BDD: What PECOTA Says

At Baseball Daily Digest, I explain the aim of PECOTA:

Angels fans are irate that PECOTA predicts the team to win a mere 76 games. If we go to two standard deviations, between which data falls 95% of the time, the win range spans from 64-88.

“Great,” you say. “Even I could predict the Angels to win between 64-88 games.”

It seems trivial, but that is because people are expecting PECOTA to make grand claims when it’s really not going to do that. If you’re expecting PECOTA to mimic Nostradamus, you are always going to close your Internet browser disappointed.

FJMing an FJM

Recently, I wrote an article at Baseball Daily Digest about the putrid off-season the L.A. Angels have been, well, not enjoying. Someone at Halos Heaven, who does not list his real name or any contact information, decided to give it the FJM treatment for which I am very honored. However, I’d like to respond to some of the factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies in his rebuttal. I suggest reading both my original article and his rebuttal to place the following in context.

In case you are unaware, FJM is the acronym of a now-defunct baseball blog called Fire Joe Morgan. They were known for quoting snippets of articles and responding to each one to debunk what the author is saying.

* * *

The following article was written at the website “Baseball Daily Digest” about the Angels off-season.  It’s a well written article, but [...]

First, I enjoy the placing of Baseball Daily Digest in quotations as if it’s some unknown website. It’s only run by the CFO of Baseball Prospectus. Secondly, I enjoy the back-handed compliment, “It’s a well written article, but…”

He’ll go on to be pedantic about my misspelling of Joel Pineiro’s last name. As a writer, I absolutely should be responsible for spelling every word correctly. However, transposing e’s and i’s is a common mistake among many fluent English speakers. The author uses it as a weapon to assault my intelligence. It’s easy to spot weak arguments when the opposition uses personal attacks rather than factual argumentation.

I never heard the Angels were in on Cliff Lee.  In fact, everything I read about the Lee trade claimed that that trade came together rather quickly and the Phillies probably could have gotten more if they had let other teams know they were willing to trade him.

This is where Google and providing links is key. Throughout the article, the author simply throws out comments without much evidence as if we are simply supposed to accept his word as fact. The Angels had been trying to obtain Lee as far back as last April.

This article is from the L.A. Times:

Last year’s Cy Young winner has a 3.14 ERA, and Howie Kendrick could be part of such a trade.

$30,000,000 deal.  The reason the Angels are a dominating team, and Cincinnati is well, Cincinnati, is they are smart enough know a bad deal when they see one and have the self-control to know when to walk away from that bad deal.

How is it a bad deal? $5 million per year is slightly more than the going rate for one win above replacement level. Chapman has the potential to produce as highly as Roy Halladay. Not immediately, mind you, but at some point.

The Angels gave Fernando Rodney an $11 million, two-year contract which has about the same average annual value as Chapman’s deal. Rodney is a severely mediocre player. Would you rather give $5 million to Rodney or Chapman? It’s not even a debate. Relievers of Rodney’s ilk are a dime a dozen.

This simply sounds like an Angels fan being blind to his team’s shortcomings.

The author of this article failed to mention the amounts the former Angels signed for with other teams.  The Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers have committed a total of 10 years and $123.5 million to the three Angel free agents, compared to 5 years and $33 million for the three players recently added by the Halos.  In two years, when Rodney’s and Pineiro’s contracts end, Figgins will be 34 and Lackey will be 33 with approximately $60 million remaining on their contracts.

This is a completely valid point. For the sake of completeness, I should have included as much information as possible. Hindsight is 20/20 however.

The Angels committed about $33 million total to Pineiro, Matsui, and Rodney. Their contributions combined will barely match Chone Figgins in 2010 unless all three outpace their CHONE projections:

  • Pineiro: 2.4 WAR
  • Matsui: 1.1
  • Rodney: 0
  • Figgins: 3.2

And remember, WAR on FanGraphs doesn’t factor in base running, so we would take away some points for Matsui and add a few for Figgins.

Now, of course, it can be argued that 3 WAR contributed by multiple players is more valuable than 3 WAR from one player. However, we are not counting the contributions of the players the Angels would have used if they did not sign Rodney. Who they would be would have depended on the results of the upcoming spring training.

Also counting in Figgins’ favor is the fact that he would remain the team’s top on-base and base running factor. Scarcity counts for something. Supply and demand.

[...] but Pineiro wasn’t signed to replace Lackey and the Angels didn’t replace their third baseman with a relief pitcher.

It doesn’t matter what the motive was behind the transactions. Imagine I’m trying to find the best selection of fruit. I currently have an apple, a pear, and a banana, but I decide I want something with citrus so I replace the pear and banana with a lime and lemon. I may not have directly swapped out the pear and banana but they were subtracted while the lime and lemon were added.

This is a fairly elementary concept. I’m surprised I have to explain it to someone who is apparently so much smarter than me.

Pineiro replaces Matt Palmer or Sean O’Sullivan in the Angel rotation

So who replaces Lackey?

while adding Brandon Wood to the lineup.

This is thrown in there as if it is assumed to be a good thing for the Angels. Is there no worry that he will fail to live up to the Angels’ expectations? Will he slug 25+ HR in the Majors like he did in AAA?

The Angels lost Figgins, who is at the very least a 3 WAR player, and are replacing him with a prospect — a very good one, but a prospect nonetheless. We can’t just assume he’ll OPS .900 like he did in AAA.

Rodney becomes just another arm in the Angel pen, with the potential to step into the closers role if Fuentes falters.

Ignoring the money behind the Rodney signing becomes hypocritical after criticizing me for doing so. The Angels are paying him over $5 million (AAV) and he will produce just barely over replacement level — he’s been at 0.3 and 0.4 WAR the past two seasons.

[...] the Cuban refugee might be in the major leagues by the time the Pineiro contract expires.

It is a common trend among fans to simply care about the team currently slated to make the Major League roster in the current calendar year, but adding Chapman would have been a smart move for any team that could afford him, considering the contract he eventually signed.

The author previously said about the Angels, “they are smart enough” with regard to handling contracts. That’s why the Angels were heavily pursuing Chapman, right? Ken Rosenthal reported that the team was “trying like crazy” to sign him.

In essence the author is using doublethink here.

  • The Angels are smart enough to sign only good contracts; signing Chapman would have resulted in a bad contract.
  • The Angels tried “like crazy” to sign Chapman.
  • Therefore, the author needs to logically reconcile one of the two beliefs, either that signing Chapman would not have been bad or that the Angels are not as smart as he gives them credit for.

Abreu stole 30 bases last season with a 79% success rate, Figgins had a success rate of 71% while swiping 42.  Abreu would be the most dangerous base stealing threat on a lot of teams.

“A lot” — I don’t think so. However, that’s not the point. We’re talking about the Angels, not other teams. Without Figgins, the Angels lose their most significant base running threat.

Maicer Izturis led Figgins in EQBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs, from Baseball Prospectus); however, he did so in 40% fewer attempts (444 to 270). Knowing what we know about statistics and regression to the mean, Figgins would likely have led Izturis in an equivalent amount of attempts.

Figgins was second on the team in ’09, and led the team every year from 2004-08. To argue that losing Figgins’ base running is not significant is to be very, very wrong.

I’m not suggesting Brandon Wood is fleet-footed, but he did steal 68 bases (19 CS) in his minor league career.

He attempted two stolen bases last year in AAA Salt Lake. He attempted to steal 22 times in 2007 and ’08 combined. All told, he attempted 87 stolen bases in 434 singles, 294 walks, and 31 HBP’s for a total of 759 times on first base. 759 into 87 brings us to 11%. Eleven percent of the time Wood was on first base, he attempted to steal second base.

Chone Figgins, meanwhile, has been on first base 813 times via single, 412 times via a walk, and 6 times via HBP for a total of 1,231 times on base. He has attempted 376 stolen bases. 1,231 into 376 brings us to 30.5%. Over thirty percent of the time Figgins has been on first base, he has attempted to steal. That’s about three times the rate of Wood.

The author isn’t suggesting Wood is fleet-footed because he isn’t and will never be, especially at the Major League level. This argument is entirely disingenuous.

Regarding base on balls, the loss of Figgins will hurt, but the Angels did add a hitter who’s capable of drawing a walk when they signed Matsui.  Matsui’s walk total from last season of 64 would have placed him 3rd on the team, plus he’s replacing Guerrero who had a total of 19.

Don’t forget where each player bats in the lineup. Plate discipline and OBP skills are more important at the top of the lineup, where Figgins was. SLG is more important in the middle of the lineup, where Matsui will hit (presumably #5).

Other than Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar, all of the other Angel regulars performed right around their career averages.  Of those two, Aybar is the most likely to repeat his performance.

This is why the projecting should be left to the experts. The author does not give any evidence why we should expect the Angels hitters to continue to hit at their previous career averages other than that they are their career averages. Meanwhile, the projections which are developed by experts who have put in thousands of hours of time attempting to perfect the art (an unattainable goal, by the way) factor not only past performances but weight in other factors such as age and is regressed.

If Sabermetrics and projections don’t interest you, that’s your prerogative and you are certaintly entitled to your opinion. However, when you put your own biased opinion on the same level as an objective system worked on by experts is where the opinion/fact line becomes blurry.

As mentioned in my J.A. Happ article at BDD, there is always the chance — and not an insignificant one — that a player will under- or out-perform his projections. However, the goal of the projections is not to nail the player’s performance down to the thousandth decimal point (although it would be nice); it is to provide a probability of production.

When CHONE says puts a 4.23 ERA next to Scott Kazmir’s name, it is not saying he will definitely put up a 4.23 ERA or close to it; it is saying that the most likely outcome is that he puts up an ERA in that vicinity. CHONE doesn’t consider every factor, and actually considers very few. CHONE may miss some significant factor that leads to future success for Kazmir.

All told, though, I’ll take CHONE’s projections any day over Joe Fan’s projections that heavily weigh one season’s worth of data and don’t properly weigh previous seasons. Scott Kazmir’s production in 2005 is almost irrelevant when trying to project Kazmir in 2010.

That 11 out of 14 ranking is a bit misleading, as the Angels suffered with injuries and the use of rookie pitchers.  The signing of Fernando Rodney should insure fans will not see the likes of Rafael Rodriquez (5.58 ERA), Shane Loux (7.46 ERA in 12 games as a reliever) or some other triple-A pitcher.  Plus, those first half numbers were inflated by departed relievers Justin Speier (5.18) and Jose Arredondo (6.00).

Certainly valid points. However, his points are all irrelevant as it pertains to the addition of Rodney. Rafael Rodriguez wasn’t a shoo-in for the Major League roster prior to the Rodney signing. Additionally, the Angels are still paying him $11 million when it is likely that he will not even reach 1 WAR in his two years there combined.

Weaver’s career ERA is 3.73 and he’s only had an ERA over 3.91 once in his career. Why, all of a sudden would his ERA balloon to 4.10? It won’t.

Again, we’re dealing in probabilities. Why would his ERA increase? He had a .288 BABIP. Pitchers can’t control their BABIP. The league average BABIP is around .300. The most likely scenario is that Weaver has a BABIP around .300, which will lead to more base hits dropping in and less runners being stranded on base (he stranded 76% compared to the AL average of 72%).

Additionally, Weaver’s walk rate has increased every season since he’s been in the Majors. Not significantly, but combined with a slight BABIP and LOB% regression, that all could be enough to push his ERA on the wrong side of 4.00.

A disparity of about .3 runs in ERA isn’t terribly large especially as it pertains to projections.

Kazmir’s ERA after joining the Halos on August 29th was 1.73 in six starts. His career ERA is 3.83. The only season his ERA was over 4.00 since his rookie season was during 2009 while suffering from thigh and forearm problems.

I won’t advocate completely ignoring Kazmir’s production in his month-plus with the Angels, but I would suggest taking it with a huge grain of salt. We are dealing with a really small sample size here. As an Angel, Kazmir had a meager .261 BABIP and 83% strand rate. That is very unsustainable, since pitchers can’t control BABIP.

Additionally, Kazmir has only reached 30+ starts in two of the five seasons in which he has been starting regularly. He has durability issues. In 2008, he reached the seventh inning only 6 times in 27 starts (22%). Last season, he did it 9 times in 26 starts (35%). John Lackey, as an example, reached the seventh inning 19 times in 27 starts (70%).

An Era of 4.53 from Santana in 2010 would be right around his career numbers (4.53), but Santana has shown he’s capable of much better performance when healthy.

Remember that the whole purpose of the response to my article was to show me how wrong I was. For the Pineiro and Santana projections, he essentially admits they’re spot on, but he can’t just pass up the opportunity to argue with something.

Sure, Santana is capable of being better than a 4.53 ERA pitcher. Is it likely? Not in 2010, based on the information available presently.

Since his rookie season, the only time Saunders has had an ERA over 4.53 was in 2009 when hit the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Notice the selective endpoint of 4.53. His career ERA (something the author is very fond of up until it comes to Saunders) is 4.22. He really hasn’t been pitching regularly enough for us to come to concrete conclusions about his ability.

However, Saunders’ 2008 was fluky. His BABIP was a very low .267. His career average is .292. The odds of it being close to .300 are very high, since pitchers can’t control BABIP and the league average is .303.

Furthermore, Saunders’ strikeout rate stayed below 5.0 per nine innings for his second consecutive season while his walk rate climbed above 3.0 per nine. The strikeout rate is way too low and the K/BB ratio is also too low (1.6). Last year, the following pitchers had a K/BB ratio of 1.6 or lower: Braden Looper, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Doug Davis, John Lannan, Trevor Cahill, Jeff Suppan, and Ian Snell. Of the group, Lannan, Davis, and Marquis had ERA’s between 3.88 and 4.12 but xFIP between 4.41 and 4.69.

That’s the kind of company Saunders is in.

After returning from shoulder stiffness, Saunders went 7-0 while compiling an ERA of 2.55. Saunders isn’t a staff ace, but he’s much better than given credit for.

I’ll take “Lending too much credence to small sample sizes” for $400, Alex.

I’m curious how the Angels could have easily improved the rotation.  The Angels did not have the players the Blue Jays wanted for Roy Halladay.  And who knows if the Angels were even contacted regarding acquiring Cliff Lee.

I guess none of these guys would have worked in a deal for Halladay. Definitely not. (Got your sarcasm detector?)

Even though the Angels lost Figgins and Lackey, did they really have the least productive off-season?

I’ll take “Taking an intentionally and obviously hyperbolized statement too literally” for $1,000 Alex.

There’s no way to definitively state that one team had a more unproductive off-season than the other because they are all trying to reach different goals. To quibble with the statement that the Angels had the least productive off-season is to engage in semantics. No, maybe the Angels didn’t have the least productive off-season but it wasn’t productive.

Another season where the Angels outdid their Pythagorean.  Is anyone still surprised by this?

Again, take probabilities into account here rather than concrete black and white terms. Is it possible that the Angels will yet again out-perform their PWL by five games or more? Yes. Is it the most likely scenario? No. Revenge of the RLYW projected the 2010 season and came up with the Angels going 81-81. More reliable projected standings will come as final 25-man rosters are decided at the end of spring training, but I’d be surprised if any projections are as optimistic about the team as the author is.

UPDATE: The PECOTA projections are out. Angels: 76-86, 4th out of 4 in AL West.

Have [the Mariners] improved enough to overcome their fluky season as Pythag suggested and to catch the Angels in 2010?  They would have to have at least a 12 game improvement.  I don’t think they did.

Yet another example of the author simply throwing his opinion out without any facts to back it up, as if we should automatically accept it on face value. I sincerely hope I have not been so arrogant.

However, he is right to point out that the Mariners outperformed their PWL much more so than did the Angels. I neglected to look at the Mariners PWL when I wrote the article and it’s something I should have considered in retrospect. As such, the author may have a point that I am overrating the Mariners.

And being financially responsible by not re-signing a pitcher who has started the last two seasons on the disabled list to an $82M+ salary is not waving a white flag.

Take a look at this list and tell me where Joel Pineiro ranks. Factor in projected production and salary. Pineiro, prior to ’09, had been worth less than 1 WAR in each season and all totaled just over 2 WAR. In 2010, CHONE projects Pineiro to be worth 2.5 WAR. That seems fair but it is a significant step down from the 4.8 WAR he was worth last season.

If you are happy losing out on Halladay and Lackey and content with Pineiro, again, that’s just fine and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. If you argue, however, that Pineiro is just as suitable as the aforementioned, then we are operating on separate planes of reality. Pineiro is a marginal upgrade for his pitching role and overall the Angels’ starting rotation is worse than it was last year.

This is just too stupid to comment on as I have nothing against DeVry graduates, waiters, nor ugly women.

Neither do I. I have not yet attended a fancy college nor have I held a fancy job nor have I dated any significantly attractive women. This is another example of taking something much too literally. It is an analogy for the Angels’ off-season: everyone else is having fun at real colleges, working awesome jobs, and enjoying great relationships while you (the Angels) are settling for the above.

In an effort to be contrarian, the author simply came off as obtuse.

Before I close, I would like to applaud Halos Heaven for its mature group of commenters. The following intelligent comments can be found beneath the author’s response:

  • some dudes blog nobody has ever heard of. (ESPN disagrees)
  • the literal definition of “sophomore”
  • “nerd” (a term with which I brand myself proudly, by the way)
  • the idiot Baer, whose knowledge of the Halos is obviously nil.
  • This Baer guy is a jackass
  • that idiot
  • Unknown Blogger

I am thankful that the commenters here and on SB Nation’s Phillies blog The Good Phight are much more rational and mature than those that showed up to respond to the author’s FJMing of my article.

I forget the term, but there’s a way to describe valuing something more while you have it and less when you don’t. I think that explains a lot of the vitriol shown by both the author and the Halos Heaven commenters. John Lackey was certainly great while you had him, but now that he’s gone it’s easy to focus only on his DL stints and high ERA. Meanwhile, they completely ignore it for Joe Saunders.

It’s fine to be just a fan of a team, to just watch and not care about any of the numbers and to root really hard for a guy when there’s no reason to. However, if we are to engage in an intellectual debate, the subjectivity must be left at the doorstep. Notice the persecution complex shown by the commenters:

  • “I dont know what it is but writers, scouts, TV talking heads, ESPN all love to hate us.”
  • “wow! another of that anti-angels bandwagon…”
  • “we dominate in years the media assumes we’re dead. [...] they wouldn’t dare point out the ways seattle overachieved”
  • “I love that all the ‘nerds’ can’t figure us out.”
  • “Hard for me to care about yet another member of the blogosphere foretelling our demise. He can join Buster Olney, Karl Ravich, Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, well you get the picture. According to those fine folks at various sports media outlets we’ve been lucky, more than successful year in, and year out. Screw ’em.”

If you truly have a solid foundation for your arguments, then you wouldn’t need to resort to logical fallacies and ad hominems. I am very disappointed, Halos Heaven.

BDD: A Not So Happ-y 2010

At Baseball Daily Digest, I detail why you should not expect J.A. Happ to be the pitcher we saw last year. This is the article I was talking about in my response to David Murphy.

As you can see, ERA estimators very much disagree with Happ’s 2009 ERA. Even the most optimistic estimator only puts Happ at 4.33, which is in the same neighborhood as Nick Blackburn, Mike Pelfrey, and Livan Hernandez. That is not to say that a 4.33 FIP is awful, it just means that Happ’s success last year does not match up with factors we know fall under a pitcher’s direct control.

An Object at Rest

David Murphy has written a very thought-provoking piece for his High Cheese blog for the Philadelphia Daily News. If you follow both the Phillies and Sabermetrics, then you’re probably well aware of the regression lefty J.A. Happ is likely to face in 2010. Those in the non-stats crowd were impressed by his poise last season and think he’ll perform better than do those of us who fancy numbers. Murphy tries to meet all of us in the middle, citing “The Pendulum Effect”:

[...] refers to the tendency of folks on opposite sides of an argument to make increasingly extreme statements [...]

Staying on the science theme, I’d like to direct Murphy towards Newton’s first law of motion:

[...] an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

All right, so I’m stretching a bit. But the point is sometimes moderates become so concerned with being moderate that they become just as extremist as those on opposing ends. With all due respect to Murphy, I think he is an object at rest and he is willingly guarding himself against being affected by external forces, or the thought processes of those on either end of the stats/scouts spectrum. It’s evident about halfway through when he posts his “moderate’s creed”.

I am not going to go into the math as to why Happ will regress in 2010. Mostly because I’ve researched and written an article about it that may be printed elsewhere and I don’t want to blow my stack, and also because you can probably read the various reasons with some simple Google searching. So if you are interested in the methodology behind that, I suggest staying tuned for my article (I will post details as they come in) or checking out the work of some other writers who have covered the subject.

Simply put, the reasons behind Happ’s likely regression are statistically sound. The Sabermetric stats that frown upon him are based off of DIPS (defense-independent pitching statistics) initially developed by Voros McCracken and DIPS has evolved many times through the years. Each new advancement shines a little more light than its predecessor.

The reasons behind saying “Happ will regress” are facts. This is not akin to a liberal saying that a woman should have the right to choose or a conservative pushing for his right to carry a firearm. Those arguments are based on morals which are neither right nor wrong. Meanwhile, taking one particular side in the Happ debate does not mean you are an extremist; it means you are either right or wrong. Compromising between the two, as Murphy does, still leads to a wrong answer, albeit to a slightly lesser extent.

I don’t want to sound like the brainwashed stat-nerd that mainstream writers so often characterize. However, Sabermetrics have gone a long way towards enlightening us as to the truths in baseball. Many smart people have put in long hours of data analysis to reach these conclusions. As it pertains to the Happ debate, the stats crowd is right: he is likely to regress.

As Murphy points out, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible that Happ will have as productive a 2010 season as in ’09, it just means it’s unlikely. To say otherwise for any reason whether it’s sincere disbelief or to simply attempt a compromise is to be wrong.

Ruiz Makes It 25

As expected, Carlos Ruiz signed a contract extension, making him the 25th and final Phillie set to officially earn cash money in 2010. The Phillies website has the deets:

The Phillies agreed Sunday on a three-year, $8.85 million contract with catcher Carlos Ruiz [...]

The deal — still pending a physical — includes a fourth-year club option of $5 million, with a $500,000 buyout, and performance incentives based on games started.

For the signings of Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino, we can just compare their salaries to their expected value. It’s trickier with catchers since a surefire method of evaluation has yet to be developed. However, we will glance at a couple of the best methods to date.

FanGraphs has valued the now 31-year-old Ruiz at 0.3, 1.7, 0.5, and 2.2 WAR over the past four seasons, an average of about 1.2. In free agent bucks, he has been worth a total of over $20 million, or about $5 million per year. Unfortunately, Ruiz’s defense is not at all factored into the equation as it is still but a silhouette amidst the Sabermetric landscape.

If we had to take a rough guess, how good has Ruiz been defensively? At Beyond the Box Score, Dan Turkenkopf ranked him as the third-best catcher in all of baseball at blocking pitches in the dirt last season. Dan also cites a similar metric developed by Pitch F/X guru Harry Pavlidis that ranked Ruiz as second-best in baseball. That makes sense — Ruiz’s propensity to block sliders in the dirt is part of what made Brad Lidge so dominating in 2008 and kept him just shy of embarrassingly incompetent last season.

As for throwing out base-stealers, Ruiz has thrown out 21, 31, 24, and 27% in his four seasons (2006-09 respectively) with the Phillies. The National League averages in those seasons are 28, 25, 27, and 29% respectively. In a very detailed post at Driveline Mechanics, devil_fingers had Ruiz 95th out of 115 catchers in “caught stealing runs” last season. Even if we only include those catchers with 2,500 plate appearances or more, Ruiz ranks 27th out of 35.

Overall, factoring in throwing out base-stealers, blocking pitches, committing errors and so forth, devil_fingers valued Ruiz at 5.4 total runs or roughly about 0.5 WAR. Add it to Ruiz’s offense along with position and replacement level adjustments, and he was worth close to 2 WAR last season or about $9 million. If Ruiz comes close to that next season, he’ll pay for his entire contract in one year in theory.

Even without the number-heavy evaluation (which, for catchers, should still be taken with a grain of salt as mentioned), Ruiz’s contract surely passes the smell test. The Phillies don’t have any catching prospects close to the Majors especially after trading Travis D’Arnaud to Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade. For roughly $9 million the Phillies extinguish any uncertainty surrounding the catching position and for $5 million more can extend Ruiz for another year in 2013.

Another interesting aspect of the extension is that Ruiz will continue to work with a pitching staff with which he is very familiar. While he will be teaming up with Roy Halladay for the first time, he has worked with Cole Hamels for four years, J.A. Happ for one-plus, Joe Blanton for one and a half, and Jamie Moyer for three and a half. He has developed a reputation for calling a good game behind the plate and with everyone sans Moyer locked up through 2012, keeping the crew together can become an advantage.

Ruiz may not be Joe Mauer, but he’s worth the money he’ll be receiving in the next three or four seasons. Meanwhile, Ruben Amaro continues his trend of signing players to contracts at market value or below for three or fewer guaranteed years.

Savvy Amaro Signs Contreras

And now for something completely out of left field… the Phillies reportedly have signed Jose Contreras. The 38-year-old right-hander is expected to pitch out of the bullpen and provide depth in the starting rotation in the event of poor performance or injury.

Contreras himself has had to deal with some health problems. He made 19 starts in 2008 but landed on the disabled list after a July 13 start that irritated his right elbow. He then ruptured his left Achilles tendon in his first start back off the D.L. on August 9. Last season, he missed a month between May 8 and June 8 when his right leg wasn’t right. But wait, there’s more! Contreras would miss two more weeks in September when he strained his right quadriceps.

Yeah, it’s not exactly a no-risk signing by the Phillies, but Contreras will likely earn much less than the $10 million he received last season between the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies.

Despite his age and a bill of health that requires some serious finger-crossing, Contreras proved as recently as last season’s NLDS that he still has above-average stuff to compete against Major League hitters. During Games 2 and 3, his fastball consistently sat in the mid-90’s, reaching as high as 96 MPH. Contreras struck out seven batters in just over seven innings of work at the end of the regular season with the Rockies as well.

Over the past three seasons, Contreras has been worth 2.1-2.6 WAR with almost all of his innings coming as a starter. For the Phillies, a more reasonable expectation is at about 1.0 WAR since his innings total will likely end up half of what it has been.

His ERA of late may worry you, but ERA predictors are a bit kinder to him:

In each of the past four seasons, FIP has estimated Contreras’ ERA to be better than what it turned out to be. The biggest gaps come in ’07 and ’09 and it’s no coincidence that in those years he had a .334 and .325 BABIP respectively. As we know, pitchers can’t control their BABIP so we can credit most of that to a poor distribution of batted balls and poor play by his fielders.

Contreras, who induces ground balls about 45-50% of the time a ball is put in play, should fare better in Philadelphia given that he will have one of baseball’s best infield defenses behind him. Also inspiring confidence is his strikeout rate which at 7.25 per nine innings last season was his highest since 2004. However, that did come with a corresponding rise in his walk rate which at 3.62 per nine innings was his highest since ’03.

Overall, it’s a savvy signing by GM Ruben Amaro. Contreras has the potential to be a valuable member of the Phillies’ bullpen or provide a high level of production as a #5 starter in the event that Jamie Moyer cannot regain full health and/or Kyle Kendrick cannot capture his magic from 2007. This is the type of signing that winning organizations make. And to think it was only four years ago that the Phillies relied on Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero to make starts.

Phillies Extend Victorino, Blanton

Yesterday, we learned that Joe Blanton is worth about $12 million in free agent bucks, assuming a level of production at 3.0 WAR. GM Ruben Amaro did a good job, then, in getting Blanton to agree to a three-year, $24 million extension, an average annual value of $8 million. That left Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz as the only Phillies with undecided salaries.

Tonight, Victorino agreed to a three-year, $22 million extension (AAV of $7.3 million). Since earning a full-time job with the Phillies in 2006, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has been worth about 16 WAR for an average of 3.2 per season. If Shane averages the same level of production over the next three years, his production will be worth about $14 million per season or $42 million over all three years, with the for-argument’s-sake assumption of $4 million per win.

For as much as we criticized Amaro for trading away Cliff Lee and signing free agents Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez, he has performed remarkably well with regard to arbitration-eligible players. Amaro had ten such cases last year and handled them all with great aplomb:

  • Joe Blanton: 1 year, $5.475 million
  • Eric Bruntlett: 1 year, $800,000
  • Clay Condrey: 1 year, $650,000
  • Greg Dobbs: 2 years, $2.5 million
  • Chad Durbin: 1 year, $1.635 million
  • Cole Hamels: 3 years, $20.5 million
  • Ryan Howard: 3 years, $54 million
  • Ryan Madson: 3 years, $12 million
  • Shane Victorino: 1 year, $3.125 million
  • Jayson Werth: 2 years, $10 million

Not one case involved a multi-year contract of more than three guaranteed years. In fact, of current Phillies, only Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have signed multi-year contracts of greater guaranteed length (5 and 7 years, respectively), but they were orchestrated by former GM Pat Gillick.

Overall, Amaro has paid close to market value to significantly below market value, and that trend is continuing as we head into the start of the 2010 season.

Currently, the Phillies stand at about $135 million, close to their self-imposed $140 million limit. As Amaro works to sign catcher Carlos Ruiz to an extension, they will be just about at max payroll. That will remove all of the uneasiness going into this season, and most of it going into 2011. The big question next year pertains to sudden superstar Jayson Werth.

Werth is unlikely to agree to stay in Philadelphia with an extension of three years or less, and certainly not for the amount of money Amaro seems to be comfortable offering. Jason Bay, a fellow corner outfielder with a much more limited skillset, signed a four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets. Werth has been worth about 3.5 total WAR more than Bay over the last two seasons and is regarded as a five-tool player. He could reasonably demand a contract between what Bay and Matt Holliday (7/$120M) received, such as five years, $90 million.

Whether Werth will get an offer of that caliber remains to be seen, but it is unlikely that the Phillies will be able to retain him. The Victorino extension appears to be a safeguard against losing both outfielders with the realization that Werth is most likely gone after the 2010 season. Amaro’s reluctance to trade outfield prospect Domonic Brown is, in retrospect, prescient as Brown would be the leading candidate to replace Werth.

Fortunately, the Werth issue will be one of few for the Phillies in 2011. Amaro has worked extremely hard to achieve that, and he’s done a bang-up job so far even if we’re dissatisfied with the thought of having one and not two former Cy Young winners atop a rotation that has reached the World Series two years running.

BDD: Angels Slipping Down

At Baseball Daily Digest, I nominate the Angels for having baseball’s worst off-season.

In essence, the Angels have swapped gimpy designated hitters, downgraded from Lackey to Piniero, lost Figgins and gained Rodney. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay went to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee went to Seattle, and Aroldis Chapman went to Cincinnati. The Angels wanted an ace pitcher and they ended up with Joel Piniero. It’s the kind of dream/reality contrast one would expect to find with the New York Mets, not the L.A. Angels.

Joe Blanton Is Worth It

From the Phillies official website:

Based on figures released in anticipation for a potential arbitration hearing next month, Blanton seeks $10.25 million for the 2010 season, but the Phillies are proposing $7.5 million, which is a bump of more than $2 million from his ’09 salary.

The most likely scenario is that the Phillies will win the case and pay Blanton $7.5 million in 2010, a result that fans will be pleased with. Since the odds of Joe being a Phillie in ’10 are at about 99.99%, the fan in me very much prefers the Phillies winning all of their arbitration cases as it allows the team more flexibility.

However, from what I’ve heard from Phillies fans since Blanton’s salary suggestion was reported, most fans don’t think he’s worth $10.25 million. I wonder if that holds true.

Blanton was inserted into the Oakland Athletics starting rotation in 2005 and has been starting regularly ever since. Since that time, he has compiled nearly 16 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), an average of over 3 WAR per season. His last two seasons (2.2 WAR each) have been the least productive of his short Major League career, but he still provides value out of the middle of the Phillies’ rotation.

The venerable Dave Cameron calculated the dollar value of each WAR at FanGraphs last year:

2005 – $3.4m / win
2006 – $3.7m / win
2007 – $4.1m / win
2008 – $4.5m / win

The value was about the same in 2009 — about $4.5 million per win. Given the state of the nation’s economy and a slight change in the baseball value zeitgeist among front office executives (see: Zduriencik, Jack), we can reasonably expect the 2010 value to be slightly lower, somewhere in the $4-4.25 million range according to most Sabermetric estimates. Jack Moore estimated the value to be even lower, from $3.5-4 million. Let’s just say $4 million.

The arbitration hearings focus on what a player has already done, not what he will likely do in the future. Even if the projections saw Blanton falling off of the face of the Earth and the Phillies offered a salary of the league minimum, he would still be awarded a pay raise if his performance in the recent past justified it.

However, what we as fans are focused on is what Blanton is likely to produce for the Phillies in 2010 and if his salary will be money wisely spent by the organization. So first we need to figure out what we can expect of Joe.

Blanton went into ’09 with a career K/9 rate of about 5.2. Yet he wasn’t a different pitcher last year. He threw the same variety of pitches at the same rates save for a 3% drop in curveball usage. He had an average BABIP and his batted ball splits did not alter drastically, just a 4% increase in fly balls and a similar decrease in ground balls.  Additionally, Joe’s walk rate stayed around his career average and his home run per fly ball rate bumped up a bit.

Overall, nothing too alarming and not much that can’t be explained by randomness. Except that strikeout rate. Joe averaged about 5.2 punch-outs per nine innings over his career, but it rocketed to 7.5 last season. Cyril Morong noted that strikeout rates are generally persistent:

[...] I found all the pitchers that had 1000+ batters faced in both the 2003-05 period and the 2006-08 period. The correlations for walk rates and strikeout rates from period 1 to period 2 were 0.736 and 0.767, respectively.

If you’re unfamiliar with correlation coefficients, the number can range from -1 to +1. The closer it is to positive one, the more strongly correlated one number is to the other. As for year-to-year persistence, Matt Swartz found a similar number in an entry for Baseball Prospectus.

Hopefully I haven’t lost you. All this means is that we can look at the huge jump in Blanton’s strikeout rate without immediately discarding it as aberrant. We found nothing alarming in his peripherals to cause reason for pessimism. The projections agree: Bill James, CHONE, and Marcel put him on a 4.06, 4.10, and 4.22 ERA next season, very close to his 4.05 ERA from last season.

All told, a reasonable expectation for Blanton in 2010 is a WAR at about 3.0. Multiplying that by our dollar value per WAR figure, $4 million, we estimate Joe to be worth about $12 million in free agent dollars. How do we interpret that figure? Dave Cameron explains:

[...] the best description of the question that the valuation is answering is “how much would you expect to have to pay to replace this performance in free agency if you knew that you were going to get this level of value exactly?”

In other words, if the Phillies went into 2010 without Blanton and wanted to recoup the 3 WAR lost, they should expect to pay about $12 million to free agents. That $10.25 million request submitted by Blanton looks a bit more reasonable now, doesn’t it? I sense a L’Oréal commercial in the works.