The Boston Red Sox Acquire Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson

The Boston Red Sox Acquire Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson

The Boston Red Sox had a busy Winter Meetings. The team had major holes to fill in its starting rotation. When your best pitcher is Clay Buchholz, who is projected for just 2.1 WAR in 2015, you know you have problems. Thankfully, the team made strides in patching up the rotation. It’s interesting to note that all three of the players acquired are heavy ground ball pitchers.

The Red Sox traded with the Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Wade Miley in exchange for RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster. Miley is a significant upgrade to the starting rotation. He has a history of staying healthy and pitching lots of innings. Steamer projects him to have a 4.23 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 2015. His projected 2.0 WAR is likely a 2 win upgrade for the starting rotation.

Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster were originally acquired from the Dodgers in the famous blockbuster trade in 2012 when the Sox were able to dump a huge amount of salary.

De La Rosa was once a top-tier prospect in the Dodgers system. Unfortunately, his elbow did not like him throwing 100 mph fastballs, so he had to have Tommy John surgery. I’ve seen him pitch plenty here in Boston, and I can tell you that his fastball is nowhere close to that. Although a 95 mph fourseam fastball may seem pretty good, the problem is that it’s a lifeless, pin-straight pitch. As a result, he gives up plenty of hard contact with it. According to Brooks Baseball, batters hit a whopping .360 against his fourseamer in 2013, and a better, but still bad, .294 in 2014.

De La Rosa’s struggles have him at barely above replacement level for his career. This past season, he had a 4.51 RA9 and 4.30 FIP, which are below average. If he can develop a good breaking ball, I believe he can be a serviceable back of the rotation starter.

I’m less high on Allen Webster. I would not fault the Diamondbacks if they wanted to keep him in the rotation, but I think he should go straight to the bullpen. His career 14.6 K% and 11.4 BB% means that he can’t strike anybody out and has terrible control.

It’s not unlikely that both pitchers turn out to be busts, but given what we know now, this is a fair return for the Diamondbacks. The Red Sox get to turn a couple of big question marks into more of a sure thing, which is absolutely the right thing to do for a team that can contend in 2015.

The Red Sox then turned mid-season acquisition OF Yoenis Céspedes into RHP Rick Porcello. There were rumors that Céspedes was unhappy and difficult in Boston, and with only one year left on his contract, it made perfect sense for the Red Sox to trade from their outfield depth in order to further strengthen their weak rotation.

Céspedes is a good baseball player, though he tends to be a bit overrated. In 2014, his line of .260/.301/.450 resulted in only a 109 wRC+. As you can see, he hits for plenty of power, but he can’t get on base. As a result, his offense was only 9% better than the league average in 2014. As for his defense, everybody has seen the highlights of his cannon. However, it masks the fact that he is not very rangey, and range is much more important than the arm. He’s a good defender overall, just not as good as those fun highlights may suggest.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Céspedes’ low OBP is a big deal. Thankfully for Tigers fans, the fact that he hits for plenty of power and is a solid defender goes a long way toward making up for all the outs that he makes. He had a 4.1 WAR in 2014 and projects to be at least a 3 WAR player in 2015.

Rick Porcello has been frustrating Tigers fans for years. Year after year he would look good in spring training, by stats and scouts, but failed to deliver when it actually counted. At least that’s what Tigers fans think. If you look at his FIP each season of his career, he’s been solid, but nothing special. Per Fangraphs, which uses FIP to calculate WAR and is my preference for pitchers, Porcello has turned in three consecutive seasons of ~3 WAR. Steamer projects for him to make it four in a row. Porcello is also very durable. He has not so much as missed a start in the last five seasons. Like Miley, Porcello can be said to be taking the place of a replacement level player, meaning that he’s a big 3 win upgrade for the Red Sox.

The Céspedes/Porcello trade works out nicely for both sides. Each side gave up roughly equal value in order to fill a need with the respective organization.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak as highly of the Justin Masterson acquisition as I can about Miley and Porcello. He’s coming off the worst season of his career. He had a horrific 6.32 RA9, but a less horrific 4.50 FIP. By FIP-based WAR, he was replacement level. The big difference between his FIP and runs allowed is partially the result of playing in front of bad defenses and batted ball luck. Hitters had a .339 BABIP and 14.6% HR/FB against him in 2014. Make no mistake of it, though, because he was still legitimately terrible in 2014. The good news is that Steamer is optimistic that he will bounce back in 2015 with a 2.0 WAR. If nothing else, it’s worth it to take a chance on him since it’s only a 1-year, $9.5 million deal.

Masterson’s biggest weakness has always been his arm angle. That low 3/4 slot makes it very easy for lefties to see the ball coming out of his hand. Usually pitchers with that kind of arm slot get relegated to the bullpen, but Masterson has made it work up until last year. He kills righties, but as a starter, it’s not that hard to just stack the lineup with a bunch of lefties when facing him. For his career, lefties have a .350 wOBA against him, while righties have a .278 wOBA. Not only does that prove what I just said, that .350 wOBA against lefties is atrocious. They really kill him.

I think Masterson would be more effective out of the bullpen as a long man or even a righty specialist. However, the Red Sox have announced their intentions on using him as a starter. Seeing as how the projections are optimistic, I can’t say that it isn’t worth a shot.

All three pitchers the Red Sox acquired have one unifying theme:They all induce lots of ground balls. Miley has a GB% of over 50% the last couple of seasons, Porcello has a career 52.1% rate, and Masterson leads them all with a 56.6 GB%. For the first time since Masterson left the Red Sox, and for the first time in Miley’s and Porcello’s career at all, all three pitchers will be playing in front of an overall good defense. Xander Bogaerts is a shaky defender at shorstop, but Pablo Sandoval is decent at third, Mike Napoli is shockingly good at first1, and Dustin Pedroia is the best defensive 2nd baseman in the game. The ground balls that those pitchers generate will find more gloves than they ever have.

I do not doubt for a second that GM Ben Cherington and his analytics department were well aware of the ground ball tendencies of these pitchers. It was a very smart move to bring in pitchers who can keep the ball on the ground, given that infield defense and the hitter-friendly nature of Fenway Park. Cherington never ceases to impress me.

Cherington has done a great job fortifying a weak rotation. The problem is that he still does not have an ace, or really even a number 2, as a result of the organization screwing up with Jon Lester (more on that in my next post on the Cubs). They’re either going to have to pay Max Scherzer $200 million, or trade for Cole Hamels. Scherzer is the better pitcher, but Hamels is the cheaper, safer option.

Cole Hamels is also a cheaper, safer option than Jon Lester, and he’s just as good. He’s still owed $90 million over four years with a $19 million vesting option for 2019. That looks a lot better than Lester’s 6-year, $155 million deal with a $25 million vesting option for a seventh year. The Red Sox have a ton of position player depth and a strong farm system that they can leverage to acquire Hamels. The Jimmy Rollins trade indicates that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is finally willing to listen to reason in negotiating trades. If I were Cherington, I’d be sure to make Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts untouchable. If I were Amaro2, I wouldn’t give up Hamels without one of those two players coming back, or the Red Sox covering the entirety of the remainder of the contract. Amaro needs a difference maker coming back in the trade. I’d prefer a top-tier prospect like Bogaerts or Betts, but I’d also settle for what I can do with all the money that not paying Hamels would free up. Then again, with Amaro’s incompetent track record, he’d probably spend that money in the worst way possible.

Hamels does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract. Interestingly enough, the Red Sox are included. In order for Hamels to waive it, he would certainly force the Sox to pick up his $19 million option for 2019. The bottom line is that the Red Sox can afford it, and they need Hamels if they really want to contend in 2015.

The Red Sox have had an excellent off-season so far. Unfortunately, screwing up with Jon Lester means that they’re not done yet. If they really want to contend in 2015, they need an ace, and Cole Hamels is their most viable option.

  1. Seriously, he is. I couldn’t believe it when I saw his advanced defensive metrics in 2013, but he almost repeated them in 2014. Granted, I am not a scout, but I’ve seen most of his games here in Boston and I have to say that he’s surprisingly agile for a big guy. He gets good reads on balls in play and moves well out there. 
  2. That’s a horrible thought. 
The Los Angeles Dodgers Complete a Flurry of Moves

The Los Angeles Dodgers Complete a Flurry of Moves

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been incredibly busy during the Winter Meetings. New President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has demonstrated the creativity that led him to be so successful in Tampa Bay. Former GM Ned Colletti would never have thought of pulling off any of these moves, save perhaps the signing of RHP Brandon McCarthy. In terms of big names, the Dodgers have traded away 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, and OF Matt Kemp, while acquiring 2B Howie Kendrick, SS Jimmy Rollins, C Yasmani Grandal, and the aforementioned McCarthy. Although trading away Kemp may come back to haunt them, this slew of moves cleverly upgrades the team by selling high on assets and spending a minimal amount of money. The Dodgers have been filthy rich since their new ownership, but now they’re mixing that with smart, savvy moves that should scare the rest of the league.

I’m not going to go over every single player involved with the Dodgers moves, just the bigger names.

Dodger fans may have initially been miffed at the trading away of Dee Gordon. He and Dan Haren were traded to the Miami Marlins in exchange for their 2012 1st round pick, LHP Andrew Heaney. Gordon’s 2014 was vastly overrated. He hit .289/.326/.378 with a 101 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR. Basically, he was a league average hitter and defender. However, he was also one of the best baserunners in the game last season. He stole 64 bases in 83 attempts, which factored in to his excellent 9.4 BsR.

Gordon’s 2014 was inflated by flukish spikes in performance throughout the season. His .346 BABIP is not too much higher than his career number of .326. However, he started out the season with an unsustainable .385 BABIP in April, which led to a .373 wOBA for the month. That hot start influenced the perception of him all year, and even made him an All-Star. After his hot April, he cooled off big time. He only hit a .302 wOBA the rest of the season, which is below average. Steamer has him regressing even more in 2015. It projects him to hit .254/.304/.325, which put together gives you a terrible .282 wOBA.

It’s likely that Friedman knew all this and decided to sell high on Gordon as a result. It would not surprise me one bit if the Marlins believe that 2014 was representative of Gordon’s true talent level. Regardless, they needed a second baseman anyway, and they get four years of control over him, but giving up Andrew Heaney was a high price to pay.

Dan Haren said that he would retire if traded out of southern California. If he does, the Dodgers will save $10 million on his salary. He was going to be a below average pitcher anyway, so the Dodgers decided to trade him and upgrade to Brandon McCarthy.

Had the Dodgers decided to keep Andrew Heaney, it would’ve already been a great return for Gordon, but they quickly turned him into Howie Kendrick. The end result is that they upgraded at second base and gave up little to do so. Kendrick is coming off a great season. He hit .293/.347/.397 with a 115 wRC+ and 5.4 WAR. Kendrick is nowhere near the baserunner that Gordon is, but he is both a better hitter and defender. He will be a minimum of a 1 win upgrade, but I would not be surprised if he ended up being as high as a 3 win upgrade.

The downside to the deal is that Kendrick only has one more year left until free agency. Since the Dodgers clearly have no confidence in their Cuban prospect, Alex Guerrero, they may want to consider giving Kendrick an extension right now. Guerrero simply cannot field his position, and although Corey Seager (brother of Kyle) is a top-tier prospect, he is expected to be a third baseman. Extending Kendrick is the team’s best option.

I have to say that I’m surprised that Brandon McCarthy1 got a 4-year, $48 million deal. His talent is worth that kind of contract, but he gets hurt a lot. It’s not little things that frequently sideline McCarthy, either. It’s shoulder problems. That’s the biggest red flag a pitcher can have. We all lament a player who needs to have Tommy John surgery, but the shoulder is what will really kill a pitcher. Heck, McCarthy just completed 200 IP for the first time in his career, and it was his 9th season in the big leagues! There is just too much injury risk, and serious injury risk at that, for me to be comfortable giving McCarthy four years. However, if anybody can take that risk, it’s the Dodgers. Their seemingly endless cash reserves means that they can take the hit if McCarthy does not work out.

If you look at McCarthy’s stats on the Diamondbacks and the Yankees, he looks like two different pitchers. The difference came as a result of the coaches in New York being far more competent than those in Arizona. According to Keith Law, the Yankees got McCarthy to stop relying on his sub-par sinker and throw his cutter more. That being said, it was not that much of an improvment, really. In Arizona, he had a 5.33 RA9 and 3.82 FIP. When there is that big of a difference between RA9 and FIP, there is likely something fluky in terms of the runs allowed. Sure enough, McCarthy suffered from a .345 BABIP and a sky-high 20% HR/FB, which is nearly twice his career rate! If we look at his xFIP, which ignores runs allowed and normalizes HR/FB, he comes out with an excellent 2.88 xFIP. McCarthy pitched well in Arizona, he just had terrible luck. He enjoyed some regression to the mean when he got traded to New York. His BABIP and HR/FB regressed to .307 and 12.8%, respectively, which resulted in an improved 3.49 RA9 and 3.22 FIP. It’s interesting to not that his 2.85 xFIP in New York was pretty much identical to his xFIP in Arizona.

If McCarthy can stay healthy, he should be worth 2-3 WAR. But that’s a big if.

Well, hell finally froze over and Jimmy Rollins got traded. Ruben Amaro Jr., the league’s worst GM convinced Rollins to waive his no-trade clause and asked for a reasonable return in exchange. Tom Windle and Zach Eflin are both solid pitching prospects that are going to the Phillies. It also opens up the way for SS J.P. Crawford, the top prospect in the Phillies system.

This past season, Rollins bounced back from a power outtage he suffered in 2013. He was a league average hitter who still plays a solid shortstop. That’s valuable. A 3.9 WAR season from a 35-year-old shortstop is impressive. However, Steamer projects him to be a below average hitter in 2015 with a .297 wOBA. That may look ugly, but the bar for hitting at shortstop is low. If he can still be an average defensive shortstop, and I see no reason why he can’t, he can still be worth 2 WAR. Great job by the Dodgers in filling their hole at shortstop.

After an injury plagued last couple of seasons, Matt Kemp bounced back in 2014. He hit .287/.346/.506 with a 140 wRC+. His WAR was only 1.1, but that’s because the defense was rated so badly. He had 3.8 oWAR and an incomprehensibly bad -3.1 dWAR. His advanced defensive metrics were the worst of any outfielder in all of baseball. Part of the problem was that he is no longer a center fielder at all, yet the Dodgers trotted him out there for roughly a quarter of his innings played. It’s not fair to fault the Dodgers, though, because despite their outfield depth they just did not have anybody who could even fake center field. Kemp had a -23 DRS for the year and 12 of that came from playing in center. Of course that means that he wasn’t good in the corners either, but one could theorize that his poor corner defense was the result of wear and tear that was not doing his recovering body any favors. Still, -3.1 dWAR is extreme, and I’m sure it is exaggerating his defensive struggles this past season. If the San Diego Padres just keep him in left field, he will still be a below average fielder, but he will likely only have a fraction of the negative impact in the field than he did in 2014.

It is in the Padres best interests to move Seth Smith to right field now. He has plenty of experience playing there and it’s preferable to putting Kemp there. Smith himself is coming off a very good 2014. He hit .266/.367/.440 with a 133 wRC+ and 3.9 WAR. However, it’s hard to believe that he will sustain that in 2015, given that he was roughly a league average hitter in the four previous seasons before that. His BABIP was not any different, but his batted ball data did reveal something interesting. His infield fly ball percentage was only 0.9%, which is great, but is 5.5% below his career average going into the season. Seeing as how it was his 8th season in the big leagues, it’s unlikely that the huge dip in IFFB% was the result of some change. It’s likely a fluke and will regress in 2015. Infield fly balls are almost guaranteed outs, so his OBP is going to take a big dip as well. Steamer projects that Smith will hit .248/.336/.407 with a 114 wRC+. He should still be a league average player.

Seth Smith is also the only productive outfielder the Padres have had until now. Kemp will essentially be taking over for Will Venable, who was terrible in 2014. Kemp can provide a nice 3 win upgrade, with a ceiling that is potentially much higher than that. The Dodgers are sending the Padres $32 million to cover part of Kemp’s big contract, but the Padres will still owe him $75 million over five years. That’s a lot of money for a low-budget team. Still, Kemp is only 30 years old, so if he can stay healthy, he should be able to give the Padres their money’s worth in production. If he delivers at least 12 WAR over the five years left on his contract, the Padres should be happy.

Before I get to what the Dodgers got in return for Kemp, his potential ceiling that I just mentioned could make it so that the Dodgers end up deeply regretting this move. Although I’m sure Kemp does not have anymore 8.2 WAR seasons left in him like in 2011, a fully healthy Kemp is still capable of delivering an MVP caliber season. Truth be told, it would not surprise me if he is better than Yasiel Puig for at least a couple of seasons.

Speaking of Puig, he has peaked and seems to be slowly regressing. Last year, his wOBA was a whopping 50 points lower in the second half of the season as compared to the first. It may sound crazy, but I think Dodgers fans should be worried about Puig. This may sound even crazier, but I would have sold high and traded Puig instead. The Dodgers would have gotten a lot more back for him while getting similar production from a healthy Kemp. Granted that the Dodgers would not have gotten the salary relief that they are now getting from the Kemp trade, but they’re the Dodgers. They don’t need salary relief.

The big player that the Dodgers got back in the deal is Yasmani Grandal. He is an above average hitter, which is great coming from a catcher. The downside is that he is a below average receiver who has trouble throwing runners out. The team’s pitchers are not going to like pitching to this guy. However, Grandal is a good pitch framer. According to Brooks Baseball, Grandal averages a little over 10 runs saved a year via his pitch framing. Whether or not that balances out his other deficiencies behind the plate is debatable, but he’s capable enough to be an everyday catcher who can deliver 2-3 WAR2. Grandal is an offensive upgrade over current Dodgers catcher, A.J. Ellis, and is a far superior pitch framer as well. Ellis actually rates quite poorly in pitch framing. Catcher defense is especially tough to quantify, so I’ll make a conservative estimate that Grandal will be a 1 in upgrade over Ellis, but take that with a grain of salt. The Dodgers also benefit from having four years of control over Grandal, as opposed to two for Ellis.

Like I mentioned before, given Kemp’s upside, I just do not believe that the Dodgers got enough back in exchange for him. They did get $75 million in salary relief, but the money doesn’t matter for the filthy rich Dodgers. Wins matter.

All in all, the Dodgers had an extremely productive winter meetings. If you assume that the Dodgers would have trotted out a replacement level player at shortstop if not for Jimmy Rollins, they ended up upgrading shortstop, second base, catcher, and the starting rotation by ~6 wins. If that estimate is accurate, it’s huge. However, as it stands, the Carl Crawford/Andre Ethier combination that will now be in left field full-time is likely to be at least a 1 or 2 win down grade from Kemp. Still, even if the Dodgers do not make any more moves this off-season, their fans should be very happy and excited for the team in 2015. Andrew Friedman did a great job.

  1. McCarthy is possibly the best follow on Twitter of any active baseball player. He’s a smart, insightful, and funny guy. 
  2. That estimate factors in his pitch framing, which WAR currently does not do. 
New York Yankees Acquire Didi Gregorius and Andrew Miller

New York Yankees Acquire Didi Gregorius and Andrew Miller

The New York Yankees have recently acquired SS Didi Gregorius via trade and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller through free agency. Both acquisitions fill a need for the Yankees, especially at shortstop.

In giving up only RHP Shane Greene, GM Brian Cashman did a great job in filling the Yankees hole at shortstop. The easy route would’ve entailed overpaying for questionable commodities such as Stephen Drew, Asdrubel Cabrera, or Jed Lowrie in free agency. Any free agent shortstop currently available projects to be below average in 2015, and probably replacement level beyond that. The Yankees have a bottomless pit of money, so they can easily afford to throw money at a problem even if it’s a poor value. However, it’s always better to tackle problems creatively and shrewdly, and that’s exactly what Cashman did.

Cashman sold high on Shane Greene in order accomplish his goal. Greene performed well in fourteen starts in 2014, with a 4.35 RA9 and 3.73 FIP. However, given his minor league track record and scouting reports, 2014 was likely an overperformance for Greene. He never showed this kind of swing-and-miss stuff in the minors. Steamer projects his 23.5 K% to drop to 16.7 K% in 2015. To be clear, Cashman isn’t fleecing the Tigers. Even as a back-end starter, Greene is an upgrade over anything the Tigers have in-house.

Greene’s greatest strength is generating groundballs, which will make him an odd fit for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos are both terrible at fielding their positions. Ian Kinsler is solid, if not better, at second base, but Greene is really going to need José Iglesias to come back as close to the 80 defender that he was before his injury.

The Yankees needed a shortstop far more than they needed a back-end starter. They acquired a shortstop who is probably better than what is out there in free agency for a fraction of the price. I don’t just mean that Greene is not worth as much as a free agent’s contract, but I’m also referring to the fact that Gregorius still has five years of control left. Even once he hits arbitration, he will still be cheap because the arbiters do not value defense at all and Gregorius can’t hit.

In a way, it’s funny that the Yankees have tapped Gregorius to be their new shortstop because he is kind of the anti-Jeter. Gregorius is an excellent defender who can’t hit. Steamer projects his 2015 stat line at .248/.310/.366 with a 88 wRC+. However, that should play better in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, especially since he bats lefty. His defense alone should result in a 1 win upgrade over Jeter last season1.

Unfortunately, I cannot give Cashman the same amount of credit for signing Andrew Miller.

Giving a reliever four years is a giant red flag. Even three years is too much, but I might be tempted to go that far for a truly elite reliever. I think the jury is still out as to whether or not Miller fits that category.

Miller is coming off a career year. In 2014, he had a 2.32 RA9 and a minuscule 1.51 FIP. Those numbers are less than half of his career stats! He also had a crazy good 42.5 K% and 7.0 BB%. It appears that Miller has finally figured out how to command his fastball and slider, as well as maximize the effectiveness of those pitches.

The problem is that Miller has only performed at this level for one year. Relievers more than any other kind of player are susceptible to unsustainable spikes in performance. Steamer certainly does not believe that 2014 was representative of Miller’s true talent level. For 2015, it projects him at a 2.40 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 34 K%, and 8.4 B%. His projected 1.2 WAR is roughly half of his 2.3 WAR in 2014.

A $9 million AAV for a 1.2 WAR player is a decent value for the rich New York Yankees. However, given the volatility of reliever performance, it’s still very risky over a four-year period. Miller could very well be replacement level as early as 2016. Until that happens, though, Miller and Dellin Betances are going to be a devastating one-two punch out of the bullpen.

Overall, Brian Cashman did an excellent job in addressing the Yankees need at shortstop. Miller is also a great addition to the bullpen. Whether or not he maintains his 2014 performance, and for how long, remains to be seen. Given the history of reliever performance from year to year, Miller’s deal is likely to blow up in Cashman’s face.

  1. That’s a conservative estimate, too. Even though Jeter was replacement level in 2014, one could make a perfectly good argument that the WAR construct didn’t penalize him enough for his atrocious defense. A more liberal evaluation could credit Gregorius with being a 2 or even 3 win upgrade over 2014 Jeter. 
Seattle Mariners Extend Kyle Seager, Acquire Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ

Seattle Mariners Extend Kyle Seager, Acquire Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ

The Seattle Mariners have been quite busy this off-season. They’ve signed 3B Kyle Seager to a 7-year, $100 million extension. More recently, they signed DH Nelson Cruz to a 4-year, $58 million deal. Finally, the team’s latest move involved trading OF Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for LHP J.A. Happ.

Signing Seager to that extension is a great move. The Mariners are locking up an All-Star caliber player going into his age 27 year, just as he’s entering his prime. The deal buys out his three arbitration eligible years plus four years of free agency.

Seager enjoyed a breakout season in 2014. He hit .268/.334/.454 with a 126 wRC+ and 5.8 WAR. He’s also an excellent defensive 3rd baseman, and although he won a Gold Glove this past season, he’s not better than Josh Donaldson.

There is plenty of reason to believe that Seager’s performance in 2014 was real and sustainable. He gradually improved each season leading up to 2014. In 2011, his rookie year, he had a .306 wOBA (53 games), then a .321 wOBA in 2012, .337 wOBA in 2013, and a .346 wOBA in 2014. That’s all in Safeco Park too, a very unfriendly hitting environment. His success at the plate wasn’t BABIP driven, either. Steamer has him projected to continue his same level of offensive production in 2015. At just 27 years old, I’m very optimistic that Seager will continue to be just as good, if not better, for at least most of the deal.

Seager’s offense combined with his excellent fielding will make his ~$14 million AAV a steal. Great job by the Seattle Mariners.

The same cannot be said for the Nelson Cruz signing. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has not seemed to have learned anything from what has plagued the Mariners offense in recent years. It’s not surprising, seeing how it is heavily rumored that Zduriencik is a dinosaur when it comes to baseball analysis. When you mistakenly value the triple crown stats as an accurate measure of a player’s offense, you’re going to overvalue hitting for power, which is all Nelson Cruz can really do.

The Mariners problem has not been hitting for power. It’s getting on base. Let’s take a look at how the Mariners have ranked in OBP among the fifteen teams in the AL during the last five seasons. Remember that there were only 14 teams in the AL before 2013.

Year OBP AL Rank
2014 .300 15th
2013 .296 13th
2012 .306 14th
2011 .292 14th
2010 .298 14th

Dead last in every year but one. It’s disturbing that a GM in 2014 does not understand that on-base percentage is the strongest factor in producing offense for the team. History has shown that it is incredibly difficult to contend if you can’t get on base, even if you do hit for a ton of power, which the Mariners don’t. Cruz’s Steamer projected .310 OBP isn’t going to do anything to improve the Mariners OBP in 2015.

The full projection for Cruz next season is .249/.310/.457 with a 118 wRC+ and 1.5 WAR. He is also a terrible outfielder who can’t run, so he needs to be the primary DH. Again, as you can see, Nelson can hit for plenty of power, but he can’t really do anything else. He’s also 34 years old and not very athletic. Players like that decline significantly. Cruz could very well be a replacement level player before this deal is even half done.

All that being said, there is no denying that Cruz will provide a huge upgrade over the Mariners DH position in 2014. Their DHs combined to hit an abhorrent .190/.266/.301. That was worth less than -2 WAR.

Now you may be saying, “Wait, Cruz will be worth a 3.5 win upgrade over last season and you’re criticizing this deal?” My response is that not all WAR differentials are equal. Going from -2 WAR to 1.5 WAR is not the same as going from, say, 0 WAR to 3.5 WAR. A 1.5 WAR player is below average. A 3.5 WAR player is an above average, borderline All-Star. Which would you rather have for $14.5 million AAV? The fact of the matter is that Zduriencik could’ve signed a replacement level player for one year at the league minimum, gotten a 2 win upgrade, and save the Mariners ~$56-$57.5 million depending on the experience of the player. DH isn’t the only hole the Mariners had, and that money could’ve gone a long way towards addressing those issues. The opportunity cost is enormous before you even consider the fact that this signing cost the team their 19th overall pick in the draft, since Cruz had a qualifying offer attached to him.

It is very likely that Zduriencik thinks that Cruz’s 2014 line of .271/.333/.525 with a 137 wRC+ and 4.7 WAR, not to mention his league leading 40 HR, is representative of his true talent level. It most certainly is not, and it’s another indictment on Zduriencik’s lack of understanding on how to evaluate players. I’m also giving Zduriencik too much credit in saying that he actually looked at the offensive stats that I just cited. I’m sure he just saw the .271 AVG, 40 HR, 108 RBI, and thought, “ZOMG look at teh home runz and teh RBIz!”

Cruz’s success in 2014 was inflated by an uncharacteristic first half. He had an awesome .394 wOBA in the first half, but then turned back in to Nelson Cruz in the second half with a respectable .335 wOBA.

His first half success was not BABIP driven. There was luck involved, however. Cruz enjoyed a 23.9% HR/FB that was 6.6% higher than his career rate. That’s a big increase that obviously help boost his HR total and overall offensive contribution. Just comparing his 1st half line of .287/.353/.570 to his career line of .268/.328/.501 should be enough to convince any reasonable person that Cruz’s 2014 1st half was a clear outlier and is in no way representative of his true talent level. Either Zduriencik declined to consult his analytics department in making this signing, or he chose to ignore them altogether.

If current first baseman Logan Morrison doesn’t work out, it might be worthwhile to try to convert Cruz into a first baseman in order to extract more value from him. I’m sure he won’t be very good there, but a below average first baseman is more valuable than a DH.

Zduriencik compounded his bad decision by trading away Michael Saunders. This one really was all on Zduriencik. At an end of the season press conference and on radio interviews, Zduriencik made some remarks that could be interpreted as questioning Saunders’ work ethic and preparation. Now we don’t know if Zduriencik meant it that way or if he misspoke, but the damage was done. As a result, he felt that he had to trade Saunders away.

Saunders only played in 78 games last season as a result of injuries, but he was quite good when he did play. He hit .271/.341/.450 with a 126 wRC+, and he’s an above average defender in the outfield. Part of that did come from an unsustainably high .327 BABIP, so we can expect some regression next year. Steamer projects .247/.328/.420 with a 109 wRC+ in 2015. That could be worth ~3 WAR if he can stay healthy all season.

One year of J.A. Happ is a poor return for two years of a potential 3 WAR player. He’s at best a fifth starter. Happ is coming off a season with a 4.50 RA9 and 4.27 FIP. That’s good for only 1.3 WAR, and Steamer isn’t projecting him to be any better in 2015. He’ll clearly get a boost from pitching in spacious Safeco Field, but probably not enough to make this an even trade for the Mariners.

The Toronto Blue Jays should be lauded for continuing what has been a great off-season. Two years of Michael Saunders is a good return for one year of J.A. Happ. It should make the Blue Jays at least 1 win better in 2015.

Jack Zduriencik did a great job in locking up Kyle Seager, but besides that, showed poor judgement in evaluating players and on how to address his team’s needs. An ill-conceived trade and $58 million and the Mariners are no better than they were in 2014.

Toronto Blue Jays Acquire Josh Donaldson at Black Friday Sale (and Some Ranting on Trade Rumors)

Toronto Blue Jays Acquire Josh Donaldson at Black Friday Sale (and Some Ranting on Trade Rumors)

It was recently announced that the Toronto Blue Jays made a shocking, blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s. They acquired 3B Josh Donaldson in exchange for 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Kevin Graveman, SS Franklin Barreto, and LHP Sean Nolin.

Rumor first had it on Twitter that the A’s were nearing a big deal for RHP Jeff Samardzija, who was acquired for SS Addison Russell, one of the best prospects in all of baseball. Still having a full year before free agency, and given that the A’s would in no way be able to afford him, it would make sense to trade him during the offseason in order to maximize the return. They still might do this, but obviously that’s not what happened.

While I’m on the subject, this goes to show how worthless trade and free agency rumors are. If “anonymous sources” are reporting something, then it’s worthless information. Countless possibilities for trades and signings are discussed in front offices all the time. Reporting on such matters is not news unless talks become serious, and even then that’s debatable. Furthermore, the sources could very well be leaking false information in an attempt to manipulate the situation. They exploit and manipulate reporters because the reporters themselves believe that their integrity and self-respect is a fair trade for a juicy piece of gossip.

And really, gossip is all that it is. The Hot Stove turns respected, experienced sports journalists into gossip columnists. That’s the lowest form of life in journalism. Even when it is reported that the deal is done, which I don’t have a problem with, why does it need to get reported by a journalist? The teams involved are going to notify the media anyway, so what good does it do to notify the public a day or even an hour before the teams do? To all reporters out there, what are you accomplishing during the Hot Stove besides scoring points with your editors?

You know what’s always useful? Analysis. Evaluating a move is infinitely more useful than just telling me about it.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m being harsh to the hard-working reporters out there. I just don’t like that they have more influence than the people who have actually bothered to learn and understand the game, instead of just pretending like they know everything.

Ok, back to the trade. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos achieved a huge victory in the deal. He acquired one of the top ten players in baseball for a package of players that doesn’t even come close to equalling his value.

Brett Lawrie can’t stay healthy and is overrated defensively. Just because he makes some highlight reel plays doesn’t mean that he’s a good overall defensive third baseman. I think he was a good fielder during his first two seasons, but it seems like his injuries have taken their toll. He’s just doesn’t have the same range anymore and he makes too many mistakes. Steamer projects Lawrie to be a 4 WAR player in 2015, which seems awfully optimistic to me. He has yet to play a full season due to injury, be above average offensively in the past three seasons, and now he’s moving to a more difficult park for hitters. Worst case scenario is that Donaldson is a two win upgrade over Lawrie, but more likely he’ll be closer to four. That’s huge, especially in the competitive AL East.

Franklin Barreto is a 19-year old minor leaguer who projects to be an everyday shortstop, but not much more than that. He won’t be ready to join the majors any time soon, either. Kevin Graveman and Sean Nolin project to be back-end starters. There are just no future stars in this package of players.

If I was A’s GM Billy Beane, I’d insist that the Blue Jays include RHP Marcus Stroman in the deal. That might’ve been a dealbreaker for the Jays, but it would’ve evened out the trade somewhat since the A’s would be receiving a young, cost-controlled starter. Without Stroman, or the equivalent of his value, there’s no way I’d make this deal if I was Beane. It’s a bizarre move by one of the best GMs in the game. It recalls last year when Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski traded Doug Fister to the Nationals for a small return. Beane’s move, however, is even stranger.

This trade would make more sense for the A’s if they were rebuilding, it would still be bad of course, but I’d understand it more. However, you don’t sign 1B/DH Billy Bulter to a 3-year, $30 million deal if you’re rebuilding.

Speaking of Butler, it was also an odd move for the A’s to make, but it’s a fair deal, even though it might not seem that way on the surface. This past season he was a replacement level player, but it appears to be an outlier. Steamer certainly thinks so, as it projects him to hit .274/.346/.420 with a 119 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR in 2015. He has no defensive value and is best kept at DH. He’s also one of the slowest, worst baserunners in baseball. I’m guessing he’ll be platooned with Brandon Moss to some degree, although Moss doesn’t have large platoon splits.

An AAV of $10 million for a good offensive player with severe defensive and baserunning deficiencies is a fair return. However, this signing certainly does not fit the A’s mold of maximizing value.

Donaldson has been a stud since his breakout season last year. He was third on my fake AL MVP ballot in 2013 and sixth in 2014. In 2013, he hit .301/.384/.499 with a 147 wRC+ and 8.0 WAR. He took a step back in 2014, hitting .255/.342/.456 with a 129 wRC+ and 7.4 WAR. His 2013 performance was boosted by an unsustainable .333 BABIP, which expectedly regressed to a .278 BABIP in 2014. That big change on batted ball luck resulted in that 42 point drop in OBP. He still hit for the same amount of power, though, as evidenced by his identical ISO each year.

As you’re probably aware of, Donaldson is known for his excellent defense. He started out as a catcher, but when that didn’t work out, he was converted to a third baseman. He was clearly athletic enough to give it a try, and as a catcher he obviously had the arm for it. Boy, has it worked out well. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Donaldson has accumulated 31 DRS and 25.4 UZR, which has resulted in 4.4 dWAR! He’s an aggressive, rangey third baseman who gets good reads on balls in play as a result of his quick reaction time. Like I mentioned before, as a result of having been a catcher, he has a strong throwing arm as well. Donaldson was robbed of the Gold Glove award this past season, but at least he won the more accurate, though far less prestigious, Fielding Bible award. He is arguably the best defensive third baseman of anybody not named Manny Machado.

Not only are the Blue Jays getting an elite player without giving up much, they’ll also get him with four years of control. Donaldson isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018. He does, however, have Super Two status1, so he’ll be eligible for arbitration for all four of those years. It’s doubtful he’ll take the Jays to the cleaners in arbitration, though, because arbitration panels understand baseball less than your typical member of the BBWAA. Yes, that little. In arbitration, Donaldson’s defensive value would almost certainly be ignored and his .255 batting average would be unfairly weighted. I doubt that he’d get awarded even half of what he’s worth. That being said, arbitration doesn’t get as far as a hearing anymore, because both sides prefer to work something out. I can almost guarantee that the Blue Jays work out a very team friendly deal to cover at least 2015.

Josh Donaldson gets on base at an above average clip, hits for plenty of power and more than any other third baseman, and is among the best at fielding his position. His offensive numbers will only increase now that he’s moving to the much more hitter-friendly Rodgers Center. That adds up to one of the best players in baseball, folks. Billy Beane accepting the return he got in exchange for Donaldson is baffling. Even more confusing is that Beane was quoted at being “overwhelmed” by the Blue Jays offer. That’s a very disappointing statement from a GM who understands the concept of value perhaps better than any other GM in baseball.

Beane doesn’t seem to be rebuilding, as a result of signing Billy Butler, but trading away his best player doesn’t look like he intends to contend either. I have no idea what’s going through his head right now. My best explanation is that the A’s own projection system says that Lawrie is indeed the 4 WAR player that Steamer also projects. If that turns out to be true, then this trade is much more even than anyone realizes. We’ll see. It’s also possible that Beane knows something we don’t, or that he’s planning something that’ll result in this move making more sense, but until such information comes to light, Beane deserves to be panned for this trade.

Oddly enough, the A’s aren’t the only losers in this deal. Who else is, you ask? The Boston Red Sox. I never thought I’d ever see Anthopoulos out-GM Ben Cherington, but it happened. The Blue Jays got a player that is far superior than Pablo Sandoval, and for cheaper as well. In other words, the package that the Jays sent to Oakland is worth significantly less in value than the $95 million that the Red Sox are going to pay Sandoval. The Red Sox could’ve easily put together a package around Will Middlebrooks and/or Garin Cecchini that would’ve been of equal value to what the Blue Jays offered.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing Cherington for missing out on this opportunity. After all, who could’ve predicted that Beane would’ve traded one of the best players in baseball for cheap? I will, however, give Anthopoulos a tremendous amount of credit for his tenacity in pulling off what I’m sure will be the best move of the offseason. Heck, I can’t remember the last time a GM ever pulled off a trade this good, given what we knew at the time2. Blue Jays fans should carry him on their shoulders throughout the streets of Toronto.

  1. That’s why teams sometimes try to hold their prospects back until mid-June or so. The date is never the same from year to year. They’re trying to keep the player from gaining Super Two status, thus preventing him from becoming eligible for arbitration a year earlier than normal. 
  2. Which is the only fair, logical way to evaluate a trade, or any decision for that matter. Evaluating a trade or signing based on the results is post hoc crap. It’s like I always say: Process over results. 
Boston Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramírez and Pablo Sandoval

Boston Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramírez and Pablo Sandoval

For my thoughts on the Jason Heyward trade, click here! For Russell Martin and Zach Duke, click here!

The Boston Red Sox made a big splash yesterday with the additions of Hanley Ramírez and Pablo Sandoval. Ramírez was signed to a 4-year, $88 million deal. Sandoval’s deal is for 5 years and $95 million. Ramírez has a vesting option for a fifth year and Sandoval has a club option for a sixth.

When I first read the rumors on Ramírez, I thought it was nothing more than a ploy to put pressure on Sandoval, who at the time was mulling whether to sign with the Red Sox or return to the Giants. Boy, was I wrong.

Signing both of them is odd because it leaves the Red Sox with a huge logjam of position players. Shortstop is blocked by Xander Bogaerts, and I’d like to think that the organization has learned not to move him after the disastrous Stephen Drew signing. Even if the Sox had an opening at shortstop, Ramírez is no longer fit to play the position. He has never been a good defensive shortstop, but now it has gotten so bad that he needs to be moved. Second base is also blocked by Dustin Pedroia. Third base is now blocked by Pablo Sandoval, who is far more experienced at the position and is far too big a guy to move to the outfield. So that means that Ramírez has to play the outfield, most likely left. The outfield is also loaded but it’s more flexible. Ramírez is athletic enough to handle left field, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being a plus defender there. More importantly, his bat will absolutely play in the outfield, which is something you can rarely say about a shortstop.

Even with all the positional value he loses by moving to the outfield, $22 million a year for Ramírez is a fair deal. The guy can still hit. Steamer has him projected to hit .277/.352/.450 with a 126 wRC+. The projections probably have not been updated to include the fact that Ramírez will be hitting in hitter-friendly Fenway Park, so I’d take the over on those numbers1. Given how terrible the Red Sox outfield was offensively last season, that’s a huge help.

The big risk with Ramírez is his injury history and the fact that he’ll be 31 when the deal starts. He has missed significant time three out of the last four seasons, including missing almost half of 2013. That certainly cost him a year or two on his contract. There are also reports that Ramírez can be difficult in the clubhouse. I don’t care, and if he produces, nobody else will either. I seem to recall another Ramírez who was problematic behind the scenes for the Red Sox, but nobody cared because he raked on the field. If he doesn’t produce, it still won’t matter because the real problem would be that he isn’t producing. Being a bad clubhouse guy is only a problem for those of us on the outside because it produces stupid narratives.

Ramírez is also rumored to have work ethic and motivational problems. He even contributed to getting his manager, Fredi González, fired from the Marlins2. Hopefully his fat new deal will take care of these issues. However, like with his clubhouse issues, as long as he performs nobody will care.

I like the Ramírez signing, but I’m not as high on Sandoval. His value right now is tied to him being able to stay at third, and I’m not optimistic that he will for the entirety of the deal. Right now he’s a decent third baseman, which is shocking given his size. He’s surprisingly athletic for a big guy. He’s bigger than Miguel Cabrera, but handles 3rd base far, far better than Cabrera ever did. Like Cabrera, he has a great arm. Unlike Cabrera, however, he actually has decent range. However, he absolutely did not deserve to be nominated for a Gold Glove.

Sandoval is not the hitter that Ramírez is, but he can hit. He doesn’t walk much but he doesn’t strikeout much either. He ranked 9th in the NL among qualified hitters with a low 13.3 K%. This past season, he hit .279/.324/.415 with a 111 wRC+. That’s not great. His OBP is mediocre and he didn’t hit for much power, especially for a third baseman. His .136 ISO ranked 17th out of 31 third basemen with at least 400 PA. The good news is that he’s projected to bounce back in 2015. Steamer has him hitting .281/.337/.451 with a 120 wRC+ and a .171 ISO. Like with Ramírez, it’s fair to assume that he’ll do even better than that in Fenway.

Sandoval is a switch hitter but has huge splits. He hits far better left-handed than right-handed, most likely because he’s naturally left-handed3. For his career, he has a .363 wOBA batting lefty and a .309 wOBA batting righty. A .309 wOBA isn’t terrible, but it’s below average overall and is far below what’s acceptable for a player making $20 million a year. The Red Sox should consider making a strong push to convince Sandoval to bat lefty only. It could make him a better hitter overall.

Now, to his weight. You’ll see varying opinions on how serious of an issue that is. I, myself, do think that it’s concerning. Early last year, Wendy Thurm pointed out that Sandoval plays better when he’s lighter, and worse when he’s heavier. She also rightly pointed out that correlation does not equal causation. After all, Sandoval was the lightest he’d ever been going into 2014 and it was the second worst offensive performance of his career. It could very well have been that the variance in Sandoval’s performance was the result of nothing more than randomness. However, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that increased athleticism will improve performance in an athletic competition, especially in the field.

It had always been a struggle for the Giants to get Sandoval to keep his weight down. What motivated him to lose so much weight during last year’s offseason was the fact that he was going in to a contract year. If I were the Red Sox, I’d be concerned that with $100 million guaranteed, he would no longer have any reason to keep the weight down. I’d be interested to hear if there’s some clause in his contract that incentivizes him to keep his weight down, though I’m not sure that would be legal.

Given his size, I don’t believe that Sandoval will stay at third base for more than half the length of his deal. If he has to move to first, he’ll be significantly overpaid because his bat won’t play there. If he has to move to DH after David Ortiz retires, which is something he seems to expect, then he’ll be grossly overpaid.

Sandoval’s size also raises health and injury concerns. Guys like that have a history of aging poorly. At least he’s only 28 years old, so if he does start to break down, it likely won’t be until the end of his deal. Like I mentioned before, DHing can mitigate that.

Overall, the Ramírez deal is likely to return good value. The Sandoval deal, however, will not. I don’t believe that it’ll be a disaster, but it’s going to come in below expectations. It depends heavily on how long he sticks at third.

The Red Sox could’ve decided against signing one or both of these free agents, saved the money or spend it elsewhere, and just roll the dice with their prospect, Garin Cecchini. Making the league minimum and having five to six years of league control left would obviously provide more value than Ramírez or Sandoval, but he’s also clearly an inferior player. Cecchini has the potential to be a better pure hitter than either player, but his power is sub-par and his fielding at third base is flat-out ugly. His bat won’t play in the outfield, so he’s clearly trade bait at this point. It makes perfect sense for a team as rich as the Boston Red Sox to not take a chance and spend the big money on proven commodities. At the end of the day you need wins, and it doesn’t matter how you get them.

In 2014, the Red Sox had an abysmal offense. They ranked second to last in team wOBA in the AL, and dead last if you adjust for park effects. They had to make moves in order to remedy that. However, they still need to fix what is right now a weak rotation.

Clay Buccholz is currently the Sox best pitcher. That’s a problem. He struggled badly last year and is projected to be worth only 2.3 WAR in 2015. They need Jon Lester back. Having committed all that money to Ramírez and Sandoval does not preclude a wealthy team like the Red Sox from getting Lester too. The latest reports say that the Sox are still in on him and have made an offer of somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-years, $120 million. That’s a fair offer, but Lester is talking to a lot of teams. I do think he takes that deal unless a team makes him an offer that just blows him away.

Worst case scenario, the Red Sox have a wealth of position players and prospects that they can trade from in order to acquire literally almost anybody they want. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts should be completely off the table, as they are essential to the future of the team, but that still leaves Yoenis Céspedes (only 1 year left), Joe Kelly, Shane Victorino (also 1 year left), Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig (currently blocked at 1st and DH), Will Middlebrooks (clearly given up on), Jackie Bradley Jr. (seemingly given up on), and Garin Cecchini. The team can also move either Christian Vásquez or Blake Swihart, as they are both catchers who are overqualified to be back-ups.

It’s almost a little premature to rate these signings without knowing what the Red Sox are going to do next. They’re clearly going to trade some position players in order to acquire some starting pitching. As of now, the team has done a good job in improving its horrid 2014 offense and have put themselves in position to make the moves that will allow them to contend in 2015.

  1. But not the over on his wRC+. That stat is park and league adjusted, so as I understand it, it shouldn’t change with his move to Fenway. 
  2. Seeing how Fredi has performed on the Braves, getting him fired in Miami should be seen as Ramírez doing the Marlins a favor. 
  3. Growing up, Sandoval learned how to throw right-handed because he wanted to be a catcher. Obviously that didn’t work out, but learning to throw righty allowed him to play third base. Otherwise he would’ve been first base only and his value would’ve taken a big hit. 
Toronto Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin, Zach Duke Goes to the Chicago White Sox

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin, Zach Duke Goes to the Chicago White Sox

For my thoughts on the Jason Heyward trade, click here!

It was recently announced that Russell Martin signed a 5-year, $82 million deal to return to his home country of Canada and play for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I was surprised when I heard about the deal. It was one more year than I thought he’d get, and I didn’t think that the Blue Jays would be interested enough to spend that kind of money. It’s essentially the Brian McCann deal. The big difference is that McCann was signed to be an offensive catcher, while Martin was signed to be a defensive catcher. Coincidentally, they’re both excellent pitch framers.

If the Blue Jays think they’re getting 2014 Martin, then they’re going to be disappointed. Last season, Martin hit .290/.402/.430 with a 140 wRC+, albeit in only 111 games. That’s the highest wRC+ of his career and his OBP hasn’t even been above .350 since 2009. It was all the result of an unsustainably high .336 BABIP. If Martin was a true talent .400 OBP player, that combined with his defensive proficiencies would make him worth twice what he’s getting paid. Seriously. Steamer has him projected as a .242/.341/.405 hitter with a 111 wRC+.  An above average offensive catcher with Martin’s excellent defense, which I’m about to get in to, make him well worth the money1, though I doubt he gets that money if he wasn’t coming off a career season.

The bulk of Martin’s value is in his defense at the most valuable position on the field. He’s good at blocking balls in the dirt, and he has used his plus arm combined with an excellent pop time2 to throw out about 40% of the runners trying to steal the past two seasons. Martin is also an elite pitch framer. How much credit a catcher gets for that is up for debate3, but the fact of the matter is that he’s one of the best at it. I’m fascinated to see if he can work his pitch framing magic with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Martin also brings value to the table in more unquantifiable ways. He excels at calling games. On top of that, he also has a great reputation for working with pitchers. The Blue Jays have a great crop of young pitchers in Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, and Daniel Norris. I’m sure their development will benefit from working with Martin.

This leaves Dioner Navarro as the odd man out. He’s overqualified to be a back-up, so he now becomes trade bait. Last season, Navarro was a solid, league average catcher with a 98 wRC+ and 2.3 WAR. He’s also projected to stay that way in 2015, according to Steamer. There are a number of teams who would be very interested in an all-around league average catcher making only $5 million next season. The Blue Jays have holes on the field that they need to address, and trading Navarro could be an effective way to address those issues.

The biggest risk with this deal is that it’s signing Martin for his age 32-36 seasons. Obviously, old catchers are high risk, and Martin does have an injury history. If he’s forced to move to another position, he’ll be worth less than half of what he’ll be paid. However, he’s a good enough athlete that I’m cautiously optimistic he won’t break down. As of now, not only is his $16.4 million annual salary fair, one could make the argument that it’s actually cheap for an excellent defensive catcher with an above average bat and elite pitch framing capabilities. Well done by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Chicago White Sox have signed left-handed relief pitcher Zach Duke to a 3-year, $15 million deal.

Even though it’s a relatively low AAV, I don’t like this deal. It’s incredibly risky to give more than two years to a relief pitcher who isn’t elite. Take a look at Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League as some recent examples.

Last season, Broxton signed a 3-year, $21 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. He was terrible in 2013, and worth only 0.5 WAR in 2014. The success he had this past season, a 2.30 ERA and 3.37 FIP, were the results of a flukishly low .234 BABIP. Furthermore, his 83 LOB% is likely to be unsustainable given his league average strikeout rate. Broxton also enjoyed a HR/FB of 5.7%, which was 2% below his career rate. Steamer knows all of this, and is projecting regression to the mean. It projects him to have a 3.72 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 2015. That’s replacement level for a reliever. If that holds to be true, the Reds will have paid Broxton $21 million for roughly 0 WAR.

And Brandon League, oh boy, Brandon League. In 2013, League signed a 3-year, $22.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodger that includes a $8.5 million vesting option for 2016. For that option to vest, League will have to finish 55 games in 2015, which is something I can’t believe the Dodgers will allow to happen. League lasted barely more than a month as the closer. He finished 2013 with an awful 11.2 K%, 5.30 ERA, 4.93 FIP, and -0.9 WAR. It may look like he bounced back in 2014, but he really didn’t. His 13.9 K% was marginally better. However, his 2.57 ERA and 3.40 FIP, which certainly look good on the surface, were the results of some tremendous luck. League benefitted from a 0% HR/FB, even though he didn’t allow that many less fly balls than the year before. Literally not one fly ball he allowed ended up leaving the yard. His career HR/FB going into 2014 was 13.4%. A 0% HR/FB is an obscene amount of good luck. If we go by xFIP, which corrects for fluky HR/FB rates, League comes in at 4.09. That’s pretty much exactly the same as his 4.07 xFIP in 2013.

League is projected to have a 3.89 ERA, 3.77 FIP, and -0.2 WAR in 2015. If that pans out, the Dodgers will have paid $22.5 million to a sub-replacement level player.

These are just a couple of examples that I pulled just to illustrate the folly of signing a non-elite reliever to more than two years.

Duke can thank a career year for his new contract. This past season, Duke had a 2.45 ERA, a 2.14 FIP, and 1.3 WAR. What’s truly astounding is that he struck out 31.1% of the hitters he faced, which is almost three times his career strikeout rate. On the surface, there are no obvious reasons as to how he achieved such a stratospheric rise in his strikeout rate. I mean really, how on earth did a pitcher with a fringe average fastball and no apparent out pitch accomplish such a feat? I checked out his player page at Brooks Baseball to see if I could find any answers. Nothing much changed with regard to the velocity and movement of his pitches. I did find a change in his pitch usage. Duke started relying more heavily on his curveball and less so on his four-seam fastball. That doesn’t explain his success this past season, though.

What really jumped out at me is when I checked out the table for the vertical movements for his pitches. His sinker (aka two-seamer) developed way more sink to it this season. According to the data, Duke’s sinker has as much vertical movement as Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter! This is from Duke’s Landing Page:

“His sinker generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has heavy sinking action, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slight armside run.”

It appears that Duke found a new grip or some kind of adjustment in order to greatly improve his sinker. A two-seam fastball with that kind of drop to it would drive hitters crazy. It seems crazy, so I’m somewhat skeptical, but it would go a long way towards explaining Duke’s success in 2014. We’ll see if he can keep up the high strikeout and groundball rates in 2015.

Steamer projects that Duke will regress in 2015, but if his performance last season is indicative of some real changes that he’s made, then those projections are unreliable. I’m very interested in seeing what the outcome will be!

If 2014 represents the new Zach Duke, then this is a good deal for the White Sox. No doubt that their scouts believe that Duke has changed. For now, given the long history of reliever volatility, I’m not optimistic.

  1. Fun fact: Martin actually has the same career WAR as Yadier Molina, despite having played in two less seasons! Surprising, huh? 
  2. Pop time is the time between when you hear the “pop” of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove and the pop of the ball hitting the 2nd baseman’s glove. A good catcher will do this in under 2 seconds. 
  3. I still think it’s weird that we laud catchers for a skill that basically makes fools out of the home plate umpires. I do like that it essentially proves that umpires are just guessing behind the plate.