Friday, November 26, 2010

Dodgers Ink Jon Garland

The Dodgers signed durable right-handed starter Jon Garland today, for a reported $5M over 1 year, plus bonuses, plus an $8M vesting option for 2012. The option vests if Garland throws more than 190 innings, something he has done every year since 2002. While I have never been a huge Garland fan, I do admire his incredible durability; hes virtually a lock to put up 190+ quality innings year after year.

This past season, Garland put up a Garland-esque FIP of 4.41 over 200 innings. While Fangraphs' WAR only viewed that as being worth +0.8 wins because of him pitching 108 innings in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park, its worth noting that his 4.48 FIP and 4.32 xFIP on the road were still really solid. His overall xFIP of 4.35 was the lowest its been since 2004. Garland's walk rate (BB/9) jumped to a rather high 3.92, however he compensated for that with a nice boost in his strikeouts (6.12 K/9) and groundballs (51.9%), both of which were career-highs. I don't think Garland will maintain that strikeout rate, as his plate discipline stats -- outside swing%, outside contact%, contact%, swinging strike% -- were all rather the same as they usually are, but I also do not think Garland will maintain a walk rate right under 4, so it probably will balance itself out.

Fangraphs' pitch values labeled Garland's fastball, which averaged less than 90 mph in velocity, as being worth +18.2 runs, good enough to rank in the top 15 among all Major League starters in fastball effectiveness. What led to this? PitchFX claims Garland threw his 2-seam fastball 31.9% of the time, which was nearly as much as he threw his 4-seam fastball (32.1%). How often did Garland throw his 2-seamer the prior two years? 17.7% in 2009 and 0.5% in 2008. While I'm not sure those two figures are totally accurate, I think we can assume Garland threw more 2-seamers than in prior years, which also led to his career-best groundball rate.

All in all, I think this is a fine contract for the Dodgers. They get an incredibly durable arm that can be counted on for 190+ innings, at about the appropriate price of $5M. If Garland does what he typically does -- in other words, throw more than 190 innings -- he'll be rewarded with a nice salary boost with the incentives and vesting option. Garland would need to be worth about +3.3 wins in total over the next two seasons to warrant the likely $13M+ he has coming to him, which I think is quite do-able.

On Victor Martinez, Again

I hate to keep picking on Detroit, but apparently they plan on using Victor Martinez as their primary DH. Here is the quote from Tigers' general manager Dave Dombrowski, per Rotoworld:
"We expect Victor to be in our lineup on a daily basis, serving primarily as our club’s designated hitter and catching two to three times a week. He also has the ability to fill in at first base and his versatility allows us to keep a premier bat in our lineup every day. We’ve discussed this role with Victor and both sides are very pleased."
Well, sorry to say, but that's not a very good idea. We're going to look at two scenarios here: one with Victor Martinez with 200 plate appearances at catcher and 400 at DH, and one with him at catcher for 400 plate appearances and 200 at DH.We'll go with $4M per 1 WAR.

1st scenario - 400 PA at DH, 200 PA at C:
Click to enlarge.

These are now my own projections, which I believe are a little optimistic. In any case, this scenario leads to Martinez being worth around $35M in value, which is a net loss of $15M for the Tigers. Now lets look at the kind of value he could put up if used primarily as a catcher.

2nd scenario - 400 PA at C, 200 at DH:
Click to enlarge.

Boy, doesn't that look a lot better? Still a slight overpayment, but it gives Detroit the absolute best value from Martinez.

I didn't like this deal a few days ago, and I still don't now. However, if there was a way to make it worth the investment, its letting Martinez get 400 or more plate appearances as the primary catcher. This move to the primary DH role stings his value and could take away roughly 3 wins in total and over $10M in value. I know Martinez's defense behind the dish is not very good, but if that position still gives him his best value, which it does, you have to stick him there. Maybe the Tigers will figure this out and Martinez's odds of being worth the investment will shoot up.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unpredictable Huff Lands Back in the Bay

Aubrey Huff resigned with the Giants yesterday, signing for $20M over 2 years, with a 3rd year club option tossed in at $10M with a $2M buyout. Huff was worth +5.7 Fangraphs' WAR last season, which makes one believe he'd easily warrant being worth $10M per. The problem is that Huff has had a crazy fluctuation in win production over, well, his entire career practically. Dating back to 2001 (he only had 129 plate appearances in 2000 so I'll just throw that out), these are his WAR totals, to give you a good perspective of how wild and unpredictable Huff is/was:

2001: -1.0
2002: +2.0
2003: +3.5
2004: +4.6
2005: +0.1
2006: +1.3
2007: +0.7
2008: +4.0
2009: -1.4
2010: +5.7

I think those figures speak for themselves, so to put it bluntly, it's quite difficult to assess what Huff will be worth over the next couple of seasons. Using a $4M per 1 WAR marker, his contract asks him to be worth +2.5 wins each of the next 2 seasons, or +5.0 wins in total. Huff was worth slightly more than that total in 2010 alone. Can he do that again? I'd highly bet against it. Can he at least live up to the contract? With the value of a win looking as if its trending upward, I'd cautiously say yes, or at least believe he'll come close.

Brian Sabean has been hammered for some of his disastrous contract decisions in the past, and rightfully so, but I don't think this one is that bad. It could totally backfire, but the commitment (2 years) would save it from being a total disaster. Or it could flourish. I don't know. Huff is an unpredictable player, and pretty much always has been, but I don't hate this risk taken by San Francisco.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Victor the Tiger

It was announced this morning that the Detroit Tigers have signed free agent catcher Victor Martinez to a 4 year, $50M deal. At a quick glance, it didn't initially seem like a terrible deal. $50M over 4 years translates to $12.5M per season, which puts the onus on Martinez to be worth between +3 and +3.5 wins each season, depending on what you value +1 WAR to equal. Over the past couple seasons I have used $3.5M per 1 WAR, however I think it makes sense to boost that a little bit. But ignoring that for a second, achieving that WAR per season total has not been a huge issue for Martinez; going by a minimum of 300 plate appearances, Martinez has been able to top that marker 6 out of 6 seasons, using Fangraphs' WAR.

Our issue here though, is Martinez is an aging catcher -- he'll be 32 by next Opening Day -- and one that is not very good defensively as is. I'm going to steal Dave Cameron's rough projections for Martinez, and project him to be worth +3.5, +2.5, +1.5, and +1.0 WAR over the next 4 seasons. Now lets take a look and see how that looks using my old measure, $3.5M per 1 WAR, and a more inflated (and perhaps more realistic) measure of $4M per 1 WAR.

First, the old measure ($3.5M per 1 WAR):

Yeah, that's not pretty. In this scenario, which assumes the price of a win will remain down, the Tigers will be overpaying by just over $20M.

Now, the newer measure ($4M per 1 WAR):

Like the older measure, this still doesn't look very pretty. Instead of overpaying by $20M+, they are now overpaying by $16M. That's still quite bad.

I even went a little further and adjusted the price of a win to $4.5M, and the Tigers would still be overpaying by a large sum: $12M.

Overall, this deal looks quite poor. If you were getting Martinez for his, say, age 27 to 31 years, it would probably be fine, since he'd be a strong bet to consistently outproduce a +3 to +3.5 WAR. But that's not the Victor Martinez that Detroit is getting. They are getting the older version, whose defense at catcher is already weak, and an increase of playing time at DH will surely harm his positional value. I think this is just another case of Detroit overpaying someone that is probably not going to be worth the investment.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ultimate WAR Flameout: Ruben Sierra

Some fun stuff on Ruben Sierra, using Baseball-Reference's historical WAR database...

Accumulated WAR, before age 26 season: +16.6
Highest single season WAR, before age 26 season: +5.7
Lowest single season WAR, before age 26 season: +1.2
Average WAR per season, before age 26 season: +2.7

Accumulated WAR, age 26 season and beyond: -3
Highest single season WAR, age 26 season and beyond: +2.0
Lowest single season WAR, age 26 season and beyond: -2.4
Average WAR per season, age 26 season and beyond: -0.2

Another fun Ruben Sierra fact: Despite being worth an average of -0.2 WAR per season after his age 25 season, he still managed to hit 167 homeruns and average over 350 plate appearances per season while changing teams 11 times in 14 seasons. It's also worth mentioning that his single season high OBP in that time frame was .327. I suppose teams just really liked his power?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zach Duke Represents a Bargain

Some news out of Pittsburgh tonight was that the Pirates have designated Zach Duke for assignment. He made $4.3M last season and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason, so you can expect him to get something north of $5M. Whether another teams claims him or not remains to be seen, but he should be a decent, cheap option for a team looking for a back of the rotation arm.

No, Duke isn't going to 'wow' you with anything. Hes a left-handed pitcher whose average fastball velocity last season was 87.3 mph, and hes not going to miss many bats (career 4.71 K/9). However, he does 2 things pretty well that gives him some value: he throws strikes (career 2.45 BB/9) and he gets a solid amount of groundballs (career 48.9 GB%), which in turn lets him keep the ball in the park (career 0.94 HR/9). Duke uncharacteristically struggled last season with the longball (1.42 HR/9), which unsurprisingly led to a 4.95 FIP. His xFIP was a more appropriate 4.48, indicating he had poor luck with the homeruns, which makes sense considering his rather solid 48% groundball rate.

While Duke has never been a big strikeout guy, it is worth noting his strikeouts (using K/9) have been going up since 2007: 3.44, 4.23, 4.48, to 5.43 in 2010. His walk rate jumped up to 2.89 last season, but I think its safe to assume that he'll maintain a typical strong walk rate next year. Put it all together -- a return to normal levels in homeruns yielded with Duke's usual strikeout and walk rates, and you have a pitcher that likely resembles the +2.5 WAR starter he was in 2009, which is a nice little bargain for a $5M+ price tag, and an even better one if he goes unclaimed and signs for less. In his worst case scenario, I can see his FIP settling in at the mid to upper-4's range, but that still should be valuable enough to make him worth between +1 and +2 wins over a full season. For the teams that don't want to pay up for the services of comparable starters like Jeff Francis or Jon Garland, Duke represents a nice option to turn to.

Ed Wade Being Ed Wade!

Nothing spectacular has happened today, so I figured I'll cover one of the small trades that went down last night.

The Deal
Astros receive: Clint Barmes
Rockies receive: Felipe Paulino

Like most of Ed Wade's trades, I'm not sure I understand this at all. Clint Barmes is what he is -- a decent defensive option at SS and 2B with a weak bat. His career high wOBA in a single season was .344 in 2008, where he had drastic home/road splits: .932 OPS at home, .639 OPS on the road. His isolated power (ISO) was .240 that year at home, versus .114 on the road. Yeah, that sounds like someone taking serious advantage of the hitter-friendly conditions of Coors Field. I'm not sure what role the Astros have planned for Barmes, but he's likely to make over $4M in arbitration this winter, and you just can't be paying that kind of money for player like him.

What's more puzzling though is the necessity to make this trade. Barmes was likely headed towards being non-tendered, so what is the point of trading for him now when you could wait a little bit before signing him next month? Are his services really that valuable? Ed Wade must think so, as he gave up Felipe Paulino, who has a seriously live arm, to get Barmes. Paulino pitched a bit in 2007, but he truly splashed onto the scene in 2009 where he made 17 starts and 6 relief appearances. The actual results weren't pretty (5.11 FIP), however his xFIP was a nice 4.10, which made one believe his poor HR/9 of 1.84 would improve, and it did. In 2010, Paulino allowed a rate of 0.39 HR/9 in 91.2 IP, which is very good, probably too good for a pitcher who doesn't get a ton of groundballs, hence the reason for his xFIP (4.54) being over a run higher than his FIP (3.44). Paulino's career splits are what make you pause for a second: 5.74 FIP, 5.04 xFIP vs LHB opposed to a 3.72 FIP, 3.93 xFIP vs RHB, and that makes you a envision a guy whose future is probably in the bullpen.

However, with that said, the Rockies flipped a guy who was headed towards being non-tendered for a cheap, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher that can help them out at the back of their rotation or in the bullpen. That's a great move. Ed Wade on the other hand gets rid of a quality arm for a player he could have gotten if he had just a little bit of patience. Unfortunately for the Astros, its just another case of Ed Wade being Ed Wade.