Albert Pujols Not a Fit in Philadelphia

Over at Beerleaguer, Drew Silverman argues that the Phillies could make a trade for Albert Pujols, sending Ryan Howard and Joe Blanton away for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. The rumor isn’t new — similar rumors popped up last year, which I begrudgingly addressed. And I will do the same nearly a year later. Let’s go through some of the supposed reasons why a trade makes sense and debunk them.

Despite Amaro’s denial, a Howard-for-Pujols deal made some sense. And this spring, a trade based around Howard and Joe Blanton for Pujols would make a lot of sense.

Not when he has no-trade rights and has vowed to veto any trade because he wants to test the market as a free agent. To quote Buster Olney,

[…] there are only two possible results in the negotiations in the Pujols talks: Either he signs a contract extension with the Cardinals, or he will become a free agent this coming fall.

Additionally, the Phillies signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension that goes potentially into 2017. Howard is about two months older than Pujols. Would you rather have Howard for the next six years at $145 million (his ’17 season can be bought out for $10 million rather than paying his $23 million salary), or Pujols at ten years, $300 million?

Here’s a look at Pujols and Howard in terms of WAR, per FanGraphs:

Assuming $5 million per win and five percent salary inflation every season, we can figure out how many wins each player must be worth to justify his salary. Here are the baseline salaries per WAR:

  • 2011: $5.0 million
  • 2012: $5.3 million
  • 2013: $5.5 million
  • 2014: $5.8 million
  • 2015: $6.1 million
  • 2016: $6.4 million
  • 2017: $6.7 million
  • 2018: $7.0 million
  • 2019: $7.4 million
  • 2020: $7.8 million
  • 2021: $8.1 million

For Howard to “break even” from 2011-17 — which is found by dividing his total salary by the average salary per one WAR listed above — he must put up 4.0, 3.8, 3.6, 4.3, 4.1, 3.9, and 3.4 WAR for a total of 27.2 WAR and an average of 3.9 WAR per season. In his five full seasons since 2006, Howard has compiled 20.5 WAR for an average of 4.1 WAR per season.

In order for Howard to justify his salary, he either has to have several incredibly good seasons where he vastly surpasses 4 WAR, or he needs to aggressively defy aging patterns, which is incredibly unlikely.

Assuming Pujols signs a ten-year, $300 million contract that pays him $30 million per season, to break even he must compile 3.2, 5.7, 5.4, 5.2, 4.9, 4.7, 4.5, 4.3, 4.1, 3.9, and 3.7 WAR for a total of 49.5 WAR and an average of 4.5 WAR per season. From 2001-10, Pujols compiled 80.6 WAR, averaging 8.1 WAR per season.

So you have Howard’s contract asking an average 4.1 WAR player to compile about 3.9 WAR per season through 2017, and Pujols’ contract asking an average 8.1 WAR player to compile about 4.5 WAR per season through 2021. If you had to bet on one player accomplishing his goal, you would be crazy not to bet on Pujols. Though his deal is longer and more expensive, he is more likely to live up to it than Howard.

Pujols reportedly is seeking 10 years in the neighborhood of $30 million per season. The Phillies wouldn’t give him that kind of money, but they could probably agree on a shorter deal with a higher annual salary.

Why would Pujols, at 31 years old, pass up an opportunity to sign a contract that will last the rest of his career to take less years and less total guaranteed money with the Phillies? Sure, the Phillies have good odds of winning another World Series in the next few years, but Pujols has already won a championship.

If the Phillies were to trade for Pujols, it would be on his terms since he holds the no-trade protection. He could refuse a trade unless the Phillies offer him the ten-year, $300 million contract he desires.

Additionally, trading for and signing Pujols (to a contract of any length) would make it tougher for the Phillies to retain Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Jimmy Rollins. Not impossible, mind you, but tougher. The Phillies made room for Cliff Lee when the opportunity arose, but he was just a free agent — he didn’t cost any Major League players that had to be replaced.

The Howard-Pujols trade rumor is fun, and Phillies fans have grown accustomed to getting the best players in baseball, but this trade is virtually impossible.

Potential Phillies Lineups

If you follow blogs with any regularity, the dawn of a new season brings plenty of lively lineup debates. The Phillies have certainly had their share of lineup debates as Jimmy Rollins is not the prototypical lead-off hitter and Shane Victorino seems better suited for that role. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “Victorino should lead off and Rollins should bat #6!”…)

The reality is that batting orders don’t matter all that much. They make for good conversation, but ultimately the most optimal lineup isn’t light years better than the least optimal lineup.

To illustrate this, I used this Lineup Analysis tool from Baseball Musings. For OBP and SLG, I used the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus. I have three lineups: the least optimal, the most optimal, and the suggested lineup. For the pitcher’s spot, I simply punched in the 2010 National League average (.177/.176).

The chasm between the worst and best lineups is about 60 runs, or six wins. However, the difference between the suggested lineup and the best lineup is only 13 runs, or 1.3 wins. In other words, not that much — certainly not enough to warrant getting into a heated argument. If the difference between the suggested and best lineups was six wins, I would certainly empathize more with the arguments.

Of course, the above is simply an illustration with several assumptions: that the lineup analysis tool used is accurate (certainly debatable), that the Phillies use only one lineup throughout the year (which will definitely not be true), that the Phillies face an equal distribution of right- and left-handed pitchers (also will not be true), and that the PECOTA projections are accurate (maybe). Personally, I think the projections are pessimistic about the Phillies’ offense — they scored 772 runs last year despite the injury problems. Losing Jayson Werth hurts, but the Phillies should still be in the top 25 percent of NL offenses, regardless of which batting orders they employ.

Which Phillies Storyline Are You Following?

Now that baseball is back, every fan goes into spring training with a particular storyline he or she is most interested in. It may be the arrival of a hyped-up prospect, seeing a newly-acquired player (via free agency or trade), hoping for the rebound of a player who previously struggled, or wishing for the continued health of a recently-injured player. There’s a little of all of that in Clearwater, plenty on the menu for everyone. So what’s your big story? Check out some of the obvious storylines below, vote in the poll on the right, and expound in the comments below.

The Arrival of Domonic Brown

Early struggles, lack of use, and injuries each contributed to a disappointing Major League debut for Brown in 2010. But the rookie still has plenty of hype and expectations going forward. He is expected to platoon with Ben Francisco in right field, but there is the possibility he performs well enough in spring training to win the job outright. Brown still received incredibly high marks from all of the prospect gurus, finishing #4 on Jonathan Mayo’s top-50 and #3 in Keith Law’s top-100. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have Brown compiling a .280/.336/.467 triple-slash line (good for a 112 OPS+), results that should excite any Phillies fan.

Welcoming Back Cliff Lee

After some general managerial gymnastics by Ruben Amaro, who sent four prospects to Cleveland for Lee in July 2009, then traded him to Seattle for three prospects in December, the lefty wound up back with the Phillies. He was open about how he never wanted to leave Philadelphia, and even “left money on the table” to spurn the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers and return to Philadelphia. Lee is the fourth ace in the Phillies’ five-man rotation, easily the most fearsome in baseball.

This picture, via Todd Zolecki, says it all:

Jimmy Rollins‘ Future

The Phillies picked up Rollins’ $8.5 million option for 2011, but that means he becomes a free agent after the season. He will have spent 16 seasons with the organization, having been drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft, so he is essentially the Phillies’ Derek Jeter — someone who you couldn’t imagine ever wearing another team’s uniform. If Rollins has a bounce-back year and shows he can stay healthy, Amaro should have no problem extending his contract by another three years.  Despite low expectations, Rollins is still quite good and as cocky as ever.

The Closer Situation

Both Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson can become free agents after the season. Lidge has a $12.5 million club option that can be exercised or the Phillies can buy him out for $1.5 million. The Phillies have young some arms with closer-esque material, such as Justin De Fratus, but given their focus on the next few seasons, they may feel more comfortable with established veterans. It is likely that Amaro chooses between Lidge and Madson to close going forward.

Each has a checkered past. Lidge has had some very high highs and very low lows, while Madson has been an elite set-up guy with a perceived inability to pitch in high-leverage situations (which is, however, patently false). Given that Madson is younger, has endured fewer legitimate injuries (the broken toe is a freak injury), and that Scott Boras is his agent, the Phillies should expect to pay a lot of money to retain his services. Strangely enough, Lidge, will have trouble asking for more money despite his perfect 2008 season.

The #5 Merry-Go-Round

Over the winter, the Phillies were actively shopping Joe Blanton given their recent infusion of starting pitching talent. It was widely believed the Phillies would take next-to-nothing to rid themselves of Blanton’s contract, worth $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons. In his stead, Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley would compete in spring training for the #5 spot.

Amaro had a change of heart, however, and decided that Blanton was worth keeping around and now there is absolutely no competition for starting rotation jobs. Kendrick and Worley will be auditioning for a mop-up role in the bullpen or a roster spot in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where they are the first line of defense in the event of an injury.

There is still the possibility that Blanton changes addresses by the July 31 trade deadline. Kendrick and Worley should not assume their chances of retaining a Major League job are slim, so spring training is still of great importance to them.

Which storyline has grabbed your attention? If there is one not listed, please share in the comments below.

Marlins 2011 Season Preview with Michael Jong

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those have been posted throughout the week.

Today, we will learn more about the Marlins from Michael Jong in our fourth and final installment in our look around the NL East.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Marlins?

The offseason was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Marlins made the right decision in trading Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves in lieu of extending him for five years. The team also went out and got Javier Vazquez on a deal that is likely below market, a high-risk / high-reward move that fits perfectly with the team’s outside chance of contention. At the same time, the Uggla trade return looked subjectively unappealing, even if it probably was objectively fine. Furthermore, the team filled the catcher position but did so by giving John Buck more money than they needed to; while he is likely to be worth his contract, the team simply did not need to pay him that much. The team radically redid its bullpen, but may have paid more to do so than was necessary as well. The changes may not leave them any better than they were last season.

2. Do you agree with the Marlins’ plan to turn Chris Coghlan into a center fielder? Why or why not?

The short answer is a resounding “no.” Coghlan took time to transition himself to left field from the infield, and it showed both in the defensive metrics and in the eyes of the fans via the Fans Scouting Report. Now the fans think he is an average left fielder, but an average left fielder is undoubtedly not close to an average center fielder, and the decision looks worse when you consider the sizable distance a center fielder would have to cover in Sun Life Stadium compared to a left fielder. Add on the fact that Coghlan will be playing the outfield anchor alongside Logan Morrison, who just started playing left field professionally and is no Carl Crawford out there. Now throw in how Coghlan is coming off a torn meniscus that ended his 2010 season. The move has “disaster” written all over it.

3. What are your thoughts on the Marlins keeping Edwin Rodriguez? Would you have preferred they bring in somebody else?

There was always talk about Ozzie Guillen coming to town, since he got his start as a third base coach in Florida, but the last time the team had a strong personality at the helm, owner Jeffrey Loria came down to the clubhouse himself and got involved. In that light, Edwin Rodriguez and his soft-spoken nature may suit the team best. I generally have no preference towards any managers though, as long as they aren’t messing up pitchers’ arms or distracting the team.

4. Should we expect big things from Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez this year?

It’s scary that the projection systems all have Mike Stanton hitting 35-plus home runs this year, but it is totally believable given what he did last season. When you put together his monstrous Double-A year and his impressive rookie campaign, the guy hit over 40 home runs in just under 650 PA. And he’s 21 years old in 2011. I’m excited to see his power output again this season. Gaby Sanchez, on the other hand, appears to be a known commodity despite this being his second season. He basically hit his preseason projections last year and did exactly what everyone thought he would do. He is a strong bet to repeat his 2010 line, but with Morrison playing out of position but being important to the team’s future, Sanchez figures to be the odd man out at some point in the next year.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Matt Dominguez is a big name to watch, if only because he is coming in as the top option at third base despite not showing that he is ready to be a major leaguer and face big league pitching. Chris Coghlan‘s trial run in center field will start in the spring, and it would not surprise me if the Marlins ended it by spring’s end as well. Scott Cousins is the likely backup option for center field, but he’ll need to show he deserves a roster spot as a fourth outfielder before he gets the opportunity to be the starter.

6. If you had to guess on the Marlins’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

Without running the numbers, I would say the team is in line to win 83 games and place third in the division. This is has happened so often to the Marlins since 2003 that it has become almost an annual tradition. I eagerly await for them to tease me with a Wild Card run before falling completely flat in September.

BONUS: I can haz @LoMoMarlins?

. . .

We will have our Logan Morrison. Phillies fans always get what they want.

Thanks to Michael for stopping by to participate in this Q&A. Be sure to check out his blog Marlin Maniac for all your news and analysis during the 2011 season.

If you missed the previous three installments, here are links:

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

On Twitter, one of my followers (@Slap_Bet) linked me to the active leaders in hit-by-pitches on Baseball Reference. Although I have long respected Chase Utley‘s ability to get hit, I was surprised to see him at #8 with 125 career bruises, only 47 shy of tying Carlos Delgado in second place. On the career leaderboard, Utley sits in 48th place, tied with Jeff Kent and Honus Wagner.

Due to Utley’s late start — his first full season came at age 26 — it is unlikely he makes it within the top-five but this skill of his hasn’t been recognized the way it had been for Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall. And make no mistake, getting hit by pitches is a legitimate skill. Utley led the National League in HBP for three consecutive years from 2007-09. Biggio did likewise from 1995-97. A scan of the year-by-year leaders yields a lot of repeat leaders as well.

How does Utley compare to two of the more recent HBP champs?

Utley’s three worst seasons came from 2004-06, two of which were partial seasons. He didn’t have quite the “peak” that Kendall had, but is overall very similar in HBP skill.

Interestingly enough, left-handed pitchers hit Utley at approximately twice the rate as right-handers: 5.0 percent to 2.6 percent. His HBP rate has declined since 2007 and in particular the past two years’ HBP rates against lefties have been lower than in ’08:

  • 2008: 14 HBP in 270 PA (5.2 percent)
  • 2009: 8 HBP in 235 PA (3.4 percent)
  • 2010: 8 HBP in 166 PA (4.8 percent)

Lefties have gradually thrown him more and more pitches towards the outside part of the strike zone. Notice the shift on the following heat maps from Baseball Analytics:

Lefties seem to have realized that they can’t pitch Utley inside without risking giving the Phillies a free base runner. While the shift shouldn’t have a drastic effect on Utley’s HBP totals, it is interesting to note how a seemingly benign skill can have a lasting effect on how opposing pitchers approach him.

Nationals 2011 Season Preview with Harper Gordek

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we will learn more about the Nationals from Harper Gordek.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Nationals?

I’d rate it as fair to good. The problem is, when viewed from what it could have been it looks bad. The Nats got rebuffed by several free agents and were turned down in a deal for Zack Grienke. GM Mike Rizzo almost promised the acquisitiion of a #1/#2 type pitcher. Jayson Werth could have been had cheaper and/or on a shorter contract. In a different world the Nats are celebrating a fantastic offseason, and that makes this one seem poor in comparison. When you look at what they did get objectively however, you do see improvement. Letting Dunn walk was tough, but this is Rizzo’s new goal. He wants a defense first squad. Dunn doesn’t fit in. Jayson Werth will be at least as productive when it comes to offense and defense combined, and is the type of plate-appearance battler that they needed to replace the walk-master Dunn. (contract be dammed – it’s a bad deal but that doesn’t mean the Nats won’t get 3-5 good offensive seasons first. Worry about it becoming an albatross when it does – am I right Ryan Howard fans?) Adam LaRoche is a perfectly acceptable slightly above average placeholder first-baseman, who’s offense will replace the healthy 2/3rd of a season departed Josh Willingham was likely to put in. I would have rather had Derek Lee or Carlos Pena but objectively they aren’t really better. Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel give the Nats 4 meh guys to run through in left field, but meh guys who are still capable of having that career year. Tom Gorzelanny gets one more chance at maybe being a solid starter. The bullpen is filled again with cheap talent. The Nats are almost certain to be a better team this year, not much better, certainly not .500 better even, but better.

2. What should we expect from Jordan Zimmermann this year? Despite some ugly results upon returning from injury last year, he actually pitched well. Is that indicative of what we should expect in the future?

You should see the best Jordan Zimmermann yet this season. What that means though is anyone’s guess. Like you note he could be due for a breakout season. He’s well underperformed compared to his xFIP (4.63 ERA to a 3.39 xFIP in ’09, 4.94 to 4.08 last year) and he’s the type of high K pitcher you love to have. The problem with Jordan is that he’s a flyball pitcher who gives up way too many long balls. That 22% HR/FB ratio from last year will surely drop, but his 12% in 2009 was also high, and it’s an issue that he had in the minors as well. Most likely he’ll significantly improve over the ERAs in his first two years by a combination of luck and experience but the homers will keep him from being a great pitcher. I look for an ERA of around 4.00.

3. Is Drew Storen the Nationals’ closer, or is that role up for grabs during spring training?

It should be Storen’s job no matter what, but instead I think it’s merely his job to lose. If Storen looks a little shaky, I could see a Clippard or Burnett or Henry Rodriguez or even Todd Coffey taking that 9th inning role. I think Mike Rizzo is as interested as finding this year’s Matt Capps (who if you don’t remember he turned into Wilson Ramos) as he is trying to settle down the closer spot this season. I do think Storen will win and keep the job though.

4. The Nats have three capable catchers on their active roster: Wilson Ramos, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jesus Flores. How is the team going to handle that?

Rizzo is building a team defense first and Ramos is the better defender. Flores is likely to start the season “rehabbing” in AAA, while Ramos and Pudge split time behind the plate. Every at bat Pudge gets is a terrible, terrible mistake but the Nats want him around to tutor Ramos. If that means humoring him with a possibly futile chase for 3000 they’ll make fans suffer through it. Flores then becomes trade bait for the big deal Rizzo is dying to pull.

Flores can only get back to a starting spot if Ramos (and Pudge) are terrible at the plate and he forced the issue from AAA. This isn’t that far out a scenario. Ramos hasn’t shown any pop in the majors and doesn’t walk so he’s totally reliant on a high batting average. Flores on the other hand might have been putting together a break out offensive year before being injured. Still, if Ramos is merely passable, the Nats have another catcher they like, Derek Norris, in the pipeline and they can wait things out.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Not in any interesting “young guy could win a position” sort of way. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos are set in their roles (and ST stats are pretty meaningless so if they struggle or prosper I wouldn’t read much into it) LF is still undecided so keep an ear out for what they are saying about Roger Bernadina, Mike Morse, Rick Ankiel, and Laynce Nix. I think they’d like Bernadina to win the role, and a Morse/Ankiel or Morse/Nix platoon makes the most sense, but don’t rule out a Nix or Ankiel winning the role outright – especially if Rizzo likes their defense.

Keep an eye on the starting pitching situation, the Nats have 6 main contenders for starting roles. It’s a mix of injury returns, guys with little experience, and 4.50 ERA guys. It could break any number of ways. Personally I think Lannan is the most interesting because he was pitching an entirely different and more effective way after returning from injury. If he keeps that up he could sneak up on the league. But again – I don’t like to think anything is proven in ST. I’d also check to see how Henry Rodriguez is doing – I think Rizzo would love to push him into as important a role as possible to up his (or Storen’s) trade value.

6. If you had to guess on the Nationals’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

Let’s say 74-88 and 4th place. Ahead of whichever of the Marlins or Mets self-destruct this season.

. . .

Thanks to Harper for taking the time to answer some questions about the Nationals. Be sure to check back with his Nationals Baseball blog throughout 2011 for more information about the Phillies’ division rival.

Mets 2011 Season Preview with Joe Janish

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we will learn more about the Mets from Joe Janish.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Mets?

D. The team did nothing but pick from the bottom of the junk pile all winter. It was a similar strategy to what Omar Minaya did in the past: sign players who once did something well, but are now undervalued due to recent injury and/or underperformance, and hope for the best. But instead of Minaya doing it, it was Sandy Alderson, so the PR angle is that it was a collection of “smart moves”. The major difference between this and other winters was that the Mets didn’t make at least one “big” signing to make the offseason appear successful … but with the news of the Madoff case, we now know why.

I realize that Alderson was working with a tight budget and had his hands tied by bad moves made by the previous administration. However, when I rate “the Mets”, I’m rating the entire organization, and that includes ownership — who is ultimately responsible for a team’s success or failure. That said, “the Mets” went backward, did not improve the club for 2011, and are relying on their annual strategy of “hopes and wishes”. I know that the stat-focused crowd is loving seeing the Alderson / DePodesta / Ricciardi regime in place and there are fans who are happy that it appears young players will get a chance to prove themselves, but, neither of these changes is likely to improve the big-league club in 2011. If I were grading Alderson, I’d say he did a good job considering the circumstances; but I’m grading the Mets.

2. The Mets acquired Chris Young and Chris Capuano, both with significant injury histories. Do you agree with taking a chance with them, or would you have preferred the Mets look elsewhere?

I really like the Capuano signing, because he never relied on velocity yet he now may have a little more than he’s had since his mid-twenties. Further, pitchers coming off TJ surgery tend to have a better chance of full recovery compared to other procedures, and Capuano has been through this once before. Assuming he is fully recovered and regains the command of his pitches he had in 2006, I think Capuano can be a pleasant surprise and give the Mets 200+ quality innings. Citi Field is the perfect place for him.
Speaking of, the main thing Young has going for him is a return to a pitcher’s park. I’m concerned about his health and his ability to pitch in more hitter-friendly stadiums such as Citizens Bank Park and Turner Field. But considering the price tag, the signing was a no-brainer and worth rolling the dice — certainly, a better gamble than the one the Mets made on Kelvim Escobar last winter.

Would I have preferred that Mets looked elsewhere? I guess, but where? The free-agent market was pretty limited, the best that was available wasn’t worth the dollar figures and the Mets couldn’t afford them anyway. Maybe the Mets could have explored the trade market further but they didn’t have many valuable, expendable chips to offer.

3. Do you expect Carlos Beltran to be wearing a different uniform by August 1?

Yes — assuming he stays healthy. If the Mets can get him on the field 4-5 times a week, they can probably fetch something from an AL team looking for a DH. His salary could be tough to move without eating some of it, though — he’s owed $18.5M this year. My fear is they’ll get nothing of value in return because they’ll be desperate to rid themselves of the cash commitment.

4. Offensively, what are you expecting out of this team? They were 13th out of 16 NL teams, averaging 4.05 runs per game last year.

The offense could be better compared to last year, but that’s assuming a few things break right; for example, if Jason Bay comes back 100% from his concussion and hits somewhere close to what was expected when he signed that 4-year / $66M deal. He doesn’t need to be a superstar, but he has to be able to hit at least 20-25 HRs and provide an .850 OPS. The Paulino / Thole platoon behind the dish could be productive, and if one of the younger kids can displace Luis Castillo at 2B, the lineup will be deep if lacking in power.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

The second base situation is the main thing to watch. We’re hoping that Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, AAAA guy Justin Turner, or the positionless Daniel Murphy becomes Jeff Kent — and who knows, one of those guys might be able to do it. Career minor leaguer Dillon Gee makes up for his lack in talent with craftyness and a bulldog mentality; he could steal the #5 spot in the rotation. I really like the Mets’ other Rule 5 pick Pedro Beato, who has an outside shot at a bullpen role.

6. If you had to guess on the Mets’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

I’m hoping they can finish fourth, but the Nationals scare me a little with their maturing youth and suddenly deep pitching (compared to previous years). It’s not impossible for the Mets to finish as high as third, but that’s going to require a lot of “ifs” turning out the way we’d like.

. . .

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to share some insight on the Mets. Don’t forget to add Mets Today to your bookmarks to keep tabs on them during spring training and throughout the 2011 season.

Are the Phillies Missing Right-Handed Power?

On Saturday, a commenter left a few comments in favor of trading for Michael Young. The responses (including mine) were mostly snarky, but the suggestion that the Phillies need right-handed power is not uncommon — even Mitch Williams said as much on MLB Network. So I think it is a topic worth discussing.

The claim that the Phillies need right-handed power is another way of saying “opposing teams should be punished for bringing in a LOOGY”. One does not want to organize his lineup such that the opposing manager can bring in his LOOGY for three or four hitters. Having an order that alternates left- and right-handed hitters punishes the opposing team in the following ways that a lineup of same-handed hitters would not:

  • Forces the LOOGY to face a right-handed hitter if the manager wants him to face the other lefties; or,
  • Allows your left-handed hitter to face a tired starter or a right-handed reliever; or,
  • Forces the opposing manager to burn through more relief pitchers than he would like (Tony La Russa style)

The Phillies’ lefties actually handle left-handed pitchers quite well. Chase Utley, surprisingly, has a higher career wOBA against southpaws than he does against right-handers. Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez are both around the league average, each posting a career .329 wOBA.

The other side of it is that Howard is extremely productive against right-handed pitchers. His career wOBA against right-handed pitchers (.424) is 95 points higher than it is against lefties. To put that in perspective, Miguel Cabrera had a .429 wOBA and Michael Cuddyer was at .329 during the 2010 regular season.

In the scenario where the Phillies trade prospects and/or Major League players for Young and his remaining $48 million, we need to ask ourselves if it is really worth the trouble. Remember that these LOOGY situations only come up once per game. Even if it occurs in every game, we are still only dealing with 162 plate appearances per player, quite a small sample size.

By comparing the Phillies’ wOBA splits to the league averages, we can find out approximately how many runs the Phillies are gaining or losing in each match-up. wOBA is converted into runs with the following formula:

( ( Player’s wOBA – League average wOBA ) / 1.15 ) * Player’s PA

We’ll start with Chase Utley:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .390 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 8.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .382 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 10.7 runs
  • Difference: 2.6 runs in favor of facing LHP

Ryan Howard:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .329 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 2.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .424 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 14.0 runs
  • Difference: 11.9 runs in favor of facing RHP

Raul Ibanez:

  • vs. LHP as LH: ( ( .329 – .314 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 2.1 runs
  • vs. RHP as LH: ( ( .367 – .325 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 5.9 runs
  • Difference: 3.8 runs in favor of facing RHP

Michael Young:

  • vs. LHP as RH: ( ( .362 – .330 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 4.5 runs
  • vs. RHP as RH: ( ( .344 – .311 ) / 1.15 ) * 162 = 4.6 runs
  • Difference: 0.1 runs in favor of facing RHP

The benefit of having a right-handed hitter, for the Phillies, is to give opposing managers a deterrent to bringing in a LOOGY for Howard. So let’s compare two similar situations, one where the manager leaves his left-hander in to face Young, and one where he allows his right-handed pitcher to face Howard. Then, we will compare it to the status quo.

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Young: 8.1 + 2.1 + 4.5 = 14.7 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Young: 10.7 + 14.0 + 4.6 = 29.3 runs
  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Ibanez: 8.1 + 2.1 + 2.1 = 12.3 runs

Over a full season (just 162 PA), if opposing managers let right-handers face Utley and Howard because they are scared of Young, the Phillies gain about 15 runs (about 1.5 wins). Young’s presence is not a strong enough deterrent. Furthermore, he provides an upgrade of only one-fourth of one win. Roughly ten runs equate to one win, and Young only provides a 2.4 run boost. Keep in mind, though, that this is relative — we are only dealing with 162 PA, or one PA per game.

What if the Phillies kept Jayson Werth? What is the optimal strategy?

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Werth: 8.1 + 2.1 + 10.0 = 20.2 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Werth: 10.7 + 14.0 + 5.9 = 30.6 runs

Not even Werth’s presence would make it optimal to allow Howard to face a LOOGY.

Just for fun, what if the Phillies had Albert Pujols hitting behind Howard?

  • LHP vs. Utley-Howard-Pujols: 8.1 + 2.1 + 17.6 = 27.8 runs
  • RHP vs. Utley-Howard-Pujols: 10.7 + 14.0 + 16.6 = 41.3 runs

Not even Pujols could dissuade a manager looking to bring in his LOOGY. Opposing managers would rather face one incredibly productive hitter (Pujols’ 17.6 runs) with his left-hander than two (Pujols’ 16.6 runs and Howard’s 14.0 runs) with a right-hander.

Howard’s production is so extremely good against right-handers and his production is so average against left-handers, that there is no reason to allow him to face a right-handed pitcher in a high-leverage situation. If the Phillies want to see Howard face LOOGYs less, Howard needs to vastly increase his production against lefties (or, conversely, drastically lower his production against right-handers).

(Remember, the above graphic is in a sample size of only 162 PA)

There are no right-handed hitters that should cause opposing managers to pause before bringing in a LOOGY unless those hitters are equivalently (or more) extremely good against left-handed pitching compared to right-handed pitching. The basis of platoons is maximizing the number of these favorable match-ups.

It is not worthwhile for the Phillies to acquire a hitter simply because he is right-handed. And, as pointed out last Wednesday, Young would not provide an upgrade at third base or shortstop, the only two positions where he would reasonably fit in, effectively washing out — and worse — any match-up related advantages.

Braves 2011 Season Preview with Peter Hjort

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we’ll start with Peter Hjort and glean some knowledge about the Braves.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Braves?

They did well. Frank Wren was able to upgrade the offense and balance the line-up by acquiring Dan Uggla and only had to part with a 25-year old potential set-up man and a 29-year old utility player to do it. They won’t have as strong of a bench or bullpen in 2011, but Braves fans have to like the team they’ll be going with next year as well as the fact that their farm system is still more or less completely intact.

2. Does Jason Heyward have a shot at winning the NL MVP award in 2011?

Sure, if he stays healthy. He was hitting like an MVP-candidate before he injured his thumb last year. If he can put that injury behind him and manage to play 140+ games at full strength, there’s no telling what Heyward will do. Heyward staying healthy for an entire professional season would be unprecedented, so we must temper our expectations in that regard, but, regarding ability, the hype is real.

3. The offense figures to be much improved with the addition of Dan Uggla, prospect Freddie Freeman, and a healthy Chipper Jones. Will they be among the NL’s best offenses?

Yes, I think so. They’ve got a good amount of power in the line-up and their first five or six hitters figure to all post on-base averages between .350 and .420. There are some question marks surrounding Alex Gonzalez and Nate McLouth, but even if they get very little from the pair they should be among the NL’s best offenses. If the aforementioned question marks fall on their faces, Atlanta has the flexibility to make an in-season acquisition.

4. Billy Wagner‘s retirement leaves a void in the 9th inning. Fredi Gonzalez hinted that he will platoon Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Do you prefer the platoon, or would you rather Kimbrel have the role all to himself?

I don’t really care that much. Obviously you’d prefer to have them leveraged in situations that are most beneficial to the team (read: platoon), but I don’t think endorsing one strategy over the other is worth more than a quarter of a win a season or so. Of the two, I’d probably rather see Kimbrel close full-time because Jonny Venters‘ ground-ball tendencies and left-handedness give him more opportunities to be matched up favorably.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Nate McLouth, for one. He’s the starting center fielder and nobody seems to know what he’s capable of–though I expect a better season than he managed in 2010. Jason Heyward‘s thumb is something to monitor, as well as Chipper’s ACL. Rookies Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, and Stephen Marek all figure to have some type of impact on Atlanta’s 2011 season. Finally, all eyes will be on Julio Teheran–the organization’s top prospect–as he gets his first extended look in Spring Training.

6. If you had to guess on the Braves’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

94-68, 2nd in the NL East, Wild Card winner.

. . .

Thanks to Peter for sharing his thoughts on the Braves. Keep up with the Braves during spring training and throughout the 2011 season — bookmark Capitol Avenue Club.

Phillies Kick Tires, Inquire About Michael Young

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Phillies contacted the Texas Rangers to discuss Michael Young. Nothing happened, but the idea is at least interesting.

The Philadelphia Phillies recently contacted the Texas Rangers to express an interest in infielder Michael Young, three Major League Baseball sources confirmed to ESPN.com. But the trade talks failed to yield much common ground, and discussions between the clubs are no longer active.

One source said the discussions were “brief” and amounted essentially to “tire kicking” on the part of the Phillies.

Should the Phillies have any interest in Young, who is owed $16 million in each of the next three seasons? Young has played at least 2,500 innings each at second base, third base, and shortstop over his 10-year career. Additionally, he is right-handed and has some power, two features that are noticeably absent now that Jayson Werth plays for the Washington Nationals.

Jimmy Rollins is currently in the last year of his contract and becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The Phillies may feel that Rollins’ best years are behind him given his recent struggles in terms of production and simply staying on the field. Young could supplant Rollins at shortstop, but even an injured and struggling Rollins is comparable to Young in a typical year.

Is Rollins finished, though? I debated with Mike Petriello about the issue at Baseball Prospectus.

Despite the injuries last year, Rollins was about as good as the average National League shortstop. His triple-slash line was .243/.320/.374 compared to the average .266/.325/.388. He will have had nearly four months to recuperate and should go into the 2011 season 100 percent healthy. With even a moderate bounce-back year, Rollins should find himself among the league’s top shortstops (still light years behind Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, of course).

Young’s average triple-slash line over the past three seasons is .295/.346/.451, much better than Rollins. Young’s offensive WAR, per Baseball Reference, ranged from 2.7 to 4.2 while Rollins was 1.1 to 1.5 in the last two.

Rollins, however, makes up the difference with his defense and his base running. In over 13,000 defensive innings since 2002, Rollins is at +5.3 per 150 defensive games. Young has tallied over 6,700 innings at shortstop but earned a depressing -10.2. Assuming UZR reflects actual defensive talent (which is not at all clear), the 15.5 run difference amounts to about one and a half wins.

Rollins also picks up some extra runs with his ability to run the bases.

On average, Rollins adds about an extra half-win per season than Young just by running the bases well.

In order for a Rollins-to-Young transition to work for the Phillies, Young would need to come at an amazingly low price or he would need to provide a substantial upgrade in terms of production. Neither is true.

Young could also play third base, but is he better than Placido Polanco? Young is slightly better offensively (his career .346 wOBA beats Polanco’s .334) but is, as usual, a mess defensively. Polanco earned a +11.3 UZR/150 at third base last year and has a career +10.7 mark. Young was -5.8 last year and -7.5 for his career. Even accounting for UZR’s unreliability and making a super-conservative  estimate, Polanco is at least one win better just on defense.

Over the last three years, FanGraphs has Polanco at 2.8, 3.1, and 3.7 WAR for a total of 9.6 and an average of 3.2. Young earned 2.4, 3.9, and 2.7 WAR for a total of 9.0 and an average of 3.0.

Polanco is also signed to an economically-friendly contract through 2012 with a mutual option for ’13. There is no reason to push out Polanco for Young, especially when such a maneuver would involve taking on more money and giving up useful prospects and Major League players.

The only conceivable way Young fits with the Phillies if he takes over in left field, but he would provide only a marginal upgrade over Raul Ibanez. Furthermore, Young has never played an inning in the outfield during his Major League career.

Ultimately, the idea is fun to think about, but highly unrealistic. Young is a useful player but his contract makes him an undesirable trade target.