Monthly Archives: July 2011

Making Sense of Latest Trades, Phillies Overpay

Jason Marquis to Arizona– The Diamondbacks, much to the surprise of everyone, enter the trade deadline right in the middle of the playoff picture. While many wondered if the D-Backs would be able to keep pace through the summer to become a buyer at the deadline, they’ve done just that. A recent run of 8 wins in 11 tries was enough to convince the teams brass that they were indeed in position to stay in contention all year.

The addition of Marquis does two things. One, it bolsters the back end of the rotation that’s been surprisingly solid this year. Two, perhaps more importantly, it will strengthen the bullpen. Either Micah Owings or Josh Collmenter will be moved to the pen, where along with the return of a healthy J.J. Putz, they will look to strengthen what was perceived as their biggest weakness. Marquis wasn’t the biggest arm available, but he’s one who is the epitome of an under the radar name that in the right position can make a big impact. It’s still an up-hill climb for Arizona to make the playoffs, but they’ve managed to hang around this long, improving the staff all around should keep them around through September.

Derek Lee to Pittsburgh- No team was faced with a more difficult deadline decision than the Pirates. Nobody predicted back in April that this team would enter the deadline contemplating being buyers for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sure, everyone knew there was a lot of young talent, and more on the way, but 2011 wasn’t the year targeted to make the jump to contender status. With that in mind, surprisingly hanging on in the NL Central, the Pirates had to decide how much of that bright future they’re willing to part with for what would still be a very outside shot at winning something this year.

The Derek Lee for Aaron Baker deal is actually one that might work out as well possible. Baker is a big time power prospect, no question about that. However, still at A ball, Baker wasn’t exactly in line to break through to big club in the very near future, especially with Matt Hague and Matt Curry higher up in the system. As Braves fans found out last year, there’s not a whole lot Lee can offer a club. However, one thing he can offer is a veteran presence accustomed to pennant races, and on this youthful Pirates team, that alone can’t be too overlooked. I still don’t see Pittsburgh crashing the post-season party, and certainly don’t think that if they do they will make any noise. However, they managed to improve this year’s team without doing any damage to the exceptionally bright future this organization has. All told, it’s a decent move for the Pirates.

Orlando Cabrera to San Francisco- This is one that just boggles my mind. The Giants aren’t exactly loaded with top level outfield talent in their minor league system, and while Neal isn’t exactly a top level prospect, he’s easily the most likely to be ready to play at the big league level. This is critical for the Giants since newly acquired Carlos Beltran is a rental and will be a free agent next year as will Cody Ross and Pat Burrell. Beyond that, Aaron Rowand is about to turn 34, and next year is the last of his deal.

While the Giants aren’t blessed with great production out of the shortstop position, Orlando Cabrera has done his best this year to convince Braves fans that Alex Gonzalez is not the worst offensive shortstop in baseball. Parting with big time pitching prospects to get Beltran made sense, but this deal by the Giants goes beyond head scratching.

Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland– This is one of those, “talk to me next year”, type of trades when it comes to proper evaluation. The Indians, thanks to ridiculously hot start and struggles by the expected favorites in this division find themselves just 1.5 games out of first place. In a division where nobody has taken it and run with it, the Indians may as well be 1.5 up. There is no question the Tribe should be in the thick of the race for the remainder of the year, and adding pitching help is crucial to that.

Once you get past Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, little by way of the Indians starters will scare anyone. Jimenez, even with his struggles this year, easily would be the Indians third best pitcher, and probably, with his upside, their number two. Yes, the Indians indeed gave up the farm to get Jimenez, as they sent their two best pitching prospects to Colorado. However, thanks to Jimenez being under team control through 2014, Jimenez offers them an opportunity to obtain the services of a potential true ace without having to ante up in free agency. With the Cleveland financial restraints what they are, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

Koji Uehara to Texas- There’s no secret the Rangers desperately felt their bullpen needed to be stronger if they wanted to make another run to the World Series. In fact, with the resurgent Angels, just to make the playoffs may very well call for an improvement. Well, they certainly got it. They give up a nice young pitcher in Tommy Holland, but they add a reliever who’s been as dominant as just about any in baseball this season. Being able to have confidence in the guys leading up to Neftali Feliz will be critical in the coming months and possible playoffs.

The Rangers had a goal to improve their bullpen, and when it comes to accomplishing what teams set out to do at the deadline, few hit the nail directly on the head like Texas did.

Hunter Pence to Philadelphia- Sure, this is the second sexiest trade flashing across your screens behind the Carlos Beltran deal, but this might be due in large part to a great deal of airbrushing. Hunter Pence is a good baseball player, there is no argument there. Yes, I would have loved if the Braves were able to obtain him. Well, I should amend that statement. I would have loved if the Braves were able to obtain Pence without giving away a slew of our most talented prospects. A good baseball player? Yes. A Carlos Beltran type difference maker? No. Hunter Pence will absolutely come and make a good team better, and be a strong presence in any lineup. However, he’s not a guy who can carry a team, and he’s not the end all be all difference maker some have made him out to be. To be worth forgoing the two best prospects in your system, a player needs to be these things.

As a Braves fan, part of me smiles at this deal. Every regular starter for Philadelphia, save Pence now, is 30 years old or older. This not a young team. Cliff Lee is 32, Roy Halladay is 34. Their bullpen is bolstered at the back end by guys in their 30s as well. In other words, the Phillies need to have young prospects at the ready. This even more true in their case as thanks to a ton of money thrown at long term contracts to their aging veterans. Thoughts that the Phillies will just continue to throw money at whatever problems or holes arise may be misguided.

This of course is just looking at it from what Philadelphia gave up. To be fair, we have to also look at what they received closely too. Pence, for his career, has a BAbip of .30 higher at home in Minute Paid Park than he does on the road. This is not a coincidence, it’s the product of playing a super hitter friendly park. The good news for Pence and the Phillies is that he’s going to another hitter friendly park in Philadelphia. The bad news, the Phillies will still be playing games on the road. Pence’s OPS was .115 higher in his home park in Houston than he was on the road. That’s a staggering difference. Away from the little band box in Houston, Pence boasts a very pedestrian .325 OBP and an also mediocre .767 OPS. In other words, you get Pence out of Houston, and he’s clearly not the type of impact bat that Carlos Beltran has been, and certainly not the type to command the type of ransom Houston got in return.

When it comes to overpaying at this years deadline, Philadelphia takes the cake. Yes, Pence improves their outfield and makes them better. And who knows, maybe his bat is the difference in winning another World Series this year and being put out early. With the pitching as good as it is in Atlanta and San Francisco, the playoffs promise to be full of low scoring, close contests. So it’s possible, Pence makes a big impact for the Phillies in October. But on that same token, it’s very possible the Phillies still win the World Series with little or no contribution from Pence. And for that, this was a terrible trade.

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Baseball Is Still a Game Played by Humans

I’m a fan of sabermetrics. I’m a fan of anything that can provide me more insight into something I love and am passionate about, so let’s get that out of the way first. But my God some people take these things a bit far, and in doing so, completely lose sight of the fact that human beings actually are playing the game that takes place on the field. It’s not a computer simulation that just prints out numbers and that’s the only story you need to know.

I came across a blog arguing that Jair Jurrjens is due for a regression, which as you will see, I believe is coming as well, just not nearly to the effect that it seems other people are intent on insisting, and as the responses and comments came in on this particular blog, the blatant disregard for the human element became more and more prevalent.

Here is the original piece that I responded to.

And here is my response:

What you’re doing, and what others have pointed out, is comparing his numbers in many aspects to what his “career” numbers are. He’s pitched two healthy years to this point. That’s hardly enough to really formulate just what the ceiling is for a 25 year old who clearly has a knack for not allowing the opposing team to score runs. You completely throw out the possibility that maybe, just MAYBE, he’s gotten better as a pitcher. MAYBE, just MAYBE those numbers you’re basing these comparisons against aren’t indicative of what he’s completely capable of (seeing how in 1 of those years he was a rookie, and in another he was injured and ineffective). I mean, let’s not possibly consider THAT when trying to figure out what to make of Jurjens.

When comparing this year to his 2009 season, the only other non-rookie, non injury plagued year with which to compare, the numbers aren’t that different. They don’t look quite so “unsustainable”.

His walks are down significantly. It couldn’t help matters, at all, could it, that perhaps he’s garnered better control and command of his pitches? Nah. And of course, that wouldn’t also help explain why the homerun rate is down either, would it? You don’t give guys free passes, and you keep the ball in the ball park, you’re on the way to success.

You keep expecting regression, but clearly he’s in better command of his pitches. His strikeout to walk rate is significantly better this year than it was in 2009. Of course, I’m sure that stat only matters if it’s making your argument for you.

BABIP? Not that much lower this year than in 2009. The difference in FIP and xFIP, about the same as it was in 2009. Hmmmm, so maybe when he’s at his best, the numbers that you seek out so much don’t exactly tell the whole story.

You know, there’s that pitch to contact thing, that for some guys, it works. Jurrjens is showing himself to be one of those guys.

You’re ignoring that this year he’s been able to get hitters to chase more pitches out of the strike zone. Why. And then the notion that a new pitch that sinks is brought up, you dismiss it as irrelevant. Why?

Would a pitch with movement not lead to more swings by hitters at pitches that dive out of the zone? Seems to me it would. What’s happening though, those guys are swinging at those pitches out of the zone, and making contact. So no, he’s not getting the sexy strikeouts you think he needs to get to show he can keep this pace up, but he’s getting weak contact that is turning these batted balls into outs.

Now, perhaps suddenly, hitters catch on to this, and perhaps the percentage of pitches hacked at out of the zone decreases, and he’s in the zone more often, and he starts seeing a BABIP that comes back towards the pack.

Or, his stuff, and his approach on the mound, continues to work as it has, and he continues to induce weak contact.

Don’t just pick and choose which advanced stats you want to look at and use here.

But of course, I know better than to suggest you’d dare overlook anything that might actually present a differing point to your original case.

Because as we know, we shouldn’t consider his being a 22 year old rookie in 2008, or being injured throughout 2010 at all when looking at those stats.

I’m all for advanced statistics and what they can tell us, but they don’t excuse you from still using a little common sense, and from including in an analysis of a player things you don’t see on paper, i.e. inexperience, injuries, a new pitch, gradual improvement as you expect from young athletes.

Sure, if you wanna stare at a piece of paper and that’s it and form conclusions, go right ahead. But you’re being just as ignorantly blind and stubborn as the traditionalists who also completely refuse to recognize sabermetrics.

There’s still a human element to the game being played on a field. This is not some computer simulation being run where all you need to look at are the numbers and numbers alone. Ignoring some of what you’re ignoring is just as stupid as people blatantly ignoring some of the advanced numbers that exist. An inability to incorporate both makes for weak and uneducated analysis.

Do I expect him to finish with a sub 2.00 ERA? No, I don’t. But do I expect it to be around 2.50, and for him to be right in the middle of the Cy Young talks? Absolutely.

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