Is Jason Heyward a Fit in St. Louis?

The entire Braves outfield, once thought to be the best in baseball, is on the block this offseason.

Well, the Cardinals won’t be getting Giancarlo Stanton, but they could still end up with a different NL East right fielder, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Braves are in shopping mode this week at the GM winter meetings, reportedly engaging in trade talks involving Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, Tommy La Stella, and Jason Heyward. The Cardinals need a right fielder, so the Braves are natural trade partners. Heyward is set to be a free agent after the 2015 season and has an expressed a wish to test free agency, so he could potentially be a nice one year bridge to Stephen Piscotty time in St. Louis, which is an attractive feature for the Cards. But could a Heyward to Cardinals deal actually work?

Heyward’s best tool is his glove: he had 32 Defensive Runs Saved in 2014, and a 24.1 Ultimate Zone rating (0 being the average). Heyward took home a Gold Glove as a result. He wouldn’t provide much more power than a Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty (the next in line for the Cardinals), but his OBP and speed are huge assets. Heyward’s offensive splits are impressive: .292 AVG on the road with 6 home runs.

chart

Here is Heyward’s spray chart. As you can see, he looks like a pull hitter, and is awful against left-handed pitchers (.169 AVG against them in 2014). Fortunately, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina all hit lefties relatively well, so Heyward’s left-handed problems aren’t that big of an issue if he get’s sandwiched between two of them in the Cardinals’ lineup. Turner Field’s dimensions are very similar to that of Busch, perhaps slightly deeper in right field, so there should be little variance in his home run output.
I think Heyward would be an decent fit in St. Louis. His skill set is not as preferred as someone like Nelson Cruz’s or Cuban star Yasmany Tomas, guys who would hit for much more power, but many believe that Heyward still hasn’t reached his ceiling offensively. According to sabermetrician Bill James, players tend to experience peak years from ages 28-32, and Heyward is still only 25. Still, it is likely that the Braves, who still want to contend next year, will ask a lot in return, perhaps even Grichuk, Piscotty or someone like Carlos Martinez from the pitching staff. Given the Cardinals’ historical conservative approach, I doubt that the Cardinals will be anything more than interested. Still, John Mozeliak surprised everyone with the Peralta signing last winter, and he could do it again this time around.

Farhan Zaidi the New GM of the Dodgers

Here’s a great Farhan Zaidi video on MLB Tonight. Zaidi has a bachelor’s degree from MIT and a doctorate from California Berkeley in Economics. Zaidi joins former Rays GM Andrew Friedman (President of Baseball Operations), in the Dodger front office. The Dodgers now have the brains to match Owner Magic Johnson’s energy.

The Braves’ Busy Offseason

The Atlanta Braves figure to be the most intriguing study of the offseason for many reasons; for one, they seem to have shifted the entire direction of the organization, hiring a new General Manager, plus giving the rest of the organization down the line a general shake up. Also (more importantly) the Braves were downright awful in 2014. They finished the season 79-83, tied for 2nd in the NL East with the New York Mets, a full 17(!) games behind the Washington Nationals, failing to advance to the NLCS since 2001. As bad as that might seem, history suggests that the 2014 Braves were even worse: the Braves scored a total of 573 runs, fewest in their history since the 1988 season, when they lost a grand total of 106 games. Not counting strike-shortened seasons, the Braves have only scored 573 runs or fewer twice since moving to Atlanta in 1966. In 2014 specifically, the Braves finished 26th in batting average, 24th in on base percentage, 4th (most) in strikeouts, 27th in OPS (on base + slugging percentage), 29th in total hits, and 29th in runs/game. They were also very inefficient with the few batters that did manage to reach base: the Braves left a total of 1128 men on base, 11th most in baseball. They were dead last in sacrifice flies. Here are some more numbers that will blow your mind:

.199 The Braves batting average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, last in the majors

2 The number of sacrifice flies hit with 1 out and a runner at 3rd, a situation that occurred 40 times in 2014. This was 2nd fewest in baseball.

Trade B.J Upton? The rest of the Braves’ roster wasn’t much better.

.229/.297/.639 The Braves’ team batting average in high leverage situations. Leverage essentially means pressure situations, reached by combing outs, base runners, and inning.

.314 and .296 The on-base percentages of the 1st and 2nd place batters for the Braves. Jason Heyward accounted for a majority of the at bats from the leadoff spot, while BJ Upton and Andrelton Simmons primarily shared the two hole. I’m sorry, but any lineup with BJ Upton batting 2nd is going to be awful.

.282 BJ Upton’s on-base percentage in 2014.

So, clearly, the Braves weren’t exactly championship material in 2014. Still, so far I’ve only looked at one side of the equation, the offense, but by and large the Braves’ pitching staff was very effective. They were dealt a bad hand right off the bat, with elbow surgeries to Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, both of whom are impact starters when healthy. Mike Minor was ineffective most of the year while trying to recover from injury early in the year. While Medlen and Beachy ideally still have several months of recovery time, Minor figures to be at full strength in 2015, joining new ace Julio Teheran, Aaron Harang, and breakout starter Alex Wood. Ervin Santana, a huge contributor last year, was tendered a qualifying offer from the Braves, though chances are 50-50 that he returns. In the bullpen, the Braves still have Craig Kimbrel, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, and rookie Shae Simmons. The team ERA was a very impressive 3.38.

Although the pitching staff isn’t a problem, new GM John Hart still has a lot on his plate this offseason. 1) He must improve the offense, which means acquiring good, quality players to fill the empty spots in the lineup that were almost automatic outs. All the above stats suggest that the Braves were a very unbalanced, impatient, and raw team, that didn’t do the little things that add up to wins. Part of the reason for that is that the Braves were extremely young: the average age is only 27, and people often forget that Simmons, Heyward, and Freeman, supposedly the team leaders, are still extremely young. Hart would do well to add a seasoned veteran to that mix. Fortunately, he has me and hundreds of other writers, analysts, and fans to point him in the right direction!

Order of business number 1,

Trade Evan Gattis

This might seem very counter-intuitive, but it will make sense eventually. Gattis only played in 108 games last year, and his OBP was only .317, not much better than the team average. He did provide power (22 home runs), but I doubt the Braves would miss his bat as much as people imagine. Defensively, Gattis was very average. He posted a -4 Defensive runs saved (DRS), and he only threw out 13 of 66 basestealers. Currently, Gattis is under a 1 year deal, and is arbitration eligible in 2016. He should have relatively high trade value, perhaps netting a starter or an infielder in return, but I’m not too interested in what the Braves could get for him.

Order of business number 2,

Sign Russell Martin

In all the free agent speculation that I’ve heard, I haven’t yet heard Martin’s name paired with the Braves. Still, Martin would be a fantastic fit with the Braves. He is known around baseball for his veteran leadership, something the Braves severely lacked, and he can get on base at a very high clip: Martin posted a .402 OBP in 460 at bats in 2014. In a world without Yadier Molina, Martin would likely have five or six gold gloves as well: he threw out 37 of 96 basestealers, and posted a +12 DRS. Martin is also unparalleled (save Molina) in his ability to handle a pitching staff, particularly a young staff like he caught with the Pirates.

Because of his ability to get on base, I see Martin as a must-have for the Braves, who struggled so mightily in that department last year. Instead of hitting Chris Johnson (.292 OBP) 5th in the order, the Braves could slide in Martin, which would increase the total run output exponentially.

This all sounds good in theory, but getting Martin to Atlanta would be a difficult task for GM John Hart. Martin is likely to be wooed by the deep-pocketed Dodgers, Cubs, and perhaps also the Pirates. Martin would require at least a 4 year contract, for upwards of 60 million overall. The Braves may or may not have that kind of money to dish out. Still, we do know that, as things stand now, they figure to have a payroll of only 79 million, down from 112 million last season. We also know that over a third of that money is going to the Upton Brothers fund; if the Braves could find a way to move BJ’s contract, that would free up major cash to spend elsewhere. Regardless, I’m sure that trading BJ Upton is near the top of Hart’s offseason list right now.

3rd order of business,

Find Another Hitter

The free-agent market is full of proven major league hitters: Pablo Sandoval, Victor Martinez, Billy Butler, Melky Cabrera, Alex Rios, or maybe even Torii Hunter are all guys with ideal profiles for Atlanta. Personally, I’m a big fan of Nick Markakis; he has a career OBP of .358, has some pop, and is an outstanding defender. He has been helped a lot by the hitter-friendly dimensions of Camden Yards, but OBP is one thing that tends to transfer well to different ballparks. Given the depth of the right field position in the market (with Hunter, Nelson Cruz, Rios, and Corey Hart all available), the Braves could conceivably get Markakis for relatively little. The Orioles have expressed a desire to resign him, but they have said the same with Cruz.

Nori Aoki is another rightfielder who makes sense for Atlanta. He can hit at the top of the lineup, with good speed and on base percentage. Imagine a defense with Martin catching, Simmons at shortstop, Heyward in center, and Markakis in right. Wow.

Those are my ideas, now Hart has to do his job. Yet things are never as simple as we make them seem, so I would be surprised if everything works out this way. Still, there are a lot of things working for Atlanta; they’ve got a good foundation with their pitching staff, they’ve got some money to spend, and they’ve got lots of options. They’ve also got some time. Time to forget about a nightmarish 2014 and begin improving.

It should be fun.

 

*Note: all the stats cited can be found at baseballreference.com, fangraphs.com, and mlb.com

 

Analyzing Some of Baseball’s Breakout Stars Part I

Michael Brantley (.324/.384/.904), 17 home runs

Of all the players on this list, few have enjoyed the kind of career year that Michael Brantley is having. The slash line is excellent, but his numbers go far deeper than that. According to Fangraphs, Brantley has contributed about 35 runs to the Indians’ offense, behind only 2 other players (Trout and McCutchen), and in front of (gasp!) Troy Tulowitzki. Brantley’s WAR is 4.8, third in the Major Leagues. In other words, we knew Brantley was good, but elite? The overarching question is this: is this guy for real? Throughout his career, Brantley has been a solid contact hitter, so a high average isn’t too much of a surprise. The power (17 home runs) is. His batted ball output has remained relatively constant this year from last year, pointing perhaps to some luck being the factor behind the power surge. Than again, Brantley is 27, which is generally the time when guys tend to improve and see a spike in their power numbers. His BABIP is .325 on the year, up from his .304 mark last year.

Bottom line: Brantley seems to be coming into his own at the beginning of his prime. I wouldn’t expect 20-25 home runs from him annually, and it’s too soon to be putting him in the same category and Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, but the ability is for real.

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At 5’5″, Jose Altuve stands tall among AL second basemen.

Jose Altuve (.336/.373/.817)

In Altuve, the Astros have a great little player and the perfect face of a lowly franchise. Is he really the star that Houston can trust? Altuve’s BABIP (one of the easiest ways of determining if a player is lucky or good) is .358, one of the highest in the league. That might regress some, but numbers are rarely that simple. One thing to note is that Altuve has majorly slashed his strikeout rate, from 12% in 2013 down to 8% in 2014, and he’s making more contact this year: 90% contact this year, up from 87% last year. That may seem marginal, but when you consider Altuve’s speed, it becomes vital for him to make consistent contact. As long as he does that, the batting average should be fine.

Bottom line: Even if Altuve doesn’t hit .336, he has other skills that make him a valuable asset to Houston: his speed and his glove. Still, there’s no reason to believe that Altuve’s numbers are fluky, because he does two things extremely well: hit the ball and run like heck.

Jose Abreu (.304/.362/.972), 30 home runs

Because this is Abreu’s first major league season, we’re unable to compare his current stats from his past stats. Still, there are some reasonable assessments we can make about Abreu’s rookie season, and how he sets up for 2015.

1. He swings too much. 42.2% of pitches he sees he swings at, 5th in the majors. That might be a recipe for success for some guys, but as major league pitchers start to figure you out, you’d better learn how to take bad pitches.

2. His fly ball rate is extremely low for a power hitter. He hits fly balls 32% of the time, good for 90th in the major leagues. That’s not conducive to sustained power.

3. He’s not an above average defender.

Bottom line: Abreu is exciting for White Sox fans, but he is riddled with caution signals. He has benefited greatly from his unfamiliarity with Major League pitchers, which he won’t have the longer he plays here.

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One of my new favorite players, Anthony Rizzo has the perfect swing and a great baby face.

Anthony Rizzo (.278/.378/.873), 25 home runs

Get ready, baseball fans. Anthony Rizzo has arrived.

It doesn’t take long to see that this guy is for real. He sports a healthy 40.5% fly ball rate, and a relatively low .302 BABIP, a good sign that he hasn’t been aided by a lot of good fortune. He swings a lot: 44%, but he makes good contact: 90% of all pitches swung at, a far cry from Jose Abreu’s paltry 70%.

Bottom line: Get ready.

Anthony Rendon (.277/.333/.798), 15 home runs

Anthony Rendon’s emergence might be one of the most unforeseen events for the 2014 season. He hit 7 home runs in 2013, and his power surge this year has probably been a result of his fly ball percentage spike (40%). His BABIP is the same from last year, and his average is 12 points higher. I’m not sure what to make of Rendon offensively, but he has been stellar defensively, worth 5.8 runs to the tune of an overall 4.3 wins above replacement (WAR).

Bottom line: Inconclusive, but still a nice player.

Lucas Duda (.258/.352/.843), 21 home runs

Lucas who?

Slowly and surely, Lucas Duda has really put together a solid year. He might not yet be elite, but according to Fangraphs has created over 15 runs for the Mets offense. How? his power. Duda’s fly ball rate is a ridiculous 48.7%, good for 3rd in baseball. However, he does strikes out a ton, thanks to a 70% contact rate.

Bottom line: Lucas Duda’s career appears to be following the general trajectory of Adam Dunn; big lumbering first baseman/DH, 200 strikeouts and 40 home runs annually, a guy whom I would never consider a star.

 

 

 

Non-Waiver Trade Deadline Excitement

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Dave Dombrowski’s Tigers are going for it all in 2014.

Who knew that July could hold one of the most intriguing events in all of baseball? The 48 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline is such a swirl of reported trades, rumors, and frantic GMs, it’s enough to interest even the most casual fan. This is when every General Manager in baseball uses all the minutes on his phone, scouts are traveling from city to city watching rival teams’ prospects, and when no player on any given team can feel a sense of job security. The fact is, the future of every franchise is invariably changed within these 48 hours, and who are the lucky guys that makes these decisions? Yep, it’s the General Managers of baseball. Humans, who, if anything, can tend to be a bit unpredictable.

Cardinals Acquire Justin Masterson from the Indians, Send James Ramsey to Cleveland

Since the Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak regime, the Cardinals have established themselves as very conservative strategists in the trade market, but this year has been different. Ever since pitching become a need, the Cardinals have been linked to the Rays’ David Price and Boston’s Jon Lester, but given Mozeliak’s conservative ways, a Bartolo Colon or perhaps a guy like San Diego’s Ian Kennedy was the much more likely option. Instead, Mozeliak grabbed Masterson, who sports a 5.51 ERA and an astronomical 1.65 WHIP in 98 painful innings. What was he thinking, right? On the bright side, Masterson does give the Cardinals more depth in the rotation, an arm that is accustomed to pitching out of the bullpen if necessary, all for relatively little cost. Stuff wise, Masterson is a ground-ball machine, who should benefit from a great infield defense like St. Louis’s playing behind him. Overall, this is a really nice fit.

Oakland A’s Acquire Pitcher Jon Lester and Outfielder Jonny Gomes from Boston in Exchange for Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes

Wow. Has Billy Beane officially gone off the deep end? Actually no. The A’s did just acquire two solid starters from Chicago, but after yesterdays implosion from Jason Hammel it became pretty evident that Oakland could use another starter. Jesse Chavez has good numbers, but in a must-win situation I wouldn’t feel confident throwing him out there. With Lester, Samardzija, Kazmir, Gray, and Hammel/Chavez, the A’s instantly have the best rotation in baseball (if they didn’t already) and should be a handful for the teams they face in the playoffs. Forget about Hudson/Mulder/Zito from 2002, this A’s team might be the best in team history. They did lose Cespedes, but other than the occasional lightning rod throws and the annual home run derby title, he should not be considered a star. Jonny Gomes is a suitable replacement; he gets on base, and is a proven winner.

Giants Acquire Jake Peavy from Boston

Jake Peavy: Perennially mediocre, injury-prone, overpaid, overrated pitcher. With a 1-10 record.

Cardinals Trade Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for Pitcher John Lackey

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A productive player for many years with the Cardinals, Allen Craig should thrive in the small confines of Fenway.

This trade might challenge this Lester deal as the wildest, most unexpected deal on deadline day. Normally you see the buyer giving up prospects in return for major league ready players, but in this deal Boston was able to pry away two major league players, one very accomplished in his own right. It was only a year ago that Allen Craig was driving in runs for the Cardinals at a monumental rate, and people (including John Mozeliak) were calling him a cornerstone piece of this franchise. He was drafted and developed by the Cardinals, practically won the 2011 World Series (with some help from David Freese), and we have him to thank for being able to forget about Albert Pujols. Sentiment aside, Craig simply wasn’t hitting enough this year to justify sitting Oscar Taveras, so a trade makes sense for us and for Craig, who should benefit from having a change of scenery. Kelly, however, is a bit more of a head-scratcher. His numbers aren’t too great on the surface- a 4.37 ERA in 37 innings- but he has been hurt by two very bad starts that somewhat skewed his ERA. He endured a hamstring injury and was out for two months, and he has struggled to regain his command since coming off the DL. When healthy, there’s no doubting that Kelly is a huge asset. He slid in and out of the Cardinals rotation last season, posting a miniscule 2.69 ERA in 124 innings, and helped keep the Cardinals afloat in the NL Central race in late August win his stellar pitching. Best of all, Kelly could not become a free agent until 2019.

We’ll see how things play out, but Mozeliak is putting himself in a position to regret this trade for a long time.

And lastly….

In a Three-team Trade, Detroit Acquires Ace David Price From Tampa Bay for Nick Franklin and Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson to Seattle

A couple thoughts:

1. This doesn’t make a lot of sense for Tampa Bay. If I’m a Rays fan, I’m upset that we gave up on a year that had so much promise and with the returns on Price. They shouldn’t gotten more than Smyly and Franklin.

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Drew Smyly’s performance is the key to the David Price trade.

2. This trade doesn’t improve the Tigers that much. Sure, it’s nice to have the title “best rotation in the history of mankind” in your back pocket, but come on. Before the deal, the Tigers had Rick Porcello in the 4th slot in the rotation, and because of the trade, Porcello would potentially be the odd man out if the Tigers made the playoffs and went with a 4 man rotation, which happens a lot. Porcello has 12 wins and a 3.24 ERA. Again, sure they have Price, but people need to stop gushing about the Tigers.

3. Seattle, not Detroit, wins this trade. Austin Jackson should help them out, and they gave up very little in return. Franklin has huge upside, but was essentially blocked on the depth chart by Brad Miller and some guy named Cano.

Other Interesting Deals…

1. Stephen Drew to Yankees for Kelly Johnson

2. Martin Prado to Yankees for prospects

3. Asdrubal Cabrera to Nationals for Zach Walters

4. Gerardo Parra to Brewers for prospects

5. Jarred Cosart to Marlins for prospects

 

And the Big Winner is……

Twins Acquire P Tommy Milone from A’s for Sam Fuld

Earlier this year, the A’s designated Sam Fuld for assignment. A few months later, they’re trading an extremely successful pitcher to get him back. Granted, the A’s didn’t have much of a choice here, given that Milone requested a trade, but it’s funny how these things work out sometimes. For Minnesota, however, great, great deal. Best of the day.

 

The Big Loser is……..

The Whole Philadelphia Phillies Organization

For not being able to deal a single player this deadline. Do they really think they can compete, or does having Rollins, Utley, Lee, Howard, and Byrd on the same roster make GM Ruben Amaro feel young?

 

 

My List of All-Star Snubs that Nobody Talks About

Alvarez after his no-hitter. He had thrown 9 no-hit innings and was on deck when the winning run was scored in the bottom of the ninth.

There’s no such thing as the perfect All-Star roster, especially with the way pitchers have dominated baseball recently, but some players have just not gotten the recognition they deserve. We all know about the injustice done to Buster Posey and Chris Sale, but here’s my list of All-Star snubs that aren’t getting talked about.  There are more than you might think.

1. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins (2.26 ERA, 115 IP)

The only pitcher in baseball history to celebrate a no-hitter while wearing his batting gloves (it happened last season), Alvarez has made the injury to Jose Fernandez a little easier to bear and kept the Marlins in the thick of the NL East race at the halfway point. His ERA is 4th lowest in the NL, and he’s shown an ability to go deep into games, tossing three shutouts in 18 starts.

2. Tim Hudson, Giants (2.53 ERA, 113 IP, 7 wins)

Tim Hudson, not Madison Bumgarner, has been the best pitcher for the NL west leading Giants in 2014. If you take away one terribly bad outing that he suffered, Hudson’s ERA would sit 2.06, and his WHIP at 0.95. Not bad for a guy pushing 39 years old and in his 15th professional season. He’s got the track record, so there’s no reason why Hudson should be left off the all-star roster.

3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (41 IP, 1.30 ERA, 18-19 save opportunities)

John Farrell announced that there’s a good chance that Uehara will make it to the all-star game if one of the AL pitchers gives up his spot. I don’t have a problem with other relievers like Perkins or Doolittle, but the dominant closer for the defending national champion Red Sox has to get the outright nod. Stuff wise, Uehara is likely the most dominant closer in the game, strikeout over 11 batters per 9 innings while walking only 1. Wow.

4. Adam Laroche, Nationals (.294 AVG, .401 OBP, 148 WRC+)

Who leads all major league first basemen in OBP? Not Goldschmidt, not Freeman, but Adam Laroche, with a .401 mark. You can’t carry five first basemen, but I like Laroche’s case for inclusion as much as Freeman’s.

He doesn’t make the big bucks yet, but Seager has been just as deserving as his teammate Cano.

5. Kyle Seager, Mariners (.274 AVG, 13 HR, 3.2 WAR)

He still made the roster thanks to an injury to Edwin Encarnacion, but Seager should’ve been voted in. 2nd among AL 3rd basemen in WAR, Seager has really carried the Mariners on his shoulders since May. Tough to see the million dollar bat, Robbie Cano, get recognized by the fans like that while Seager doesn’t.

6. Alfredo Simon, Reds (11 wins, 2.78 ERA)

All Simon has done this year is win. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys (only 5 1/2 per nine innings), he’s not as exciting as Chris Sale or Garret Richards (he’s 33), but he’s been just as effective. The all-star game isn’t about who can throw the hardest.

7. Josh Beckett, Dodgers (2.26 ERA, 103 IP) 

I’m not really a big Josh Beckett fan, but it’s tough to see a guy post a 2.26 ERA, throw a no-hitter, and still get left off the roster.

8. Rafael Soriano, Nationals (1.03 ERA 21-23 save opportunities)

21-23 in save opportunities, a 1.03 ERA, and not an all-star? Ouch. Those numbers are better than K-Rod’s and Chapman’s.

 

Not Everyone Can be Billy Beane

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Jeff Samardzija aims to lead the A’s to their first World Series since 1989.

Since it was first introduced in 2002 and made into a book a year later by Michael Lewis, much has been made about Billy Beane’s general managerial style, appropriately dubbed “Moneball” for it’s ability to effectively maximize a team’s payroll and turn it into wins. Moneyball is all about exploiting market inefficiencies, like the value of walks and minor league power hitters. Its about putting an appropriate price tag on everything on the baseball field so that teams pay players for exactly what they’re worth. This approach works for the A’s, and more and more GMs have tried to replicate Beane’s efforts over the years, some very successfully (see Theo Epstein and the 2004 Red Sox and the most recent Sports Illustrated edition on Jeff Luhnow and the Astros).

As much as he’s admired around the game, Beane showed off another aspect of his game on July 4th, eliciting a collective wow from analysts, fans, and everyone familiar with the everyday rumors. The A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for top prospect Addison Russell, top pick Billy McKinney, and starter Dan Straily. That Samardzija would be traded is not all that unexpected, given that he has only a year and half of team control left in his contract and that he plays for the Cubs, but the real kicker was that the A’s allowed Russell to be included in the deal, and for anyone other than David Price. Quite simply, this was a fearless move by Billy Beane, because you just don’t see teams give up two of their top prospects in one trade anymore, especially for two guys who will only be Oakland Athletics for a year in Samardzija and Hammel.

Obviously, we can’t rightly form judgements on this trade for at least a year, or even until we see how McKinney and Russell fare in their Major league careers, but I like Billy Beane’s aggressive mentality. The A’s were already the best team in baseball, in the middle of a relatively weak AL west, and rivaled really by only the Tigers who have their fair share of holes; why not take a chance and improve their chances to play for a World Series? Take your best shot at a World Series while still have a shot. We’ve seen countless instances where teams took their success for granted, didn’t win that year, and haven’t been back since (see the 2012 Nationals and Stephen Strasburg). That doesn’t make the A’s-Cubs trade a good decision for Beane, because obviously there is a counterargument, but aggression like this is rarely seen nowadays in big league GMs.

More on this topic later.

 

Pythagorean Regression

In baseball, everything that goes up must eventually come down. That holds true over careers, over seasons, and often over games. That’s why only the best players hit .400, why only the truly great teams win in October, and why teams that strand 15 runners in a game usually win. Everything that goes up comes down. Sabermetricians express this idea with the term Regression to the mean. This term was introduced by Bill James, one of the founding fathers of sabermetrics. Regression to the mean isn’t an earth shattering idea; it’s simply an observation that inflated things must return to their original state, in this instance stats. For example, Charlie Blackmon was hitting .400 through the month of April, a decent sample size, but not nearly enough to put him in the same category as Ted Williams. There’s no doubt that Blackmon is a solid hitter, but the rules still apply for him; he is now hitting .307 with a much heftier sample size of 277 at bats. Of course, regression to the mean is relative; it changes for every hitter based on his skill level. Blackmon is a decent hitter, so it’s reasonable to expect he’s sit around .300 for the rest of the year. Troy Tulowitzki, on the other hand, is a far better hitter, so it’s also reasonable to expect that he won’t regress as much as Blackmon. Regression to the mean can also work backwards; if a player of high skill level is hitting .200 in April, he can reasonably be expected to have a good a May or June. Now that we are in June, regression has already taken affect on all the players to a certain extent, so that the numbers that the players sit at now can be expected to be near their end of season numbers.

Of course, regression to the mean applies to team performance too. One of the ways we can measure team performance is by using the Pythagorean expectation stat, developed by (guess who!) Bill James, who named the stat because of its likeness to Pythagoras’ geometric theorem. The equation is this: win% = runs scored (squared)/runs scored (squared) times runs allowed (squared). This stat basically measures what a team’s winning percentage should be based on the their number of runs scored and runs allowed. As we said above, team records are subject to regression, and the mean can be seen as the Pythagorean record. Lets look at how we can reasonably expect teams to perform in the second half using Pythagorean expectation.

Team         Pythag. W-L   Actual W-L

Toronto 40-31 41-30
Yankees 31-37 35-33
Baltimore 33-35 35-33
Boston 33-36 31-38
Tampa Bay 29-41 27-43
Detroit 33-32 36-29
Kansas City 35-33 36-32
Cleveland 34-36 35-35
Minnesota 32-35 32-35
White Sox 32-38 33-37
Oakland 49-20 42-27
Angels 37-31 37-31
Seattle 38-31 35-34
Texas 30-39 34-35
Houston 31-40 32-39
Atlanta 34-34 36-32
Washington 38-30 35-33
Miami 36-32 35-33
NY Mets 34-35 31-38
Philadelphia 29-38 29-38
Milwaukee 37-33 41-29
St. Louis 37-32 37-32
Pittsburgh 33-36 34-35
Cincinnati 33-35 33-35
Cubs 32-35 28-39
SF Giants 41-29 43-27
Dodgers 38-33 37-34
Colorado 36-33 34-35
San Diego 27-42 29-40
Arizona 31-41 30-42

Several things stand out in the table to the right. Here are some simple deductions we can make:

1) The A’s are the best team in baseball, not even close. When you see a team’s Pythagorean W-L record better than their actual record by seven games, you know that that team is clobbering their opponents. If they weren’t already, make the A’s your World Series favorites. They can do everything and do everything well.

2) The Yankees are in trouble. They’re pitching is running on fumes and their bats: Beltran, Jeter, Roberts, and Teixeira are looking their age. McCann hasn’t hit at all, and the only thing keeping them above .500 is a guy named Yangervis Solarte. Their Pythagorean W-L reflects their problems.

3) Pay attention to Seattle and Miami. Seattle has pitched a lot and hit just enough. They appear to be just floating around .500, but you should expect better things to come. For a young team, the Marlins do a lot of things well. They hit .260 as a team, and they have a 3.86 team ERA. Stay tuned.

4) The Cubs are better than you think. According to their Pythagorean W-L record, they should be about 32-35, which is as good as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Maybe all they need is a visit from Kris Bryant.

5) The Cardinals, Braves,  and Tigers have underperformed. All three of these teams were expected to be at the top of their respective divisions (two of them are), but so far they have performed worse than their records indicate (except the Cardinals). Not a major cause for concern here, but Royals, Nationals, and Brewers are all playing well next to them and are hungry for the division title.

Don’t forget, this method of evaluation hardly tells the whole story: some teams might function better by winning close games and then getting blown out, which affects their Pythagorean record. The Pythagorean record is only concerned with how many runs teams score and allow, so it is extremely important that you continue to search for another perspective. Still, terms like regression to the mean and Pythagorean expectation are worth keeping in mind.

Why the Jon Singleton Contract Makes Sense

http://www.ksbw.com/image/view/-/26323816/medRes/2/-/maxh/480/maxw/640/-/b1ouekz/-/Jon-Singleton-first-game--Houston-Astros-jpg.jpgWhy was the Jon Singleton 5 year, $10 million contract extension historic? It was the first deal ever to be handed out to a player yet to see a major league pitch. What were the Astros thinking, right? True, Major League baseball and Minor League baseball are about as different as facing Tom Glavine and Gavin Floyd every night, but before you form any opinions on the subject, consider:

1. Jeff Luhnow

If you like the Cardinals then you need to know that name. He is the current Astros General Manager, but prior to that worked in the Cardinals’ scouting department. Luhnow was instrumental in drafting guys like Allen Craig, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, and many other guys who have since come through the minor league system to make a huge impact at the big league level. Basically, he knows what he’s doing. Now with the Astros, Luhnow has been working hard to identify some core players like he did with the Cardinals, and he’s been pretty successful: Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, and now Jon Singleton are all guys who have come through the minor league ranks and have been identified as core players. In Singleton, Luhnow saw a guy that he liked enough to call a core player, and Luhnow is pretty good at what he does.

2. Singleton can hit a ton

Yes, he can. Keep in mind, this is the guy the Astros liked so much that they agreed to part with Hunter Pence back in 2011. Singleton has drawn comparisons to Ryan Howard, both in positive and negative ways: he has great pop, but you’ll have to live with some strikeouts. Singleton’s swings appears to be built for Minute Maid park with the short porch out there, so expect some serious power numbers in the future. Power aside, Singleton has posted a high OBP at every minor league level, so he’s more than an all or nothing kind of guy.

3. This contract is very team-friendly

Even if Singleton struggles to do anything and ends up hurting the Astros’s record, at least he won’t be hurting their wallets. 2 million a year is extremely affordable, especially considering all the outrageous contracts the Astros dished out to guys like Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee years ago during the Ed Wade era, each of whom failed to hit their weight. If Singleton does great, the team can always pick up the options that will keep him around Houston for a few more years, while he will be far from destitute if you count in all the incentives he could potentially reach. In fact, the incentives and options hold as much as $35 million, so this contract isn’t just team friendly, but is also very favorable to Singleton. The Astros keep getting smarter and smarter, once again demonstrating the importance of a strong, functional front office to success on the field.

Concerning the Cardinals’ Outfield Dilemma

http://media.zenfs.com/en_US/Sports/AP_MLB/201404121622589619699-p5.jpg

For how much longer will Jay, Holliday, and Craig roam the Cardinals’ outfield?

Oscar Taveras made his major league debut on Saturday, belting a solo home run that ended up being one of only two runs that Cardinals could muster against the Giants. Everyone seems to be excited about Taveras’s ability to impact this team right now, but I wonder exactly how thrilled Cards GM John Mozeliak is to see Taveras in a big league uniform. With Taveras’s arrival comes questions, questions that Mo can no longer put aside. Taveras is obviously ready to play Major League baseball, and he’s too good a talent to sit on the bench, meaning that the Cards now have five players (Taveras, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Randal Grichuk, and Peter Bourjos) to shuffle between two spots, right field and center field. Who gets the playing time?

Allen Craig’s struggles in 2014 have been well documented; he’s batting only .252 with 6 home runs and 30 RBI’s, but Craig’s dominance in ’12 and ’13 seems to have escaped everyone’s memory. Simply put, he was the most productive hitter in the Cardinals lineup and one of the best in the league. Things haven’t been going as smoothly in 2014, but Craig had a great May, batting over .300 and retaking the RBI lead on the team. Craig may not hit for the same power that he showed earlier in his career, but there is no reason to believe that Craig won’t hit for a very high average and continue to drive in runs like he did last year, when he very well could have been NL MVP were it not for an ankle injury.

Jon Jay entered 2014 second on the depth chart in center field. He had a difficult year in ’13, batting “only” .276 with 7 homers. Offensively he was average, defensively he was not. Posting a -7.3 Ultimate Zone rating, Jay frequently misplayed routine balls and saw his outfield range cut considerably. Bourjos was brought in during the offseason expected to be the starting center fielder, but Jay has been the hot hand most of the year, batting .281 compared to Bourjos’s .202. Ultimately, I believe that Jay will be traded, but I wonder if he is not the best center fielder on the team.

Bottom line: Taveras must play. He’s ready to play, and he’s too good to be in Memphis. A move must be made. Given the Cardinals’s historical conservatism, Jay will most likely be traded and the other 4 guys (Bourjos, Grichuk, Taveras, and Craig) will continue to shuffle between right and center, with Taveras and Grichuk being shuttled back and forth from Memphis a half a dozen times. That will most likely happen, but I believe the best option would be to deal Matt Adams, the big, lumbering first baseman. A trade involving Adams would open up an outfield spot, as Craig could slide to first. Adams would likely get a good haul in return: He’s only 25 and is under team control through 2018. His numbers look good on the surface, but Adams has only a .339 OBP, walking only at a 2.5% clip, while he has also disappointed power-wise; he’s knocked half as many home runs as Craig and driven in half as many runs, despite hitting .325.

Overall, this is a great problem to have and one that everyone would love to have, but let me just say that I’m glad that I’m not Mo.

 

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