Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

Archive for April 2010

Ryan Howard Gets PAID

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If you can get it, then get it:

The slugging first baseman agreed to a $125 million, five-year contract extension Monday that could keep him with the Phillies until 2017.

–snip–

The 30-year-old Howard will make $20 million each in 2012 and 2013 and $25 million annually from 2014-16. The Phillies have a $23 million club option for 2017 with a $10 million buyout.

–snip–

The $25 million guaranteed average salary in the extension will be baseball’s second-highest behind Alex Rodriguez’s $27.5 million average under a 10-year contract with the Yankees running through 2017.

Howard was happy to land a new deal now and avoid the craziness that would have come once he was eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, when he will be 32.

–snip–

Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, is earning $19 million this season as part of a $54 million, three-year deal that pays him $20 million in 2011.

He signed that deal in February 2009, avoiding a potentially contentious arbitration hearing.

I’m not going to be nice about this; this is a terrible idea for about 40 reasons that the Phillies will end up regretting.  Let me starting counting:

1) They already had him locked up for next year, when he will be 31, for 20 million dollars.

2) They could have signed him to this exact same contract when he became a free agent, if they felt he still warranted it, because he wouldn’t have gotten it anywhere else.  The Phillies got absolutely no discount here for buying up Howard’s free agency; if anything, they paid a premium.

3) The Phillies made him the second highest paid player in baseball, despite the fact that he’s at least the second (or third or fourth) best player on his team.

4) The Phillies are going to pay Ryan Howard 23 million dollars when he’s 37.

5) The Phillies are going to be paying a 37-year old DH 23 million dollars, despite the fact they only get to use that position for 9 games per season.

6) He’s already declining.  He’s passed his peak, he’s getting worse against lefties, and he already strikes out 30% of the time he goes to the plate.

7) Howard’s listed at 6’4″ and 255 pounds…yeah, in his bra.  This is not the type of player that ages well.  I went to Baseball-Reference.com and look up the most comparable players to Howard.  How do these names sound?  Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, David Ortiz, and Tony Clark.  Willie McCovey and Mark McGwire (kind of) are the only players on the list who aged decently.

8) The happiest man in baseball should be Albert Pujols, who should ask for 40-50 million dollars per season based on this contract.  I can’t express enough how far out of line this is with regard to his market value.  If Howard hit free agency entering his age 32 season, he gets what…6 years, 130 million dollars?  I just can’t fathom anyone paying him more than 20-22 million dollars per year.

9) This contract could cost them Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins in coming seasons.  They already traded Cliff Lee to “re-stock the farm system” even though they were taken to the can in that trade.  I’m sure his 9 million dollar salary had nothing to do with it.  They could have traded Joe Blanton for peanuts and saved the same money.

I know that was a lot of blabbering, some of which is disorganized and incoherent, but I cannot fathom why the Phillies did this.  This made the current team no better while potentially damaging future teams.  I’m not on board with many of the moves Ruben Amaro has made since becoming GM, but this one is easily the worst because there is nothing necessitating it.  General Manager FAIL.

The good thing about this is that I can copy and paste this article when a team gives Prince Fielder 180 million dollars in a couple of seasons.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

April 26, 2010 at 8:44 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Tim Lincecum

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Season GS IP W L K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
2007 24 146.1 7 5 9.23 4.00 0.74 0.295 69.1% 47.0% 8.2% 4.00 3.63 3.92
2008 33 227 18 5 10.51 3.33 0.44 0.313 77.9% 43.9% 5.6% 2.62 2.62 3.17
2009 32 225.1 15 7 10.42 2.72 0.40 0.297 75.9% 47.5% 5.5% 2.48 2.34 2.87
2010 4 27 4 0 10.67 2.00 0.33 0.290 93.2% 50.7% 4.8% 1.00 1.79 2.37

Tim Lincecum is pretty awesome.  He’s been awesome since he got to the big leagues and continues to get awesomer.  Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve seen him throw gems against good offensive teams (Atlanta and St. Louis), and I’m going to get another chance on Wednesday against Philadelphia.  I noticed in his last start that his fastball was sitting around 90-92 mph, and I remembered him throwing harder in 2008 and 2009.  It also seemed like he was relying on his changeup a lot more, and FanGraphs Pitchf/x data confirms it:

Season Team FB SL CB CH XX
2007 Giants 66.9% (94.2) 19.7% (80.6) 13.4% (84.4) 2.6%
2008 Giants 66.1% (94.1) 1.7% (84.5) 13.7% (79.6) 18.5% (83.7) 1.7%
2009 Giants 55.8% (92.4) 5.3% (82.0) 17.5% (76.7) 21.4% (83.2) 3.8%
2010 Giants 54.1% (91.4) 10.2% (83.3) 12.3% (77.3) 23.4% (84.3) 0.2%

He’s using his fastball less and it’s getting slower.  He throws almost as many offspeed pitches as fastballs.  He’s relying more on his changeup, which used to be almost 10 mph slower than his fastball but is now only around 7.  My thought on the changeup for all pitchers is that its effectiveness is based mostly on the difference in speed from the fastball.  It’s a pitch that is supposed to look exactly the same, just slower.  As it creeps closer in speed to the fastball, the deception wears away and it should lose effectiveness.

Not the case for Lincecum though; even though his fastball is 3 mph slower, he’s pitching as well as ever.  Usually when pitchers lose velocity, the first thought is that he’s hurt or something is wrong mechanically.  I don’t think we have to worry about that with Lincecum though.  As the first table shows, he’s improved his home run and walk rate each year while still striking out about 10.5 hitters per nine innings.  Striking out five times as many hitters as you walk is good too.

I heard that Lincecum actually throws two changeups; one that looks like a fastball but is slower, and one that acts more like a splitfinger and has some dive and some tail to it.  This would make more sense; if true, he has two pitches that travel at the same speed but do different things.  Maybe Lincecum took something off his fastball on purpose in an effort to throw more strikes.  Maybe at 25 he can’t rear back and find the 97+ heat anymore (doubtful).  Either way, he’s transformed from flamethrower to Maddux-esque after winning 2 Cy Youngs; it’s really a tribute to Lincecum that he’s still looking for ways to get better.

Editor’s Note: Maybe this post will get some of the Giants fans off my back.

Editor’s Note 2: Lincecum is an excellent case study for BABIP and FIP; he’s gotten better by walking fewer hitters and giving up fewer home runs.  The BABIPs and LOB%’s vary slightly, but hang right around the league averages.  You can be a really good pitcher without a lot of luck.

Season GS IP W L K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
2007 24 146.1 7 5 9.23 4.00 0.74 0.295 69.1% 47.0% 8.2% 4.00 3.63 3.92
2008 33 227 18 5 10.51 3.33 0.44 0.313 77.9% 43.9% 5.6% 2.62 2.62 3.17
2009 32 225.1 15 7 10.42 2.72 0.40 0.297 75.9% 47.5% 5.5% 2.48 2.34 2.87
2010 4 27 4 0 10.67 2.00 0.33 0.290 93.2% 50.7% 4.8% 1.00 1.79 2.37

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 25, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

How ’bout them Tribe starters?

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…and I’m not talking about Harris, Schoup, and Vaughn (over/under for how many consecutive posts in which I can make a Major League reference?).  Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, David Huff, and Mitch Talbot have pitched very well for the Tribe to this point; the reason the Indians aren’t winning is because they refuse to score runs.  But is this the kind of thing that can continue?  A month ago I wrote that “The opening day starter, Jake Westbrook, didn’t pitch in 2009.  The number two starter, Fausto Carmona, spent two months in extended spring training, because Single A hitters still would have worked him over.  Justin Masterson will try to throw a full season as a starter for the first time, and the cloned trio of David Huff, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers will “fight” for the last two spots in the rotation.  Infield defense is going to be huge for the Indians in 2010, as Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson are all extreme groundball pitchers.  The bullpen looks plenty bad also, but with the this team, you never know about the bullpen until the season starts.  The Indians are going to have to score a lot of runs, because they’ll give up plenty.”

The Indians have played 15 games, going 7-8, with all five starting pitchers having pitched three games.  They’ve scored 54 runs and given up 62, which is right about in the middle of the American League.  The starters have a 3.40 ERA in 92.2 innings, averaging over 6 innings per start.  But I think it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.  Collectively, they’ve only struck out 52 hitters, besting only the Nationals and Pirates while pitching 15 to 20 more innings than the starters of those teams.  They’ve also walked 46 hitters, more than everyone but the Rockies.  Striking out 5.1 hitters per 9 innings while walking 4.5 hitters per nine innings is not a good combination.

So far the starters have only given up 7 home runs and 74 hits, both below average.  Westbrook’s ERA (5.40) matches up fairly well with his FIP (5.13) and xFIP (5.41).*  Carmona’s BABIP is 0.188, leading to an ERA that is a run lower than his FIP and xFIP.  Masterson has 20 of those 52 strikeouts in only 15 innings, which is helping him keep his ERA down despite allowing a 0.433 batting average on balls in play.  So far his ability to get strikeouts and avoid giving up home runs (only one in three starts) has kept his ERA down.  Suffice it so say, he could probably use a third pitch before I consider him a long-term starter.  Like Carmona, Huff’s BABIP is 0.174, giving him an ERA of 3.00 while his FIPs suggest it should be closer to 5.00; 7 strikeouts against 9 walks in 21 innings is major red flag also.  Talbot’s numbers mirror Huff’s; 0.192 BABIP, 6 strikeouts and 8 walks in 20 innings, FIP near 5.00, ERA of 2.25.

*If you think it would help if I linked to more of these definitions or wrote primers on this site for some of these advanced metrics, let me know.

Like I wrote a couple posts ago, I think teams and players should get “extra credit “”or starting hot.  The pitchers are pitching above their heads right now and should be expected to regress, and soon.  It would have been nice to take advantage of the start by the pitching staff by also scoring runs and starting 10-5 or 11-4.  But this is Cleveland Indians baseball; when the pitchers pitch well, they don’t get any runs, and when the pitchers suck, the Tribe will score buckets of runs.  I hoped this kind of start would go out the window with Eric Wedge, but apparently Manny Acta has the same kind of voodoo attached to him.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 23, 2010 at 5:51 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

20 Innings of Really Stupid Baseball

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On Saturday the Mets and Cardinals played for 20 innings, and I think it fell into the category of “so terrible that it’s compelling.”  Both managers did just about everything they could to hurt their teams (short of having Albert Pujols pitch 8 innings), both in this game and for the future.  I said to my roommates in the 15th that when the Mets get a run, the Cardinals will score two to beat them.  Well, I almost had it; the Mets got one in the 19th, the Cardinals answered, and the Mets got another in the 20th.

Here’s what we know about this game:

  • K-Rod, who warmed up at least 6 times and said he threw about 100 pitches, blew the save in the 19th but got the win.  On the plus side, he’s now stretched out long enough to take John Maine’s spot in the rotation.
  • Mike Pelfrey, the Mets No. 2 starter, got the save (barely) after giving up a hit and a walk.  Seriously, Mike, at this point everyone just wanted to go home.  Maybe Pelfrey was padding his stats because he now leads the Mets in wins and saves.
  • Down 1 in the bottom of the 19th, Ryan Ludwick led off with a walk and with Albert Pujols at the plate, TRIED TO STEAL SECOND BASE.  If this would have been successful, all it would do is ensure that K-Rod walks Pujols to get to…KYLE LOHSE, who was now hitting behind Pujols thanks to all of this brilliant managing.  Of course, Pujols then doubled and two batters later Yadier Molina singled him home.
  • After Jose Reyes walked to start the 19th, Jerry Manuel had Luis Castillo bunt against Joe Mather.  Yeah, that’s Joe Mather, part-time infielder/outfielder, while Kyle Lohse is playing leftfield.  I don’t know if Jerry didn’t watch his team hit for the first 18 innings, but giving away outs isn’t a great way to go about scoring runs.  PS The Met run in the 19th came without a hit.
  • Two position players pitched the last three innings for St. Louis; every team needs six setup guys, but we can’t afford a long reliever anymore?  BULLPEN FAIL.  I guess it worked though; the Mets only got one hit (that’s all we got? One god-damn hit?) through the first 11 innings.

Now could we give Manuel and LaRussa some slack? Sure…but after reading this and this, I don’t think so.

Finally, one of my favorite things at FanGraphs is the win probability graphs for each game.  It basically states what chance each team has to win based on the game state (inning, score, outs, runners).  It’s derived from Tom Tango’s work examining what the likelihood of scoring is given a certain game state, and then applying those likelihoods to the rest of the game based on what has already happened.  So a team with a 10-0 lead in the first might have a 98 percent chance of winning, and a team with a 10-0 lead in the ninth has a 99.999999999 percent chance of winning.

Anyway, each individual action either adds or takes away from a team’s win probability; therefore, these values can be assigned to each player based on what just happened.  Whatever happens for the hitter, the opposite occurs for the pitcher.  Here are samples from a fairly normal game and a kind-of crazy game.  Now check out the monstrosity from Saturday.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 19, 2010 at 7:23 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Starting Hot

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I was taking some flak the other day for ragging on Vernon Wells in my previews.  Last year he was pretty terrible, the year before just average; not good for someone signed to this contract:

  • 7 years/$126M (2008-14)
    • $25.5M signing bonus ($8.5M payment each March 1, 2008-10)
    • 08:$0.5M, 09:$1.5M, 10:$12.5M,11:$23M, 12:$21M, 13:$21M, 14:$21M
    • full no-trade clause
    • Wells may opt out of contract after 2011 (Editor’s Note: HA!)
    • Wells to donate $143,000 annually to Blue Jays charity

Anyway, he hasn’t played a decent centerfield since 2007, and his contract is an albatross for the Blue Jays; they can’t trade him, and he won’t give them anything near what they are paying him.  Basically, the Blue Jays are looking at 5 more years of a sunk cost, a disaster for any team without one of the top five payrolls.

The reason Wells came up in conversation was his hot start so far in 2010.  He has hit 5 home runs in 7 games after hitting 35 in 268 games the past two seasons. Before the season, as part of my fantasy baseball preparation (yeah, I know, I’m awesome), I had Wells projected for a 0.265 BA, 18-homer, 70-run, 70-RBI season.

I want to know how much extra credit players and teams should get for starting hot.  Let’s say Wells played 150 games.  That means I was projecting him for 0.12 home runs per game.  After 7 games, I would expect him to have 0.84 home runs (either 0 or 1 in reality); however, he has 5 with 155 games left.  My question is: do I think Vernon Wells only hits 13 more home runs (based on my projection of 18), or does he hit 22 home runs (the 5 he has hit plus the 17 he is yet to hit)?

Let me present it another way; there’s a non-zero chance Vernon Wells was going to hit 5 home runs in some small amount of games this season.  If he did this in July, would we be revising our predictions for him?  I suggest that we might, based on what had happened before the hot streak.  If he had 9 home runs through 81 games, and then hit 5 in 7 games, he would have 14 with 70 games to play.  We would probably expect him to hit more than 18 for the season.

One more way to demonstrate this point: let’s say Wells had a pulled hamstring and missed the first week of the season; would my prediction be any less possible if he didn’t play at all last week?  Would I expect him to only hit 13 home runs because he didn’t hit 5 in the first week?  I don’t think so.  So being hot at the very beginning of the season has an added benefit.  Since the games played have removed almost none of the potential for his season, he basically has a 5 home run head start.

I want to consider this for teams as well; the Giants started 6-1, pasting the Astros (terrible team), taking two of three from the Braves (good team) at home, and winning the first from Pittsburgh (not good).  At some point this season, the Giants were probably going to win six of seven; they were probably more likely to have done it playing the Astros and Pirates for four of those seven games.  Does this mean we revise our predictions for them?  I had the Giants at 75-87 in my preview post.  Using that winning percentage and giving the Giants credit for their start would put them at 78-84; however, they mostly beat teams they were supposed to beat.

I think it’s a lot more dangerous to do this for teams (especially after 7 games) than for players (particularly their counting stats).  Team records become valid to me after 30-40 games; before that, you’re just trying not to fall way behind.  If the Giants are 25-15 in mid-May, then they’d have to get credit for that, having played a larger cross-section of the teams on their schedule (this scenario would put them at 82-80 based on my prediction).  One more thing to remember is that all of these exercises consider my projections to be the “true” talent level of these players and teams; there’s a chance I’m just wrong.

One last thing I think is important to consider is the scaling of these numbers.  For instance, let’s say Wells finishes the month with 10 home runs.  Given my expectation for him at the beginning of the season, my revised prediction would be 25 home runs; I think most people would agree that he’ll probably hit more than 8 home runs in the final 5 months.

My projections also had Albert Pujols at 40 home runs for the season, if he hit 12 in the first month, his revision would 45 home runs.  12 is not too many more than the expected number for Pujols (seven home runs), so it’s probably not worth revising that prediction.  During some month of the season, Pujols was probably going to hit more than seven home runs,  and 12 is within reasonable range. Wells had tripled his expectation for a month, therefore requiring the adjusted forecast.  This is the kind of thing we saw for many years (1993-2002ish) where some power hitter has 16 home runs in early May and we begin the watch for 60+; it’s just not that easy.  Let me know if you think I’m crazy or if I might be onto something.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 13, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

A’s DFA Jack Cust

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One of the more surprising roster moves at the end of spring training was made by Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics.  The A’s designated Jack Cust for assignment, meaning they had to place him on waivers, trade him, or give him his outright release.  Cust went on waivers and had no takers; given his veteran status, he had the option to decline going to the minor leagues, but headed to Sacramento anyway (if he didn’t he wouldn’t get paid).  Cust wasn’t happy about it though:

“I think it’s messed up,” Cust said in a phone interview with The Chronicle after leaving the stadium. “They’re going to go on 50 at-bats after three years of what I’ve done here? It’s ridiculous. A lot of other guys have had bad springs. This is a joke.

“The fact is, this team has no power and they’ve just released a guy who (averaged 28 homers) the last three years. That’s amazing.”

The A’s chose to keep 12 pitchers on the roster, giving them only 13 spots for position players.  Kurt Suzuki, Mark Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, and Adam Rosales all had infield spots claimed, and outfield spots were guaranteed to go to Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, Travis Buck, and Coco Crisp.  Needing a backup catcher still, we’re at two open spots.  One of them went to Eric Chavez, who’s on the roster because he’s making 12 million dollars this year.  One went to Jake Fox, who (while doing a terrible job wherever he played defensively the last few years) will be the backup catcher, despite not playing the position much for a couple of seasons.  When Crisp broke a finger, another spot went to Gabe Gross, and the last outfield spot went to Eric Patterson.

A lot of the guys mentioned in the previous paragraph could not be sent back to the minor leagues, as they were out of options; they also will make the league minimum this season, almost guaranteeing that another team would claim them on waivers.  In my opinion, Cust was DFA’ed because with a 2.65 million dollar contract, not too many teams had budget left to claim him and give him a roster spot (he really can only be a DH at this point).  Those 14 jobs had been filled, so Billy Beane gambled that no one would claim him, Cust would understand there would be no jobs for him right now, and he would accept the demotion.  At some point, an Athletic will get hurt (maybe this guy) and they’ll need another hitter (or 6) and Jack Cust will come up and hit home runs, walk a lot, and strike out even more.  He’s still a good hitter, and will earn that 2.65 million even in limited time with the A’s.

Two things this points out to me: one, in years past I feel like some team would have claimed Cust and stuck him in their outfield, and he would have given back as many runs as he created.  This shows me that teams understand now that good hitter does not equal good player.  For several offseasons now, players who profile as a designated hitter have done poorly in free agency.  Secondly, it shows how some flexibility at the end of spring training can be a great asset to a team.  Most teams and their fans clamor to have a complete 25-man roster from day 1, as though those guys will be healthy all year long; at various points of the year, the roster will have holes.  All the teams (Yankees, Rays, Twins, White Sox, Indians, Rangers, Angels, Mariners) that filled their DH spots during the past few offseasons and spent every dollar could have had a left-handed power bat for under 3 million dollars.  In the end, Billy Beane is the one who gets to have a 26-man major league roster.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 12, 2010 at 9:20 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Early Season Ramblings

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  • The first baseman for the road team in this game is also pretty good.
  • It might be awhile before we see a better defensive play this year.  I’m not sure that Konerko needed to barehand it; but I’m glad he did.
  • I was going to write posts about this and this, but got beat to it.
  • This caught me by surprise and I’ll have more thoughts later.

Written by Dan Hennessey

April 7, 2010 at 9:23 PM

Posted in Uncategorized