sure buyer.  If things get bad, though, there's not much to move around.  Felix is staying put, and Hisashi Iwakuma is relatively cheap next year, with a $7MM option.  If the M's decide to sell, it will likely be one of their young pitchers being moved for an impact position player.  Between Taijuan Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, Roenis Elias, James Paxton, along with Felix and Iwakuma-- someone might have to move sooner rather than later.  Elias isn't anything special right now, but there's certainly a bit of upside there, and Ramirez has pitched like dick this year.  Unfortunately, the Jays don't really have the position depth or the MLB-ready prospect to move.  Anthony Gose is a fit for Seattle, but that's not enough to bring something major back, and he's probably a contingency plan in case Colby Rasmus jets in the offseason.

Texas is an interesting case.  They'd be nuts to trade Yu Darvish, especially after spending so much money up front to get him.  I feel like I'd want to keep him around for at least most of the 6 years if I spent $50MM for the opportunity to pay him $56MM.

I'd expect Texas to try and move something, somewhere.  They have a lot of money committed to the next few seasons ($109MM for '15, plus arbitration raises and options), and a lot of it is currently on the disabled list.  Fielder, Harrison, Holland, Moreland and Soto are all hurt right now, and it's pretty impressive that they're at or around .500 at this point.  They have a top-10-or-so farm system that could graduate some guys to the bigs soon, so they may want to move some more expensive guys and try to get younger.

Off the top of my head, Darvish, Holland, Perez, Tepesch (Harrison can't really be relied upon) are the main 'when-healthy' rotation, though Texas is usually pretty active in the offseasons, and they have a couple of decent prospects coming through the woodwork.  I can certainly see them trying to move position players for pitching help, or hoping to retool for the future.  Ultimately, I don't expect Texas to move much pitching, unless Derek Holland comes back before the all-star break, pitches well, and gets moved.  Colby Lewis could be worth a shot, considering his .394 babip, but it's tough to call him an upgrade over anything.

Finally, Houston.  The Astros are in a pretty full-fledged rebuild mode, letting the young guys play, for the most part.  Scott Feldman is interesting.  He's striking out approximately nobody, but his LOB% is due for regression (maybe with a better defense behind him?), but I'm still not entirely sure he's an upgrade over anybody on the Jays right now.

Everybody else in this rotation is young, cheap, and have several years of club control remaining-- exactly what the Astros are looking for.  I'm sure more than one of these guys are going to get squeezed out, but there's no reason for that to happen now.  They're much more likely to hang on to all of their young guys and let them develop while they're still cheap, and then trade them before they get too expensive if they aren't winning.

The one exception is Collin McHugh.  McHugh is 27 on Thursday, and is severely out-performing his career numbers.  There's definitely a change in his strategy so far this year (he's pitching both up and down in the zone this year with his fastball) and it has led to more strikeouts, but he's 27 and hasn't done anything before this year.  It's a pretty small sample, and he may very well completely explode before the deadline, and the Astros may have zero interest in moving McHugh, but he could be a sell-high candidate for the Astros.

As a whole, there's really not a whole lot going on in the AL.  The best targets appear to be on teams that aren't likely to send much our way.  As far as AL teams go, Boston and Texas may be the most likely teams to move starters, but neither are sure things, many teams will be interested, and there's a strained relationship between the Jays and Red Sox already.

It looks to me as though if the Jays acquire a pitcher at the deadline, it will come from the National League.  We'll look at that tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fun with Math and Playoff Odds

Hi.  I'm back.  I kind of decided last year that posting anything and everything that I thought of was sort of detrimental to this whole project.  Too much riff-raff, not enough good stuff.  Then I noticed that I wasn't writing anything at all.  Which is also detrimental to the project.  Guess I just have to start writing reasonable stuff, or at least make more .gifs of things, which I haven't gotten around to figuring out on Mac just yet.

Anyway, I kind of remember during last year's dumpster fire, mathematically taking a stab at figuring out what the hell was going to happen with the club, and what exactly was needed to even have a chance at sniffing the playoffs.

Obviously things are a little bit different this year-- the Jays have played 61 games this season, and have a 5-game lead in the division at the time of my writing this, having finished off a sweep of the Tigers this afternoon.  This is compared with a 25-34 record on this date last year, which was 10.5 games back of first.

Last year in mid-May, the Jays had, according to various sources and forumlae, somewhere in the area of 0.3%-5.8% chance at making the playoffs.  Then they got hot and got themselves to within a few games of the division, but still only found themselves at a high-water mark of like 17%.

Basically, you can get a pretty good idea of a team's end-of-season winning percentage and chances of making the playoffs by looking at their first 1/3 of the season (I read something 2 years ago that suggests something like 44 games is enough, though I can't find it at the moment).

So let's have a look at the math this year, huh?  I think the big thing to consider here is the relative pace that the non-Jays AL East teams are on this year.  Last year, four teams had at least 32 wins at this point, which is a .550 (or better) winning percentage.  I believe the number I was looking for last year was 93 wins, thanks to the pace everyone was on-- Tampa won 92 and lost the division by 5 games.

This year, you've got the Jays (.606), and then Baltimore (.526) as the next best.  As such, the O's are on pace for 85 wins, which should make 90* wins a reasonably safe benchmark for winning the division.

Charts that can be clicked upon to embiggen:

and playoff odds that reflect this:

* -- If we want to use 93 wins again, which suggests that the Jays can play .554 ball through the end of the year, Baltimore needs to play .600 ball for the rest of the year, which is 97 wins extrapolated to a full year.  Boston would need to play .640 baseball, or 103 win ball.

** -- Fangraphs uses projected runs scored and allowed, and regresses YTD team performance in their future performance, and is probably worth checking out more than any of the others.

As far as that chart goes, it's just some quick back-of-the-envelope math that compares what teams have done so far this year with what they will need to do to get to 90 wins.  Those last two columns signify what winning percentage a team needs to get to 90 wins, and then the full season pace when that winning percentage is extrapolated.  In other words, if the Red Sox want to win 90 games this season, they need to play like a 99-win team from this point forward, whereas the Jays only need to win at an 85-win clip, thanks to the headstart they've given themselves.

So this all means a lot, right?

Of course not.  Lose 5 in a row, or 7 of 9 or whatever, and this division is entirely back to normal.  The point remains, however, that 61 games is a meaningful enough sample size to suggest that this result isn't a complete anomaly, even if we can expect some regression.

In closing, this brings me to a point made by Paul Beeston last week:
There’s no magic number for attendance; if there’s a deal, it’s not going to be money that determines if it’s going to be done, it’s going to be wins. If we’re winning we’ll do it. I hope we have that opportunity
It's fairly evident that the wins are there, and that the Jays need to make their improvements as soon as possible to cash in on their odds.  In fact, the wins don't even need to be there at anywhere near the pace that they're coming right now.

Of course, we know that teams aren't typically selling until the deadline, so as to maximize the return -- demand is higher at the deadline, after all, and teams don't want to start selling until they know that they're out of it for certain.  The point remains, though-- the combination of the division being weak, and the Jays getting themselves in to such a position early on means that the time to buy is whenever someone decides that they're ready to sell.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Let Him Start

You let him fucking start you goddamn sons of bitches.

(This isn't much of a blog anymore)