Kris Bryant is Ready But Chicago Cubs Making the Right Call

Kris Bryant is Ready But Chicago Cubs Making the Right Call

So there’s this Chicago Cubs über prospect named Kris Bryant. You may have heard of him. He was drafted 2nd overall in the 2013 Draft, and then went on to be a destroyer of worlds in the minors. His career stats in the minors are .327/.448/.666 with 52 HR. He has basically been Miguel Cabrera except with a high strikeout rate.

Now of course, that is scouting the stat line, which isn’t scouting. The industry consensus indicates that Bryant projects to be a 55 hitter and already has 70 power. He’s not going to be adding any value on the basepaths, but he does have a plus arm. His fielding is one of the questions about him, however. At 6’5”, 215 lbs., he’s awfully big for a 3rd baseman. At that size he lacks the agility needed to field the position well. He has not looked good there at all in spring training. Of course, he’s not a finished product, and there’s no reason to believe that he can’t be a least a fringe average defender there. Worst case scenario is that he has to move to right field. His bat will play anywhere, but moving to right field would result in a decrease in value.

Despite his electrifying spring, Bryant still has room for development with his bat. Although he projects as a 55 hitter, he’s not there yet, and is more likely a 40-45 hitter at present. He has a long swing that causes him to struggle with velocity, especially on the inner half of the strike zone. He has been a high strikeout hitter in the minors, and will probably always be that way to some extent. However, if he wants to max out the effectiveness of that monster power of his, he’s going to have to close the holes in his swing.

Bryant has been lighting the baseball world on fire in spring training, which is causing all kinds of discussions and controversies about whether or not he should be on the opening day roster. Of course he should, and I’ll delve more into that subject shortly, but it has absolutely, positively nothing to do with his spring training stats. Let me be absolutely clear:

Spring training stats are completely and utterly meaningless. They have ZERO predictive value. You should never, ever, ever draw any conclusions based on spring training numbers. 

Yet, fans, the media, and even some front offices keep making the same mistake year after year by drawing conclusions based on spring training results. Stop it! There are many instances in baseball history when a player excelled in spring training but sucked during the regular season, or vice versa. First and foremost, spring training stats suffer from small sample size. Furthermore, there’s a fair amount of inferior competition with players that have little to no shot at making the major league squad. Even the good players tend to test out tweaks to their mechanics/swings/pitches/etc. that usually result in diminished effectiveness. Why not experiment if you know that you’re assured of making the team?

So far this spring, Bryant is hitting .406/.472/1.313 with 9 HR, which leads the majors. However, that’s in a minuscule sample of 36 PA, which is roughly 5% of the plate appearances a player gets over the course of a full season. Call me crazy, but I also don’t think that Bryant will continue homering in 25% of his plate appearances either. In fact, other than Félix Hernández, the eight other pitchers who have surrendered a home run to Bryant are a rather underwhelming group. Here are their career numbers and 2015 ZiPS projections.

G GS IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR Proj. ERA Proj. FIP Proj. WAR
Kevin Correia 353 216 1405.1 5.71 2.98 4.59 4.52 6.7 3.69 3.63 0.2
Matt Lindstrom 469 0 420.2 7 3.29 3.68 3.47 4.4 4.60 4.52 0.1
Drew Pomeranz 54 40 205.2 7.83 4.2 4.24 4.44 1.6 4.07 4.50 0.3
Jesse Hahn 14 12 73.1 8.59 3.93 3.07 3.40 1.1 4.19 4.35 0.5
Trevor Bauer 34 34 186.1 8.26 4.3 4.44 4.39 1 4.29 4.07 1.4
Cesar Ramos 186 10 246.2 7.22 3.79 3.90 3.95 0.5 4.22 4.32 0.0
Evan Scribner 71 0 87.2 7.19 2.36 4.11 3.78 0.2 3.61 3.65 0.1
Brett Marshall 3 0 12 5.25 5.25 4.50 7.13 -0.2 6.53 5.65 -1.3

Not exactly a murderer’s row, huh? Baseball Reference has a metric that measures the quality of competition faced in the majors during spring training as a result of the number of minor leaguers who see action. Every player gets a rating based on the level in which they played the prior season. If you want to learn more about it, click here. The quality of competition that Bryant has faced so far this spring comes in at 8.7, which means that the pitching that Bryant has been facing averages out at Triple A quality. We already knew that Bryant could destroy Triple A pitching. So if spring training stats are so unreliable and misleading, what’s the argument that Bryant is ready for The Show?

The scouting. Trust the scouting. A scouting report is the only thing that has any kind of predictive value in spring training. It’s the only thing that organizations should be using in order to make the final decisions on minor leaguers and players without a significant track record in the majors. Check the scouting information on Bryant that I relayed earlier, or any report you can find online. He could’ve been a September call-up last season had the Cubs been contending. As you can see below, all the prospect rankings have him as the best or one of the best prospects in baseball, and these rankings came up before spring training.

Keith Law, ESPN 1
Baseball Prospectus 5
Baseball America 1 2
Kiley McDaniel, Fangraphs 1

Any professional scout who has evaluated Bryant would’ve told you he was major league ready six months ago.

It is common knowledge among baseball fans that the Cubs intend to start Bryant off in the minors for 12 days in order to delay his service time by one year. Cubs fans especially are upset by this. Of course, Bryant and his agent, the infamous Scott Boras, are also frustrated by this service time manipulation because delaying Bryant’s free agency by one year delays the big payday that Bryant is likely to see someday.

First, let’s address the baseball issues. With Bryant in the minors, the Cubs will likely turn to Mike Olt to fill in at 3rd base. Olt is excellent defensively, but has not shown any signs of being able to hit yet. He has struggled with injuries, including a vision problem at one point, so it’s possible that he can improve offensively. Honestly, his defense is so good that he doesn’t have to hit much, but a 60 wRC+ isn’t going to cut it. Regardless, there isn’t enough of a difference between Olt and Bryant that him missing ~9 games will have any effect on the standings. ZiPS projects that Bryant will be worth 4.2 WAR this season. Even if you want to be optimistic and say he has the upside to deliver 6 WAR, which certainly wouldn’t surprise me, keeping Bryant down in the minors will only cost the Cubs half of a win. Moreover, the Cubs are likely still one year away from truly being contenders1.

It just doesn’t make any sense to accelerate Bryant’s service clock in order to gain half a win in a season where the coin flip game is the likely best case scenario. The case for sending him down is even further strengthened given that his agent is Scott Boras. If Bryant turns into the player he is projected to be, then Boras is probably going to ask for ~$225 million in free agency. It would be crazy to not want to delay that, especially since Bryant will still be in his prime. Oh, and Boras does not do extensions because they result in less money. If he did, the Cubs probably would’ve already extended Bryant, not unlike what the Astros did with George Springer and Jon Singleton.

A quick aside on Boras: He is seemingly reviled among fans and front offices. I have to admit that I don’t have a good impression of him either. You have to remember, though, that Boras is an advocate for his clients. It’s not his job to be objective. His job is to get every last dollar he can for his clients. Baseball is a business. You don’t have to like it, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with what he does. Think of it this way: Wouldn’t you rather that as much money as possible goes to the players? The guys who actually provide us with the product we enjoy so much? Because if not them, then the money goes to the owners. They are far more replaceable than the players.

By starting Bryant in the minors they’re gaining an extra year of control and probably saving a bunch of money in the process. As much as we would all love to see Bryant make his major league debut on Sunday Night Baseball on April 5, the decision really is a no-brainer.

The problem isn’t the Cubs. The problem is the rule that makes it advantageous for the Cubs to make this decision. It’s worth revisiting next time the CBA is opened up, but creating a system that is fair to both sides is a lot easier said than done. Keith Law suggested a one year restricted free agency, similar to what the NBA has, for players with six years of service time who were called up on opening day. It’s not a bad idea, really, and it’s not like I have a better one. The problem is that it further complicates the system. At the end of the day, if there’s a loophole, somebody will exploit it.

I don’t blame Boras, Bryant, or Cubs fans for being unhappy with the situation. Heck, I’m unhappy with the situation. Bryant deserves to start the season with the big league club. You can bet that I’ll be firing up to tune into the Cubs when Bryant does make his debut. To his credit, Bryant has handled the situation with class and maturity. The one good thing that will come out of this is that it will make Bryant Super Two eligible, meaning that he can apply for arbitration one year earlier than normal. That’s one less year in which he’ll be forced to make the league minimum. If Bryant becomes the player we expect him to be, it’s going to be A LOT more than the league minimum, too.

Kris Bryant is a tremendous talent. It’s a shame that the current rules make it so that the Cubs are most benefited by starting him in the minors. In the end, Bryant will make his money. As for the fans, think of it as further building up the excitement for his debut.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, though, because they might be able to snatch a wild card slot this year. 
New York Mets Pitcher Zack Wheeler to Undergo Tommy John Surgery and Thoughts on the Tommy John Epidemic

New York Mets Pitcher Zack Wheeler to Undergo Tommy John Surgery and Thoughts on the Tommy John Epidemic

It was recently announced that New York Mets RHP Zack Wheeler will be undergoing Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2015 season. It’s sad news about the 24-year old who was starting to develop into the star he was projected to be.

Wheeler showed a significant amount of improvement in 2014. His fastball and curveball were always plus pitches, but his changeup had needed some work. He then succeeded in developing that into a plus pitch as well. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he also added a slider to his repertoire that’s at least plus. Although I believe that a pitcher should just focus on one type of breaking ball, Wheeler makes it work1. Four plus pitches can make you an ace.

Even though Wheeler was worth only 1.8 WAR last season, he showed significant improvement in multiple areas. He raised his strikeout rate by 4.1% to a good, solid 23.6 K%. His RA9 was slightly worse, but that’s likely due to some bad BABIP luck, which was .304 last season. More importantly, he lowered his 2013 4.17 FIP to a 3.55 FIP in 2014, thanks largely to that improvement in K% and keeping the ball in the park. Something that I found to be especially promising is that his groundball rate improved drastically from 43.2 GB% to 54 GB%2. The one thing that was holding him back from being a true ace is his control. His 10.7 BB% in 2013 was pretty bad, and it only improved slightly to 10.0 BB% in 2014. Obviously, it’s difficult to succeed when you’re allowing a lot of baserunners. Before news of the injury, ZiPS had projected for Wheeler to have a 2.4 WAR season. That being said, he probably had the upside of a 4-5 WAR season.

I felt terrible for Wheeler when I heard the news, but as a lifelong suffering Mets fan, I didn’t feel so bad for my team overall. The Mets have ridiculous pitching depth. Oh, and I’m not talking about Dillon Gee. He was a replacement level pitcher last year, and the year before that was his best season ever at just 1.1 WAR. He doesn’t walk people, but he doesn’t strike them out either. He’s home run prone as well, which is especially bad given that he pitches at Citi Field. I’m sorry my fellow Mets fans, but he’s just not good. Fortunately, we have pitchers coming up who are!

Noah Syndergaard is ready to go right now. He’ll probably be held down for a couple of weeks to push back his service clock (more on that in the next post), but missing a few starts won’t have a dramatic effect on the team. Although scouts have been divided on just how good LHP Steven Matz will be, he also has the potential to upgrade the rotation. Regardless of how long before Syndergaard is called up, Jon Niese and even Rafael Montero would be better replacements for Wheeler than Gee.

The Tommy John epidemic in the past year have had some people questioning the value of pitch counts. Some even say that the epidemic is the result of “babying” pitchers, since it used to be that pitchers were allowed to pitch on shorter rest and pitch in a game for as long as they were effective. The faulty reasoning continues by saying that back when the pitchers were allowed to throw without any pitch count restraints, you didn’t see them break left and right like we’re seeing now. Tom Seaver once made this argument, too. Forgive me for such blasphemy, my fellow Mets fans, but Seaver is wrong. This argument is guilty of the questionable cause logical fallacy, more specifically cum hoc ergo propter hoc, which is Latin for “with this, therefore because of this”.

The reason why this is a relatively recent phenomenon is because we didn’t used to have the medical advances that have allowed us to be able to fix damaged shoulders and elbows. As a result, when such a thing happened to a pitcher, he was done. Those pitchers are lost in history because they were either forgotten or never heard of in the first place. Who knows how many career would have been saved and prolonged had we known about pitch counts from the beginning.

Remember, generally speaking, pitching doesn’t damage arms. Pitching tired damages arms. Tired pitchers suffer breakdowns in mechanics that put more stress on the shoulder and elbow. Of course the eye test is important in determining the level of fatigue in a pitcher, but you can’t discredit the value of an objective measure like pitch counts. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not like pitchers started pitching once they reached the majors. They’ve likely been pitching since they were kids. Their little league and high school coaches may or may not have abused their arms, but it’s possible. It’s much more likely in the college game, however. It’s criminal how some college coaches use their pitchers. They have no qualm over sacrificing their pitchers’ future and earning potential. After all, the coach’s objective is to win games. If he destroys a pitcher in the process, it’s not his problem. It’s awful. The NCAA needs to give these pitchers some rights in order to protect them3.

Pitch counts work. They matter. They’re important. There’s good science to back this all up, and once science has confirmed something it’s no longer up for debate. The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) has made many great contributions to our understanding of how pitching affects the body and how to best prevent injuries. If you’re interested, I recommend checking their Tommy John Position Statement and Youth Baseball Position Statement. Those links have tons of references to publications in peer-reviewed journals if you want further evidence. They even have some thoughts on the Tommy John epidemic. Those links have tons of references to publications in peer-reviewed journals if you want further evidence.

Jeff Zimmerman wrote a great article for the Hardball Times a few months ago in which he analyzed disabled list data for 2014. He had a very interesting graph in it shown below.

Shoulder injuries are down from 7,000 days lost on the DL in 2008 to 3,000 days in 2014. That’s amazing. While I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of having to undergo Tommy John surgery, the fact of the matter is that it has a high success rate and pitchers can return to action in a year. Shoulder injuries, on the other hand, are career killers. The fact that they are on such a steep decline is great news.

Of course, it would be inappropriate to claim that the decline in shoulder injuries are all thanks to pitch counts. I’m sure that it’s a factor, but it’s not the only one. For the small percentage of pitchers who have had Tommy John, getting to take a year off likely did wonders for their shoulder health. Also, as Zimmerman noted in his article, shoulder conditioning has gotten better. The shoulder is a muscle, after all, so learning how to better strengthen it might lead to fewer injuries. More emphasis on good mechanics is a factor as well. ASMI even offers a biomechanical pitching evaluation for pitchers.

My best guess as to why we’re getting so many torn UCLs is that pitchers are throwing harder than ever. ASMI states in its Tommy John Position Statement that higher velocities lead to increased risk of injury. Another theory I have is that before we learned how to better take care of shoulders, all these pitchers who are tearing their UCLs would have injured their shoulder first. If the shoulder injury didn’t flat-out end their careers, it would’ve at least given the elbow time to rest and heal. Upon return, the rehabilitated shoulder might result in decreased velocities, which in turn would be better for the elbow. Again, I’m just speculating here.

Zack Wheeler’s injury is awful and I wish him the best in his recovery. However, because of the Mets absurd pitching depth, the team should be able to weather his loss. Pitch counts are not the culprit. In fact, it’s likely that everything we now know about how to keep pitchers healthy is what kept Wheeler from getting hurt sooner or more seriously.

  1. Clayton Kershaw also has two great breaking balls…but he’s Clayton Kershaw. 
  2. Those numbers do give you pause when you consider how poor the Mets infield defense is. Pitchers better hope a lot of balls are hit to David Wright. 
  3. I won’t hold my breath. The NCAA is the biggest joke of an organization. It’s a scam. A legalized cartel. It sees its “student-athletes” as dollar signs and nothing more. 
Kansas City Royals Likely to Regress in 2015

Kansas City Royals Likely to Regress in 2015

The defending American League champions had a season for the ages last year. They had their best record since 1985, and, coincidentally, made it to the playoffs for the first time since that year. They had an epic Wild Card game that will go down as an all-timer. Despite Ned Yost managing the game so poorly that you’d think he was a mole for the A’s, the Royals won in spectacular fashion. As I’m sure you know, Yost finally learned how to manage a bullpen, they then went on to sweep the ALDS and ALCS, and then came within one game of winning the World Series.

So how can a team that performed so well not be expected to perform similarly the following year? Well, they had a lot of luck last season. A lot of things broke their way. For one, they outperformed their pythagorean expectation by five wins, making them the third luckiest team in the majors last season. In other words, they won 89 games but should’ve only won 84. They just didn’t score a lot of runs. They ranked only 10th in the AL in offense with a .306 wOBA. They succeeded on the back of their elite bullpen (that Yost frequently mismanaged) and elite defense. As a result, the Royals may not have overperformed as much as the their pythagorean expectation indicates. On the other hand, that calculation does not take into account the manager.

The effects of a manager on his team’s record has never been conclusively proven. A good manager is said to add a couple of wins to his team, while a bad one will add a couple extra losses. I’ve even seen some people go as high as five extra losses for the worst of the worst managers. Sadly, Ned Yost fits that bill.

While I’m on the subject, I find it incredibly disturbing that Yost came in 3rd place in last season’s Manager of the Year voting. I’m even more disturbed that he came in 2nd in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance voting. That last one is especially disappointing, since I’ve been so happy with being part of a group that did a great job on all the other awards and the Hall of Fame voting. It just goes back to my point that the game of baseball does not lend itself to a coach of the year type award. I don’t understand how if a team overperforms, it is automatically concluded that it must have been because of the manager. Anybody paying attention to the Royals last year should be able to see that they won DESPITE Yost, not because of him. The excessive bunting, bullpen mismanagement, poor lineup constructions, not giving Salvador Pérez enough days off, and just general incompetence with in-game tactics easily lost the team 2-3 games. Easily. The argument can be made that it was even worse than that. It’s especially bad once you consider that the Royals lost the division by only one game.

I don’t think the Royals front office receives nearly enough criticism for allowing Yost to continually make bad decision after bad decision. Like with any place of work, when an employee is constantly performing poorly, it reflects badly on his manager. The team has a great analytics department too, and Yost must make those poor guys pull their hair out.

Yost should be fired. I don’t care how well the team has done the last couple of seasons because he clearly had nothing to do with that. It just doesn’t make any sense. We don’t do this with players. If a great team can cut a terrible player, then they do so. They don’t automatically assume that he must be worth keeping since the team did well.

I wish some GM would come along with the guts to change how the system works. I would love to see a GM fire a terrible manager coming off of a great season. Yes, it would be difficult to do, and the media and the industry would probably react harshly. But it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully some day that precedent will be set.

Ok, back to the Royals. They’ve always been a team that was built to win in the postseason, not the regular season. The defense and the bullpen work well when in the playoffs since there are so many off-days. They just don’t have the offense to be competitive in the regular season. Worse yet, their starting pitching and defense, as well as their offense, are all primed to take a step back this season.

Their defense is sure to still be excellent this season. Last year, by Fangraphs’ Defense metric, the Royals easily led all of baseball. Even then, they had regressed slightly from the year before. All the players on the team are now a year older as well. Defense is one of those things that peaks early and slowly diminishes. Still, I suspect that the defense will make a strong contribution, even if it’s not the same as the last couple of seasons.

It’s no secret that the starting rotation was dealt a blow by losing James Shields. However, Kris Medlen was a nice buy low candidate who ZiPS projects to be a solid 2.3 WAR pitcher in 2015. That projection should come with a grain of salt, though, because he is just coming off of Tommy John surgery.

The rest of the rotation looks okay. The Royals are really going to need Yordano Ventura to pitch like an ace, or at least a number two. Having a 98 MPH fourseam fastball is great, and it does have good late life, but as a result of his short stature, it lacks downward plane. A flat 98 MPH fastball is not the weapon that it appears to be. To paraphrase something Orel Hershiser once said, major league hitters can time a bullet. His sinker is only half a mile slower than his fourseamer, which is odd, but a good thing. According to Brooks Baseball, Ventura uses his sinker half as much as his fourseamer. A 97-98 MPH pitch with movement is devastating. He needs to use it more. A league average 20.1 K% is disappointing given his velocity. He also needs to further develop his control, as his career 8.9 BB% is on the high side.

Daniel Duffy, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie all project to be to be mediocre or better starting pitchers according ZiPS. The same cannot be said, however, about Edinson Volquez, the team’s free agent acquisition, who is projected to deliver only ~1 WAR. I really don’t understand the logic behind signing him. He was worth 1 WAR the last two seasons combined! He’s only ever had one season with more than 1.1 WAR, and that was in 2008. His 3.04 ERA last season is quite deceptive. First of all, when you include unearned runs, which you should always do, it adds half a run to his ERA, resulting in a 3.50 RA9. Furthermore, he benefited from a fluky .263 BABIP. His HR/FB was also 2.3% below his career rate. The Royals have an excellent analytics group, so either GM Dayton Moore didn’t consult them, or he ignored their advice. A 2-year, $20 million deal isn’t much money, but the Royals are not exactly flush with cash. They’re paying Volquez twice what he’s worth in both dollars and years.

The bullpen is still going to be awesome. ZiPS has the entire pen projected for 5 WAR this season. Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera are expected to regress slightly, which makes sense given the volatility of relievers. However, Holland has been fairly consistent for four seasons now, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he continued to be just as good. After all, he’s only 29 years old. Wade Davis, unfortunately is projected to have the biggest regression. Depending on the projection system, he is expected to have a 1-1.5 WAR season. That’s down from 3.1 WAR last year. As amazing as he was in 2014, he’s not going to turn in another season with a 1.00 RA9 and 0 HR. It’s not going to happen. His .264 BABIP is likely to regress as well.

The biggest problem with this team will be the offense. They were only 9th in runs scored per game in the AL last year. I don’t see that getting any better. Last season, of the players who amassed at least 500 PA, only three players were above average offensively: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Nori Aoki. Aoki was just barely above average and is no longer with the team anyway. Although Cain has always had high BABIPs, it’s not going to be .380 again. He’s projected to be a slightly below average hitter this upcoming season. Gordon and Eric Hosmer are the one players projected to hit above average according to ZiPS.

So what about the Royals free agent acquisitions, Kendrys Morales and Alex Ríos? I do not understand the reasoning behind signing them in the least. Perhaps the analytics department knows something that I don’t. Why on earth would you spend $28 million to sign two players that combined to come in below replacement level? They’re projected to bounce back, but if they deliver 2 WAR combined I’ll be surprised.

I was shocked that Morales got signed at all, let alone to a 2-year deal. He was one of the worst players in baseball last year. If he meets his projections he’ll be a league average hitter, but that’s not good enough for a DH, even for his relatively low AAV. Worse still, I would hesitate to put him at first even in emergency situations. He’s also among the worst baserunners in baseball. Ríos is projected to be a slightly below average hitter, but at least he can field a position. He wasn’t the defender he once was, and his glove doesn’t hold a candle to that of Gordon’s and Cain’s, but it’s serviceable.

Why didn’t the Royals just spend $2 million more and sign back Billy Butler? He is certain to bounce back this season and is likely to deliver the same amount of value as Morales and Ríos combined, with a much bigger upside too. Sure, they would’ve still needed a right fielder, but it would’ve been a better problem to have as opposed to overpaying two players to struggle to produce the same value as one average player.

This all highlights what a poor off-season the Royals had. I understand that they are a small market club, but after coming within one game of a World Series title, this was the year to spend money. Between Volquez, Morales, and Ríos, why spend $48 million on below average players who could be as bad as replacement level? Instead, they should’ve opened up their wallets and pay James Shields the $75 million that he got. It’s significantly more money, but they would’ve received much better value in return.

One last note on Salvador Pérez: Yost needs to give him more time off from catching. Now this is pure speculation on my part, but it’s entirely possible that the offensive deterioration he suffered in the second half last season was the result of being overworked. It wasn’t a small drop off either. He had an enormous 78 point drop in wOBA going from the 1st half to the 2nd half. Even if that was just the result of randomness, he is certain to get hurt if Yost keeps pushing him this hard. The Royals cannot afford to break Pérez.

I am sincerely very happy for Royals fans for getting to enjoy such a special season last year1. It was a blast watching them in the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that a lot of things broke right for them for that to happen. Unfortunately, even had they made better moves this off-season, they’d still be primed for regression.

  1. Hopefully my Mets can do the same for me some day! 

Baseball Reactions: Pace of Play, Clubhouse Chemistry, Leadership, and Jason Giambi’s Retirement

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. In case you’ve forgotten, this is a post I do when I want to cover a multiple topics that are not sufficient enough for its own post. It’s called “Reactions” because I’m a chemist. Yes, I thought of that all by myself.

Pace of Play

MLB did something proactive, and I can’t believe that I’m saying that, by enacting rules to improve the pace of play in baseball. I believe that it’s a necessary step, especially if the game wants to attract a younger audience that finds baseball “boring”.

Nowadays, games average roughly 3 hours, except for Red Sox/Yankees games which average 3 days. In 1981, games averaged closer to 2.5 hours. Part of the reason for the games getting longer has to do with longer breaks for commercials, which of course MLB will never do anything about since it would cost them money. Some might also point to how hitters have become more patient or passive and how that could be adding time to the game. Hitters have learned the value of working the count and drawing walks. Baseball Prospectus’ Russell A. Carleton showed that this doesn’t actually make the average game significantly longer, and even if that wasn’t the case, you can’t force hitters to swing.

More recently, Carleton wrote a piece for Fox Baseball’s new microsite, Just A Bit Outside (JABO)1, back in August to discuss the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“If baseball really wanted to shorten games, it could take a few of the steps above. Eliminate social mound visits (or limit to one). Eliminate mid-inning pitching changes (or limit to one). Eliminate instant replay. Implement even a modest pitch clock (although good luck getting the players union to agree to that!) Allowing for the fact that some of the rule changes would spawn some workarounds, you might save 20 minutes off the average game.”

Obviously, that’s not much time off of a three-hour game. He did seem to touch upon it in his piece, but unless I’m misunderstanding him, I believe that Dr. Carleton is missing the point. Now I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man since he’s a great baseball writer, has an advanced understanding of statistical analysis, and is the only writer I know of that can credibly write about the psychology of baseball. He has a Ph.D. in psychology. His expertise in the subject makes it especially surprising that he didn’t seem to understand that the pace of play problem doesn’t come from the extra time that games have gained, but the perception of how quickly the game is moving. If the game seems like it’s moving slowly, then it doesn’t really matter how long it’s actually taking. As Dr. Carleton touched upon in his piece, nobody complains about the pace of play in a three-hour NFL, NBA2, or NHL game. Action is constantly happening. In baseball, on the other hand, there is constant waiting. We wait for the pitcher to throw the ball. We wait for the hitter to get back in the box because for some reason he needs to go for a walk and adjust his gloves between each pitch.

The rule changes are an attempt to make the game move faster. The length of the game doesn’t matter nearly as much as the perception of how quickly it moves. There are people who don’t mind the game the way it is, and that’s fine. I’d be ok if nothing ever changed, but I am in favor of a quicker pace. It’s interesting because I do feel that the game can drag when I’m watching it on TV. When I’m watching it live, however, there’s just something so exciting about being there that I don’t care how quickly the game is moving.

The problem is that this is not how the younger generation views the game. In an age of video games, tablets, smartphones, etc., kids are developing shorter attention spans. Heck, I’m over 30 years old and I feel like all that technology has had a similar effect on me. The game is stronger than it has ever been, and I’m not really worried about its future. That being said, appealing to a younger generation by quickening the game can only help.

The new rule changes are discussed here. The timer that will be used to make sure that game resumes promptly after a commercial break will be the most effective. I’m also in favor of requiring managers to challenge plays from the dugout. We all saw they tried to game the system in the first year of replay last season. They would slowly walk out onto the field and stall while the bench coach was on the phone with somebody reviewing the replay in order to advise whether or not the manager should challenge. It wasted time. It also, I believe, flew in the face of the spirit of the system, which intended for a manager to immediately challenge a disagreeable call, just like they always did, only now they’d actually have a chance to win the argument.

The rule requiring hitters to stay in the batters box unless an “exception” occurs, such as hitting fouls, time being granted by the umpire, and wild pitches, is going to be problematic. There’s too much subjectivity involved in when an exception occurs. There’s going to be a lot of arguments from hitters, especially since the exceptions are unlikely to be consistent from umpire to umpire. Worse still, there are no in-game penalties. It will be handled similarly to how the NBA handles flopping. You get a warning and then you start getting fined. Eventually, suspensions will occur.

I’m completely in favor of keeping hitters in the box because it’s ridiculous for them to step out after each pitch. Hitters did just fine without having to do that for well over a hundred years. It’s an unnecessary waste of time. I understand that it’s a comfort thing, but let’s be realistic here. Staying in the box isn’t going to turn a 50 hitter into a 20 hitter, or even a 45 hitter. They’ll all learn to adjust. Unfortunately, the only way to successfully enforce this new rule consistently and fairly is to call a strike whenever a hitter steps out of the box for no reason. The players union will never approve that.

David Ortiz certainly disagrees, which is obvious to anybody who has ever seen his plate appearances. He claimed that hitters need to step out of the box so that they have time to contemplate what the next pitch could be. Well, the pitchers have just as much time to come up with their next pitch as the hitters do to guess it. It’s like I already said, it won’t change who you are as a hitter. It’s impossible to succeed at the major league level without the ability to make adjustments. This is just another adjustment that hitters will have to make.

Ortiz was definitely right about one thing: There was nothing mentioned about pitchers having to speed up how often they throw the ball, and that is indeed unfair. Hitters may have to stay in the box, but pitchers can hang on to the ball as long as they would like. There is in fact already a rule in place to cover that. If a pitcher doesn’t throw the ball within 12 seconds of getting it back from the catcher, the umpire will call a ball. That only applies if there is nobody on base. That is an official rule. Of course, umpires have never had the guts to enforce the rule. As far as I know, MLB made no mention of it. Perhaps if they had the courage to enforce the rule that’s already on the books, the pace of play may never have been a problem in the first place.

The new rules also do nothing to address the biggest problem. MLB continues to insist on long commercial breaks. I’m not aware of how much say the players’ union (MLBPA) had in the new pace of play rules, but I cannot believe they let the league pass these rule without some sort of concession on commercial breaks. It’s a further indictment on how weak the MLBPA has gotten. Why should the players have to make all the concessions on improving pace of play? The MLBPA should’ve fought tooth and nail against any rule of these rule changes without MLB enacting some change on their end as well. If I were the head of the MLBPA, I’d demand that the league cuts 30 to 60 seconds off of each commercial break or give the players a chunk of the revenue that is earned during the extra commercials. Without those concessions, I would not agree to a single rule change with regard to pace of play.

On a side note, the current CBA ends December 1, 2016. It’s too early for me to be afraid of a lockout. What I am afraid of, though, is that given how weak the MLBPA has grown in recent years, the players are going to get killed in the new negotiations.

That Old Clubhouse Chemistry Thing

Now that spring training has started, the beat writers have started spinning their narratives. There isn’t much to write about right now, so writers go for the low-hanging fruit. They go for the kinds of things that don’t require any kind of proof, analysis, or brain power to write about: Clubhouse chemistry and leadership. For example, one writer fabricated a narrative about the Baltimore Orioles’ clubhouse chemistry and then criticized sabermetrics because it can’t quantify it. The writers out there who are actually intelligent enough to see through his nonsense called him out on it. He believed that his subjective perceptions were sufficient proof that the Orioles have good chemistry, and responded to challenges of his baseless claim by failing to address the argument or misrepresenting it altogether. In other words, he responded with worthless anecdotal information and strawmen.

Contrary to that writer’s beliefs, no analytical writer has ever conclusively stated that there is no value in clubhouse chemistry. I, myself, find it plausible. When asked to provide evidence that even one sabermetrician completely dismissed the idea of the value of clubhouse chemistry, he completely failed to do so. Instead, he kept firing off the strawmen arguments, as if anybody with a half a brain couldn’t see right through what he was doing.

The writer’s cheap shot at the analytical community stated that sabermetrics fails as a result of not being able to measure the value of chemistry. Little did he realize that he was just demonstrating his own lack of understanding of how logic and rational thinking work. Quite frankly, I do not believe that he cares, just as long as he can keep peddling his unverifiable claims and pandering to his readers. The reason why the sabermetric community ignores clubhouse chemistry is because it is far too subjective and nebulous to evaluate. If you want any intelligent, logical, critical thinking person to take clubhouse chemistry more seriously, then you need to provide objective evidence that proves the state of a clubhouse and exactly how it affects the team’s record.

Truth be told, that’s probably impossible. Too bad. That’s why rational people don’t make claims that they can’t defend. The fact of the matter is that currently the value of clubhouse chemistry is completely arbitrary. Completely. Arbitrary. Yet, those like the unnamed writer expect their subjective perceptions to be taken as facts. That’s either incredibly foolish, or incredibly arrogant. No rational person takes a completely arbitrary assessment seriously. He has no evidence that the Orioles will have good chemistry this season, nor does he have any evidence that it will result in extra games won.

A year ago (on my birthday, ironically), ESPN came out with an article that purported to be able to quantify team chemistry. It was an abomination. First of all, the methodology used was hidden under the cloak of proprietary secrets. Sabermetric fans love advanced stats, but only when they’re done correctly and opened up for peer review. Sometimes, like with projections systems, that can’t be done for business reasons. Perhaps it was intended for this methodology to make money, but I highly doubt it has or will. Without access to how the methodology was derived, we were just left with some of the assumptions that were made, which were terrible. You can read a good criticism of the article here.

Back to the Orioles, they are likely not to be very good this season, so if that turns out to be true, the writer is almost certain to then move the goalposts to save face. If they do succeed, he’ll claim to have been right all along, which is really just post hoc crap. Moreover, clubhouse chemistry “analysis” is frequently done post hoc. It’s all just spinning an argument to fit the narrative that whatever writer wants to make up.

Don’t believe me? You could just as easily make the case that clubhouse chemistry is detrimental to team success. It can be argued that it’s a distraction that takes the players’ focus away from their game preparations. If the players didn’t like each other, you could say that it would allow them to perform better as a result of being better able to focus on making themselves better, instead of goofing off or joking around or whatever it is that good clubhouses do that bad ones don’t. That’s certainly not romantic nor heart-warming enough to make a good narrative, but think about it. I mean really think about it. Doesn’t that sound plausible? I have just as much evidence to support that theory as everyone else does to support the belief that clubhouse chemistry makes a team better.

I am not saying that I do not enjoy a team with good chemistry. I thought the Red Sox beard thing in 2013 was a lot of fun. I am also not saying that I believe what I wrote above about good clubhouse chemistry being a bad thing. What I’m saying is that there’s no evidence that clubhouse chemistry affects a team’s overall record. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody.

Joey Votto Rants About Leadership

Joey Votto as been shown to be one of the most rational, logical, analytically minded players in baseball. I’m not sure that he has the personality to be a great TV analyst, but he certainly has the brains for it. His intelligence and objectivity has led him to be just as sick of the media’s team leadership talk as any other critical thinker out there3. You can read about it here. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here are a few snippets:

“The thing that upsets me most is the people who are talking about leadership and our clubhouse are not in clubhouse. They’re not consistently here to make any sort of comment on the clubhouse. These are guys who very rarely show their face in the clubhouse. They’re never on the bus, not in the hotel, certainly not on the field. These guys are constantly commenting about the importance of leadership with no sort of experience to be able to have that conversation. They don’t see the interaction. They don’t see the bench. They’re going to write and talk endlessly about something they have no information on. And, to me, that’s doing a disservice to this team. It’s doing a disservice to the front office, the coaching staff. I think it’s highly, highly convenient because we lost last year to highlight that.

“We win this year, all of a sudden there’s going to be a leader on the team or a group of leaders, and so and so did this or so and so did that, we win and all of a sudden everything changes… Leadership is one of the things people have been pointing out. I don’t think it’s objective.

“You don’t need one focal point, we don’t need rah-rah, we don’t need everyone to be slapped on the [butt] and patted on the back, because we’re not that group of guys. None of these guys need to be motivated to be at their very best.”

If I had been there when Votto said this, I would have stood up and applauded him. I wish I could say for sure that he was saying what every major leaguer thinks, but he has always seemed to have a unique way of looking at the game. His objectivity is refreshing coming from a player. Votto made a few great points here that I’ll break down.

First, like clubhouse chemistry, the quality of leadership is frequently done post hoc. It’s an especially popular topic when a team underperforms or overperforms. Last season, the Reds underperformed, so the lazy-minded, narrative hungry writers out there apparently blamed it on a lack of leadership. It’s a much more controversial and juicy narrative than what really happened, which was injuries. But nobody is going to click on a boring article about injuries when they can read about a fabricated narrative surrounding the Reds lack of leadership, right?

What’s more, as Votto pointed out, it’s common for those who are critical of the leadership to not have the access to the team that is required to make such an assessment. Obviously the beat writers are the ones that have the most access to the team. I doubt that even they have enough access to accurately assess the quality of leadership in the clubhouse. How many team meetings and conversations among teammates are they privy to? Moreover, as Votto said, it’s difficult to trust their objectivity. Is what they’re observing real, or are they just seeing what they want to see for the narrative?

Further to Votto’s point, the overvaluation of leadership is, quite frankly, insulting. Front offices work so hard in putting their teams together, and coaches put in so much work training and managing the players, and players do everything they can to prepare for games and be the best that they can be. To say that a team succeeded or failed because they did or didn’t have a player to offer encouragement and advice to others is trivializing the game of baseball to an offensive level. Talent and luck win baseball games. Nothing else.

It’s the job of the manager and his coaches to lead, not the players. I’ve harped on this before. If a player wants to take up that mantle, then fine, but it’s not his job. As to Votto’s last point, while I find its benefits plausible, I don’t see why players need to be motivating each other. If all the pressure and money involved in being a major league baseball player aren’t enough to motivate you, then I doubt that a teammate will make the difference.

Finally, just like with clubhouse chemistry, there is no evidence that a player’s leadership adds any wins to the team’s record. Until somebody proves differently (and good luck with that), the value of leadership is totally a media fabrication. Just analyze and evaluate what happens on the field. After all, what happens on the field is why we watch baseball, right?

Jason Giambi Officially Retires

Jason Giambi officially called it quits on a great career that sadly, at least in the media’s eyes, was marred by steroid usage. He wasn’t crucified quite as much as other users, likely because he came clean. To my knowledge, he has publicly apologized at least twice for his steroid usage. While I personally don’t care that he used steroids, because there’s no evidence that it enhances baseball performance, I do applaud him for publicly acknowledging it and apologizing. I’m sure Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez wished that they had done the same thing. Lying and covering up the mistake always makes things worse.

Giambi added a surprising amount of length to his career as a part-time player, not unlike Jim Thome. Unlike Thome, however, he has not had a Hall of Fame career. Of course he has no chance of getting in as a result of the steroids, but his performance doesn’t merit it anyway.

For his career, Giambi hit .277/.399/.516 with a 140 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. That offense looks great, but it came during one of the highest offensive eras in baseball history. A 140 wRC+ just isn’t that great for a player whose primary position was first base. He also was a below average runner and a poor defender. That all adds up to a great player, but not a Hall of Famer.

  1. An obvious homage to Bob Ueker’s famous line in “Major League”. 
  2. Well, they do if the NBA game is close near the end, because those last 90 seconds or so can take forever as a result of constant time-outs. 
  3. Ok, Ok, I’m sure defending his team had something to do with it too. 
Boston Red Sox Sign Cuban Prospect Yoan Moncada. Now Primed to Go After Cole Hamels.

Boston Red Sox Sign Cuban Prospect Yoan Moncada. Now Primed to Go After Cole Hamels.

The Boston Red Sox have announced that Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada has agreed to sign with them for a $31.5 million bonus. It’s a new record for a bonus given to an international amateur. In fact, it’s about four times the amount that the Pirates gave Gerrit Cole in the 2011 draft, whose $8 million bonus is the highest ever for a drafted player. Because the Red Sox have exceeded their allotment of international bonus money, they have to pay a whopping 100% tax on the bonus money. In other words, Moncada cost the Sox $63 million. In addition, the team will not be allowed to sign an international amateur free agent for two years unless it’s for $300,000 or less.

It seems like a lot of money, but money is an abundant resource in the game today, especially for the Boston Red Sox. The organization clearly understood this, and decided to use their riches to exploit the international amateur free agent system. Talent is a much scarcer commodity than money. It was another smart move by a smart organization. Better still, acquiring Moncada means that their arch rivals in the Bronx can’t. The Yankees really needed him, too.

When rumors were flying concerning Moncada, I was surprised that the Red Sox were involved. They had already spent a few hundred million dollars on Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramírez. Not only did they not have any holes to fill with regard to position players, they actually had tremendous depth. Just where on earth did they intend to play Moncada?

Well, the fact of the matter is that Moncada is a prospect. He’s only 19 years old, and it is expected that he’ll start out in A ball. As of now, he’s at least 1 to 1.5 years away from making it to the majors. That gives the Red Sox plenty of time to figure out what to do with him. One thing that’s for sure is that scouts don’t believe that Moncada will stick at shortstop because he has gotten too big. That suits the Red Sox just fine because they have Xander Bogaerts. He may just be a fringe average defender at short, but at least he can handle the position. Despite the fact that ZiPS projects Bogaerts to be a 2.3 WAR player this upcoming season, I’m optimistic that he can bounce back and post a high OBP like he did before the Stephen Drew signing. Back to Moncada, his bat is likely to profile anywhere on the field, though obviously you want to put him as high on the defensive spectrum as you can in order to extract the most value possible.

One possibility is to let Mike Napoli walk after this season, move Pablo Sandoval to first base, and have Yoan Moncada play third. He’d likely be an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Sandoval, but it would be awfully early in Sandoval’s contract to be moving him. The Sox would also lose a lot of value as well since Sandoval doesn’t have the bat to play at first. Of course, that’s a sunk cost to a certain extent, and if that’s the best decision they can make for the team, then they should do it. That being said, I don’t believe that will end up happening.

Acquiring Moncada gives the Red Sox extra depth that they can leverage in order to acquire Cole Hamels. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been receiving some criticism over not having traded Hamels yet. If the rumors about what he’s asking for in return are true, then it’s at least partially fair. I only say partially even then because Amaro has to NAIL this trade. The Phillies future is hanging on it. Their present team sucks and their farm system is in bad shape. Word has it that Amaro is looking for the acquiring team to cover all or most of Hamels remaining contract, as well as a top-tier prospect. Now asking for an A-level prospect and one or two B-level prospects is exactly what Amaro needs to request. However, also demanding that the trade partner also cover at least most of Hamels contract is a grossly poor assessment of his value. If that’s really what the Phillies are asking for, then it’s no wonder that Hamels hasn’t gotten traded yet.

This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s likely that Amaro wants to be able to eat more money on Hamels’ contract, but his superiors won’t let him. That’s a shame. It’s no secret that the Phillies organization is one of the worst run teams in the league. When A.J. Burnett was willing to take a $4 million pay cut to join another team, that speaks volumes.

One way in which the Phillies fail just as much as any other team is with the concept of sunk costs. Teams will force themselves to play inadequate players who are making too much money because they’re making too much money to not play. Prime examples of this are Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez. You have to pay the player no matter what, so you can either pay him to hurt the team by playing him, or pay him to not hurt the team by getting rid of him. We need to see what A-Rod has left, but Ryan Howard is done. He was a sub-replacement level player last season. He’s now a platoon DH on a team that obviously can’t DH him. A player like that could be useful if he was making the veterans minimum, but he’s making $25 million. If I were a GM, Amaro would have to offer to pay at least 90% of his salary and request only one or two low-level prospects for me to even think about trading for Howard. If the Phillies aren’t willing to eat much money on Hamels’ contract, then a Howard trade is never going to happen. Honestly, it’s not even that big of a deal for the Phillies. Howard isn’t blocking any prospects and the team is going to be terrible. In fact, it’s probably in the team’s best interests to tank this season. Howard can certainly be a big help there.

Back to Hamels, there’s no use in paying an ace on a team that could win less than 70 games. The Phillies not only need to understand the concept of sunk costs, they also need to understand another point that I made earlier: Talent is a much scarcer commodity in today’s game than money. The Phillies also happen to be a high revenue team. The only way they are going to get a team to take on most of that contract is if they only get some lower level prospects in return. That isn’t going to do anything to help the team’s future. Now you may be saying that the Phillies could use the ~$75 million they’d save and use it on a free agent. At best, that would only get a second-tier free agent, something like a 3 WAR player. It would be a far greater benefit to the team to eat half of Hamels’ salary or more, and in return receive a package of prospects that will produce at multiple positions for dirt cheap. Treat the money like a sunk cost and the organization will get the trade that will help the team the most. It may sound like hyperbole, but the future of the franchise depends on the outcome of this trade.

The Red Sox and Phillies have had talks before regarding Hamels. I’m sure that Amaro is asking for a package that consists of at least one of the following players: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart1. That’s completely fair, too. I’d ask for the same thing. However, if I’m the Red Sox, I don’t even consider parting with one of those players unless the Phillies cover at least half of Hamels’ contract. If the Phillies are willing to cover 75% or more, then adding Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodríguez would be fair. Throw in one or two more lower level prospects, again depending on how much money the Phillies are willing to eat, and you’ve got a fair trade for both sides.

As far as which one of the Bogaerts, Betts, and Swihart trio they should part with…ugh…what a difficult choice. I’d say that Swihart is untouchable since he’s a catcher, which also frees up Christian Vázquez to be traded. He’s cheap and he’s an excellent catcher who is qualified to be somebody’s everyday backstop. There’s a lot of value there. With Bogaerts’ coming off of a disappointing year, I’m more optimistic in Betts’ upside. I’d hate to see Bogaerts leave, but he’s probably the best choice. It’s just tough to say goodbye to a potential high OBP player at shortstop. He’ll probably end up moving to third base on the Phillies eventually just because they have a great shortstop prospect in J.P. Crawford coming up.

The downside with trading Bogaerts is that it would leave the Sox without a shortstop. They do have one in their system named Deven Marrero, but he’s at least a year away. Even then, he’s excellent defensively, but there are huge question marks as to whether or not he can hit. They could try putting Hanley Ramírez back at short, but at this point he’s a butcher at the position. Dustin Pedroia doesn’t have the arm for it, and I wouldn’t want to mess with the best defensive second baseman in baseball anyway. I’m curious as to whether or not Mookie Betts could handle it. He was supposed to be a plus defender at second. I just can’t say for sure without some input from a scout.

The Red Sox made what was on the surface, a peculiar signing. However, it kept Moncada away from the competition, espcially the Yankees, and strengthens what is already one of the best farm systems in baseball. This puts the Sox in a better position to trade a blue-chipper in exchange for Cole Hamels, an ace that they could really use. If the Phillies organization smartens up, they can use this to bolster their farm system and put the team in position to contend again in a few years instead of several years. The clock is ticking, though, and each day that passes diminishes Hamels’ value. They need to act soon.

  1. I’m sure that you could throw Moncada into that group, but I’m not sure that the rules permit him to be traded so soon. I know for a fact that in the regular draft, you cannot trade a player until one calendar year after he signs. That’s why Trea Turner is still part of the Padres organization. I’m not sure if that rule extends to international amateurs. 
Alex Rodriguez Does Not Owe Anybody an Apology

Alex Rodriguez Does Not Owe Anybody an Apology

Today, Alex Rodriguez released a hand-written note apologizing to Yankee fans for his mistakes. He is also scheduled to hold a press conference some time at Yankee Stadium in order to apologize further to the press and to the public.

It’s all completely meaningless and I couldn’t possibly care less.

It’s not because I don’t believe the apology is genuine. I don’t care if it is or not. It’s because he owes nobody an apology. Maybe he does to the Yankees for upsetting his employer and being a distraction, but his actions saved them $25 million in salary last season for what would’ve likely been a ~1 WAR level of production.

If you think that a baseball player owes you an apology for anything, then you’re completely delusional and think way too highly of yourself. Furthermore, no apology made would be likely to satisfy you.

Before I go any further, let me be clear in saying that I am not an A-Rod fan. I’ve never liked the guy. He makes idiotic decisions, cares way too much about what people think of him, and completely lacks any kind of self-awareness. I’m also a life long Yankee hater, though I’ve never let that get in the way of objectively analyzing them. If I feel like my biases are clouding my analysis, then I don’t write it.

How I feel about A-Rod personally has absolutely no bearing on the quality of his baseball career. Yes, he made his own mess, but that doesn’t justify how unfairly he’s been treated by the media and the fans. If Derek Jeter had been suspended for a year as a result of steroid use, he would’ve been immediately forgiven and welcomed back with open arms, especially if it had happened during his prime.

A-Rod’s biggest crime was being foolish enough to believe that steroids enhance baseball performance. As I’ve said time and time again, there is absolutely, positively no evidence that steroid use enhances on-field performance. Everything we know about how steroid use affects baseball performance is anecdotal, and anecdotal information doesn’t prove anything. That’s not how science and logic work. All the sanctimonious writers and fans out there who believe otherwise are completely guilty of intellectual dishonesty. If you insist on disagreeing, then fine, you can believe whatever you want. Just don’t expect any logical, critical thinking person to agree with you without actual evidence1.

For all the judgment and sanctimony that comes from so many out there, I don’t doubt for one second that 99% of those people would’ve done the same thing if it meant they could make over a quarter of a billion dollars.

A lazy, simple mind accepts an easy answer and calls it a day without looking for alternate explanations. Since Joe Sheehan is neither delusional nor a simpleton, he did just that, and found an explanation that does a far better job of plausibly answering where all the extra offense in the “steroid” era came from. I linked to it in my fake Hall of Fame ballot, and it’s a must read for all baseball fans here. In short, the extra offense was the result of higher contact rates, a smaller strike zone, and expansion teams. Players were hitting for just as much power as they always had, it just looked like more because they were doing a better job of making contact. A smaller strike zone will do that.

I would not be surprised at all if MLB knew this. They used steroids as a red herring, and everyone who chooses not to exercise their critical thinking skills has fallen for it. They’ve been able to paint themselves as heroes for cracking down on the problem and being able to say that their testing protocols solved it, even though that had nothing to do with the decrease in offense. It has resulted in MLB being able to weaken the most powerful union in sports because players have less trust in each other than ever. The public has even less trust in them. If the public wants to believe that a player is on steroids, no amount of negative tests are going to change their minds.

The latest A-Rod scandal has worked out especially well for MLB’s attempts to weaken the union. The Biogenesis scandal was a blow to players, not just because of the bad publicity, but because of how the MLBPA failed Alex Rodriguez. They completely hung him out to dry just because they don’t like him. Well, sorry, but player rights extend to ALL of its members, not just the popular ones. By screwing him over, they ended up setting a dangerous precedent. What happens if a popular player gets accused of something equally as egregious? What if it’s David Wright? Or Mike Trout? Or Andrew McCutchen? Or Clayton Kershaw? Whoever arbitrates the case will look at what happened to A-Rod in deciding how to rule, and since the MLBPA didn’t exactly represent him zealously, the next player is going to receive the same draconian punishment.

Alex Rodriguez is easily a top ten all time position player, and the argument can be made that he’s top five. For his career, he hit .299/.384/.558 with a 143 wRC+ and 116 WAR. Oh, and he also hit 654 HR. He also stole 322 bases, was a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, and at least a plus defender at 3rd. That’s an all-timer right there, folks. Yet, he’s doomed to join Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the outside of Cooperstown because of sanctimonious voters who refuse to get off of their high horse and look at the facts. They’ll vote in racists and alcoholics and wife-beaters, and even admitted cheaters and amphetamine users, but heaven forbid if somebody was caught using a drug that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. WON’T ANYBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

As for A-Rod supposedly choking during the playoffs…I don’t know where that comes from. Besides the fact that players being able to perform better in high leverage situations is a myth, he has a career .361 wOBA in the post season. That’s excellent. Oh, and what about Derek Jeter’s clutchy clutchness that makes him magic in the playoffs? He has a .366 wOBA in the playoffs. That’s barely higher than A-Rod’s, though to be fair he also played in twice the number of playoff games.

What I really find unbelievable is that the Yankees hate A-Rod and are forcing him to publicly apologize, but they’re going to retire Andy Pettitte’s number. He is an admitted HGH user, and that’s just what we know for a fact. It’s so hypocritical. A-Rod is one of the greatest Yankees of all time, which is saying a lot, but he’s never going to get his number retired.

If I were A-Rod, I would have never written that letter. Anybody who thinks they deserve an apology is not going to accept it, and anybody else, like me, doesn’t care. His press conference at Yankee Stadium is going to be a gigantic waste of time. People are going to ask stupid questions and he’ll reply with meaningless answers. The following is what I hope he says in his statement, even though he obviously won’t.

“I, Alex Rodriguez, am sorry.

I’m sorry for being by far the greatest 3rd baseman in Yankee history.

I’m sorry for hitting .291/.386/.534 and 309 HR during my time as a Yankee.

I’m sorry for winning two MVPs.

I’m sorry for carrying the team through the first two rounds of the 2009 playoffs on the way to a World Series championship.

I’m sorry for helping to deliver the best attendance in Yankee history.

I’m sorry for selflessly giving up the chance to be the undisputed greatest shortstop of all time by voluntarily moving over to 3rd base because my employer didn’t have the guts to tell their Legend to make the move instead, even though I was an excellent defensive shortstop and he should’ve been moved off the position long before I showed up.

I’m sorry for having the 6th highest WAR in all of baseball since I joined the Yankees.

I’m sorry for having the highest WAR of any player on the Yankees since I joined, and by 12 wins too.

I’m sorry that, unlike your former shortstop, I actually hit for power and fielded my position competently.

I’m sorry for being a scapegoat and being railroaded by a league that used grossly unethical tactics in their investigation that would’ve resulted in serious consequences had they been done by an actual local or federal law enforcement agency.

I’m sorry that my actions resulted in the Yankees saving $25 million on my contract last season. I’m sure they were devastated.

I’m sorry that the Yankees gave a 32-year old player a 10-year, $275 million deal. Oh wait! No I’m not! That’s their own fault! They CHOSE to do that! I didn’t force them! I could’ve been somebody else’s problem but nooooooo the New York Yankees had to have the best player in baseball no matter what the cost! They have nobody to blame but themselves for entering into a 10-year deal that began to be an overpay in year two!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go show up for spring training early. I know what the Yankees said and I don’t care. I’m a member of the team so they can’t stop me. If they don’t like it, they can cut me and pay every single cent of the $61 million they still owe me.”

I’m not an A-Rod fan whatsoever, but if he said something like that, he’d be my hero for life.

  1. If you choose to respond to this post by saying that steroid users are cheating cheaters who cheated and steroids do enhance baseball performance because… you know… c’mon, then I will completely ignore you. I try to refrain from arguing with irrational people. If you think steroids truly enhance baseball performance, then please provide me with an objective study in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal that irrefutably proves your claims. Anything else is crap. 
San Diego Padres Add James Shields, Reload for 2015

San Diego Padres Add James Shields, Reload for 2015

It was announced today that James Shields finally found a team to join. The San Diego Padres signed Shields to a 4-year, $75 million deal. Believe it or not, it’s the richest contract that the Padres have ever given out. This move is the latest in a slew of off-season moves for the Padres. They’ve revamped their roster in an attempt to contend with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West.

Going into this off-season, I viewed Shields as free agent kryptonite. I suspected that he would sign in the range of 6 or 7 years for $110-120 million. That’s too many years and too much money for a 33-year-old pitcher who is not an ace. He’s at best a low number two. It seems like front offices agreed with me because Shields didn’t sign until less than two weeks before spring training. It’s likely that he was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of what I just mentioned, but nobody would give it to him. As a result, he received a contract that is of fair value for what he can offer. Shields is a durable, consistent pitcher who should provide a good return despite the fact that he’ll be 36 years old during the last year of the deal.

This is a good example of the value of waiting out the market. If you’re looking for the best free agent, period, and money is no object, then by all means act quickly. If, however, you’re looking for value, then it’s best to let things play out. The Padres exercised patience and were rewarded for it.

Depending on the projection system, Shields is projected to be a 3-4 WAR pitcher in 2015. His flyball/line drive tendencies will fit in beautifully in spacious Petco Park. Unfortunately, he will be backed by one of the worst outfield defenses we’ve seen in a long time (more on that shortly). In fact, the defense in the infield isn’t that great either. It’s a drastic turnaround from the elite defenses he played in front of in Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Shields will also be pitching to inferior catchers. In Kansas City, Shields had the luxury of pitching to one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, Salvador Pérez. Derek Norris will likely be the starting catcher. He’s a below average defensive catcher who can’t throw anybody out. His backup, Tim Federowicz, is better defensively and is excellent at throwing out baserunners, so there’s that at least. Neither one of them add any value through pitch framing, though surprisingly, Pérez has always been a poor pitch framer.

Overall, James Shields will be fine in San Diego and should be effective. He’s just going to have to get used to all the extra base hits his defense will allow, which obviously won’t be his fault. He hasn’t shown any dips in velocity either. He is arguably the best player on the team now. He should be a 2-3 win upgrade over whoever it is that he’s booting out of the rotation.

Let’s take a closer look at the Padres team in order to evaluate their new look, and also to see how we can expect the team to compete with the Dodgers and Giants. To see how ZiPS evaluates the entire team, click here.

Since we were just discussing him, let’s return to Norris. ZiPS projects him to hit .237/.334/.380 this upcoming season. That’s good for a catcher, but he suffers from huge platoon splits. For his career, he has a .375 wOBA against lefties and a .282 wOBA against righties. That being said, his platoon splits suffer from small sample size as a result of having played only 285 games so far. It’s likely that he’s better against righties than his track record has shown, maybe even league average. As for Federowicz, well, he plain just can’t hit.

The rest of the infield looks rather unimpressive. Clint Barmes is a great defensive shortstop, and by far the best defender on the entire team, but he can’t hit either, which is why the Pirates let him go. He’ll struggle to be above replacement level. Jedd Gyorko should bounce back from an injury plagued 2014 in which he suffered from a .253 BABIP. Yonder Alonso also suffered from injuries and a low BABIP. Gyorko will likely be a league average 2nd baseman in 2015. Alonso is projected to be slightly above average offensively, but that’s not good enough for the high offensive bar at first base. He fields his position well, but neither ZiPS nor Steamer project him to be a league average player in 2015.

I was expecting Will Middlebrooks to be the starting 3rd baseman, and he still might be, but after taking a closer look, Yangervis Solarte might actually be the better option. When you take a close look at them, they’re basically the same player. However, Middlebrooks just cannot stay on the field. They’re both below average hitters who are, at best, mediocre defenders. ZiPS actually does have Solarte as a 2 WAR player in 2015 if he can get enough plate appearances.

The outfield is by far the most interesting of the Padres position players, all of whom were acquired via trade during the off-season. I already discussed Matt Kemp in an update to my Dodgers piece. In short, his hip problems give me serious reservations about his future. You need your hips to hit for power and to run around the outfield. ZiPS is projecting him to have a .334 wOBA, which is good given the park he’ll play in, but he’s going to give a significant portion of that back on defense. He’s projected to only be a 1.5 WAR player. Given his hip situation, that actually sounds reasonable.

The Padres paid a steep price for Wil Myers, but if he can turn back into his 2013 Rookie of the Year form, it’ll be well worth it. Myers missed a lot of time due to injury last season and was ineffective when he did play. By his own admission, he had gotten complacent due to feeling entitled by his Rookie of the Year award. If he can revitalize his work ethic, he can be a 4 WAR player. If not, he’s projected to be a 2 WAR player, which is not worth the Padres giving up two good prospects in RHP Joe Ross (brother of Tyson) and SS Trea Turner1. If Myers does unlock his full potential, the Padres will have a cheap, All-Star caliber player for five more years.

Regardless of what happens with the bat, Myers’ glove isn’t going to get any better. Now that there isn’t room for Cameron Maybin to play, Myers becomes their new de facto center fielder. That sucks. He is at best a mediocre defender in the corners. Heck, we all know that flyball he misplayed in Boston in the 2013 ALDS2. He’s going to be a disaster in center. It’s a safe bet that he’ll give at least 1 WAR back through his defense.

Although Myers has a bigger upside, Justin Upton is the safest bet to have the best bat in the Padres lineup. He is consistent and durable. ZiPS projects him to have a .344 wOBA in 2015, which will be quite good in the pitcher-friendly park he’ll play in. That should work out to a ~125 wRC+. As for his defense, he’s roughly a league average right fielder. He doesn’t have much of an arm, though, and he’s prone to misplays.

Moving on to the starting rotation, it’s a talented bunch who have struggled with staying on the field. Shields will help with that, obviously, and Ian Kennedy has always been durable. The thing is, Kennedy isn’t that good. He’s projected for 1.7 WAR and a league average FIP. Kennedy is a solid number four.

I’ve always been high on Andrew Cashner. He just has such great life on his fastball. Unfortunately, he lost the ability to miss bats in 2013, but he doesn’t walk people either. He turned in career bests in ERA and FIP last season, but only pitched 123.1 innings. If he can turn in 200 innings this season, and that’s a big if, he can be a 3-4 WAR player.

Tyson Ross is the biggest strikeout threat in the starting rotation, which the team will need very badly as a result of the wretched defense they’ll be trotting out there. Unfortunately, that slider of his that generates so many swings and misses also generates a lot of groundballs. Ross better hope that Clint Barmes sees a lot of those grounders. Hopefully the elbow soreness that he suffered from last season won’t return. If it doesn’t, he also has the potential to be a 3-4 WAR player.

If Josh Johnson can actually stay healthy, and sadly there’s no reason to believe that he can, then he should be the one to round out this rotation. He has way more upside than Brandon Morrow and Odrisamer Despaigne. It’s impossible to predict how he will actually perform this year with all the time he’s missed. A scouting report would help immensely. If I were Padres manager Bud Black, that fifth spot in the rotation should be his to lose. Despaigne is a flyball pitcher and a fifth starter at best. Morrow isn’t even that. Let me be clear, though, that I’m not denigrating the signings of Morrow and Johnson. They were signed for very little money and provide nothing but upside. However, if they don’t work out and the rotation suffers from multiple injuries, Brandon Maurer will have to step in, and then the Padres will really be in trouble.

The bullpen, ironically, is the one thing the Padres can count on. As a former pitching coach, Bud Black has always been able to consistently churn out good bullpens. Why the team chose to spend money on Joaquín Benoit in light of this fact is puzzling.

ZiPS projects the Padres as an 84 win team. Joe Sheehan evaluated them as an 83 win team. I’m less optimistic. The starting rotation looks good, but there are huge question marks hanging above the ability of Ross and Cashner to make at least 30 starts. The defense is also truly atrocious. That’s not as big of a deal if you have pitchers who excel at strikeouts, like the Tigers did last year, but the Padres don’t have that. You can also make up for that with a powerful offense, but the Padres don’t have that either. Only their starting outfielders are projected to have a better than .330 wOBA. Clint Barmes, Yangervis Solarte, and Will Middlebrooks will combine to have a sub-.300 wOBA. This is also a very right-handed heavy lineup.

As is, I believe to the Padres are an 81 win team, which is still a significant improvement from last year. If everything breaks right for them, then maybe they can reach 84 or 85 wins. They are certainly not going to give the Dodgers any problems with contending for the NL West. A wild card is within their reach, however.

The good news is that the Padres still have pieces from which they can trade. Carlos Quentin can’t field, but he can still hit. I’d hang on to Will Venable because they’re going to need his left-handed bat. I’d also want to hang on to Cameron Maybin for defensive purposes. If Josh Johnson pans out, Despaigne and Morrow could be trade bait. They also still have their best prospects available in OF Hunter Renfroe, C Austin Hedges, and RHP Matt Wisler. Hedges still needs to develop his bat, but Renfroe and Wisler have a chance to contribute this season. The main reason I bring them up, of course, is because they can also be traded, but I wouldn’t trade one or more of those players without receiving a player that will be a multi-win upgrade with at least a couple of years of team control left.

The Padres have done well this off-season, and it’s nice to see that they’re refusing to settle for another sub-par season. However, if they truly want to make a run at a wild car spot, they’re going to have to do more. They have holes that are fixable and the means from which to fix them. I’m sure the right trade is out there for them. They just have to find it.

  1. There were other players involved in the trade, but those were the most important pieces leaving San Diego. 
  2. To his credit, he completely owned the mistake. It showed a lot of accountability and maturity.