Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The New Website!

Hello everyone,

My new website is now up and running at www.mvn.com/mlbinsights

I will no longer be posting new articles here, so please direct your valued readership to the new website.

Thank you for your support, and the thousands of pageviews I have received in my two months of hosting this blog.

Ryan

Last week I was offered the opportunity to host my blog on the Most Valuable Network (mvn.com), an offer which I accepted.  We are in the process of transferring all of my archives and setting up the new website, so until then I will not be posting on here.  I have a big study on General Managers that I am working on (I know how much everyone loved my Ricciardi article), so hopefully that will be up on the new website in a couple of days.

Let me give you the stats of two relief pitchers thus far in 2009.

Gregg Marmol

Player 2 appears to be a power pitcher who strikes out his fair share of batters but also has trouble finding the strike zone, while Player 1 looks like a middling reliever who is lucky enough to be a closer.  Now suppose these two players are the same age and are both free agents following the 2009 season.  Who do you think gets the bigger contract?  My money is on Player 1 getting a bigger contract from some GM still living in the Stone Age because he accumulated saves and is a “closer”.

In reality, these two pitchers play for the Chicago Cubs, and are Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.  Casual fans would argue that Gregg is more valuable to his team because he has 21 saves and is the closer while Marmol is just a middle relief pitcher.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Marmol’s average leverage when he enters the game is 1.63, compared to 1.52 for Gregg.  This means that Marmol pitches in more crucial situations than Gregg, even though Gregg is that oh so important ninth inning pitcher.  Marmol has also added more value to the Cubs.  Marmol has a Win Probability Added of 2.01 compared to Gregg’s 0.13, and also holds a distinct advantage in RE/24, 7.63 to 1.97.  Over the course of the year, that will probably add up to an extra win for the Cubs. 

This situation is interesting because the Cubs are one of the few teams who actually use their bullpen properly.  Marmol is having a bad year because he is walking way too many batters, but the general consensus is that he is their best relief pitcher.  However, they are not using him as their closer, as most teams would do, but in crucial situations at other times in the ball game.  The other team that immediately comes to mind is the Detroit Tigers, who used Todd Jones as their closer even though he was far from their best reliever.  The Cubs are lucky that Marmol has not made a fuss about playing second fiddle to two inferior pitchers the last two years, Gregg and former closer Kerry Wood.  The fact that he is not a closer is going to hurt Marmol’s bank account big time. 

I am fairly confident that every team in baseball understands the concept of leverage, but they continue to use their best pitcher to hold a three run lead in the ninth inning.  This is because you cannot just all of a sudden start using Joe Nathan or Mariano Rivera in the seventh inning of a tie ball game.  Even though this is what would be best for the team, it is not what is best for the ballplayer because he is paid to accumulate saves.  Until teams start compensating relief pitchers on a more useful stat then saves, I do not think we will see wide spread change.  However, as more and more GM’s become statistically savvy, I think this change will come. 

I say this because right now, a bona fide closer will not accept another role.  He knows that his compensation is tied to his saves.  It is like the article by Micheal Lewis (of Moneyball fame) about Shane Battier, where Battier refuses to shoot heaves at the end of a quarter because it hurts his shooting percentage, and he will not get paid as much.  Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey says “I tell him we don’t count heaves in our stats, but Shane’s smart enough to know that his next team might not be smart enough to take the heaves out.”  This is the same in baseball.  Sure, Battier making a full court shot at the buzzer might help his team win a game, just like Rivera pitching in the seventh might help the Yankees win a game.  However, it just is not going to happen because it will not help them get paid.  Until relief pitchers get paid based on their overall performance rather than saves, I am afraid the Chicago Cubs bullpen is going to be the exception, not the rule.

With The Jays collapsing this year, and the dangling of Roy Halladay on the trade block, it appears that JP Ricciardi’s days in Toronto could be numbered.  Hailed as one of Billy Beane’s golden boys, expectations were high in Toronto when he was hired following the 2001 campaign.  Since then, the Jays have had only once finished above third place in the American League East, and most fans consider his tenure a failure.  I am one of the few who disagree, but unfortunately did not really have any numbers to back myself up. 

I decided to undertake a small project to put some numbers behind my claim. As I was working through the data, I became unsure that I was going to be able to find a solution.  However, the end product gave me the results I wanted.  Given the financial resources relative to their division, the Toronto Blue Jays under JP Ricciardi were outperformed in terms of winning percentage compared to their division only by Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics and depending on your point of view, Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins.  These are arguably the top two GM’s in baseball over this time frame, so I would say JP is in pretty good company.  Now to the data.

Ricciardi was hired following the 2001 season, so I plugged the records of every team in the American League from 2002-2008 into Excel.  I then tabulated each team’s winning percentage over this time period, as well as the winning percentage of the other team’s in the division.  For example, the “Division Winning Percentage” box for the Tampa Bay Rays would include the records of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, but NOT the Rays.  I then calculated how much each team had spent on payroll (information from Cot’s MLB Contracts), and figured out what percentage of the division’s total payroll was spent by each team.  The results for the three AL divisions are as follows:

 AL East

 AL Central

AL West

 *Because the AL West only has four teams, I added a hypothetical fifth team that has a payroll that is the average of the other four teams.  This helps make the Percentage of Payroll constant across all divisions.

The numbers are not perfect, and could be refined further, but I think the general point I am trying to make is apparent.  Given his financial resources, JP Ricciardi did very well with the Jays.  He achieved a winning percentage only .010 lower than the rest of the division, while playing in the toughest division in baseball with the two best teams in the league.  You might be saying, well that is not very good, he was below average.  However, if you take a closer look, he did this while spending only 14.39% of his division’s total payroll.  The only other teams to spend similar or less were Baltimore (.087 lower winning % than division), Tampa Bay (.107 lower), Kansas City (.095 lower) and Oakland (.039 higher).  Among these teams, only Oakland was better.  With regards to Minnesota, they did spend 3.5% more than Toronto, but I would argue the .088 boost in winning percentage relative to the division is greater than the financial surplus.   

The two big failures were Detroit and Seattle.  Detroit spent 24.10% of their division’s payroll to be .058 below the rest of their division, while Seattle spent 23.18% to be .053 worse. 

So there you have it.  In my opinion, the JP Ricciardi era in Toronto has not been a failure, and he has actually done very well.  Other than a brutal 2004 season, the Jays have remained extremely competitive with the Red Sox and the Yankees despite financial limitations.  A lot of this depends on how you label success.  Some would argue that Tampa Bay has done a better job because they won a division title and a pennant with even smaller resources than Toronto.  To that I would say, “oh really, how did you enjoy the six 90+ loss seasons prior to 2008?”  I do not think success can be attributed to one good year, so overall, I think the top three general managers in the American League from 2002-2008 were Billy Beane, Terry Ryan and JP Ricciardi.

With rosters pretty much settled for the remainder of the season, here is my prediction for the remainder of the MLB season and the playoffs:

 

American League

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels

AL Wild Card: New York Yankees

ALDS

Red Sox d. Tigers

Yankees d. Angels

ALCS

Red Sox d. Yankees

 

National League

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card: San Francisco Giants

NLDS

Giants d. Phillies

Dodgers d. Cardinals

NLCS

Giants d. Dodgers

 

World Series

Red Sox d. Giants

It was a busy day for GM’s yesterday, with several contenders adding key pieces to their post-season drive.  Let’s take a look at the moves and the effect I think they will have.

Boston Red Sox Acquire Victor Martinez

The Red Sox added a big bat in Martinez, while holding onto prized pitching prospect Clay Bucholz.  Instead, they sent reliever/spot starter Justin Masterson to the Indians along with minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price.  This is an excellent trade for the Red Sox, as none of the players they gave up are irreplaceable.  It also gives them incredible line-up flexibility.  Martinez can catch or play first base while Kevin Youkilis can play first or third.  This will allow the Red Sox to rest either Jason Varitek or Mike Lowell and his achy hip on any day. 

Red Sox Acquire Casey Kotchman

The Red Sox traded recently acquired Adam Laroche back to Atlanta, where he started his career, for first baseman Casey Kotchman.  I am not totally sure what the point of this trade was.  Kotchman will be a defensive substitution at best for the Red Sox, and has a lot less pop than Laroche.  For Atlanta, I would consider Kotchman a superior player, so I am not sure what their plans are either.   

Detroit Tigers Acquire Jarrod Washburn

With the White Sox hot on their heels, the Tigers were in need of a veteran presence to settle their rotation.  Washburn is a perfect fit, and is having a career year in 2009, with a 2.64 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He will combine with Verlander and Jackson to give the Tigers a strong trio of starting pitchers, but I do not think it will be enough to get them past the big dogs in the AL East in the post-season.

Chicago White Sox Acquire Jake Peavy

Finally, the Jake Peavy saga has ended in San Diego.  He agreed to waive his no-trade clause to head to Chicago, something which he refused to do earlier this year.  While the White Sox gave up a lot, including pitcher Clayton Richard and top prospect Aaron Poreda, it gives them the ace they need this year (if Peavy is health).    

Twins Acquire Orlando Cabrera

Despite a .500 record, the Twins fancied themselves a buyer at the deadline due to the fact that they are only three games out of a playoff spot.  They needed an upgrade at SS, and Cabrera’s .694 OPS provides a significant upgrade over the .639 that they have gotten from the position this year.  He is also a career 5.0 UZR/150 fielder at short, although he has slipped this year.  While the intention was good, it does not match what the two teams above them did, and the Twinkies are headed for a third place finish.    

Yankees Acquire Jerry Hairston Jr.

Hairston’s particular talent is not with the bat or his glove, but that he can play pretty much anywhere on the diamond.  This will be huge for the Yankees, who are an old team, and this will allow them to rest some regulars down the stretch.  Do not be surprised if you see Hairston come up with a big play late in the season or in the playoffs, just a funny feeling.

Marlins Acquire Nick Johnson    

I almost cannot believe it, but the Marlins added a piece to their team instead of selling for once.  Johnson is an on-base machine, and will give the Marlins greater flexibility in their infield.  However, they are already six games behind the Phillies, and it may be a case of too little, too late.

I honestly tried to write a coherent, well-thought through piece about this, but I could not do it.  I just do not care if guys used steroids at a time when there was no way to punish them.  I have no idea how these writers for Sports Illustrated and ESPN keep churning out article after article about steroid use.  It may be because I am young and grew up watching the Juiced Era and do not know any better, but I thought it was a pretty accepted fact that Ortiz was on something during his tenure with the Red Sox, and that was just the way it was. 

28 years old DH’s do not randomly add 122 points to their OPS, 76 points to their ISO, and almost double their HR/FB rate over night.  All of these people who are now crying foul are hypocrites.  No one said anything in ’98 when Big Mac was hitting home runs left, right and center.  They said nothing about Ortiz in ’04 because he was so happy go lucky and part of a great story with the Red Sox.  Instead they chose to pick on Bonds, who has been driven completely out of baseball.  The only people who should be allowed to criticize these “cheaters” are guys who brought up the issue a long time ago.  Off the top of my head, I can think of Jose Canseco and Rick Helling.  Baseball needs to leave what happened in the past in the past.  If they are really serious about cleaning up the game, they should work on things they can actually control, like players using PED’s in the PRESENT.