Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Obligatory Awards Post

I guess I should have seen this coming. A part of me still believed that Trout would pull through, but I was clearly only kidding myself. I really didn't know what to expect. I thought it would be anything from a slim Trout win to a Cabrera blowout but that was probably born more out of false hope than anything else. Part of the problem was probably that I try and read only baseball writers that I respect, and most of those writers heavily favoured Trout. By isolating myself to reading only the minority, I forgot how much of the baseball world still seems to be stuck in the past.

Miguel Cabrera had an awesome season. He won the Triple Crown. For that he more than deserved an award, the award is the Triple Crown. Why does there need to be an award on top of that?

Cabrera also won the Hank Aaron award though for the league's best hitter. I'm more than alright with that. Unfortunately that's where Cabrera's value ends. He provides negative value on the base paths and as a fielder, two areas where Trout is among the best, if not the best player in the league. Maybe it all comes down to team wins. Although the Angels won more games than Detroit, so I guess we can scratch that theory off the list.

I'm not going to deeper into the stats comparing the two, enough has been written about that. Suffice to say I'm disappointed that the real value of players isn't being properly recognized, even in the year 2012 where so much of this data is so easily available.

Some more award thoughts:
  • Price and Verlander had almost the same amount of votes for Cy Young, with Price essentially edging out Verlander by one first place vote. I don't have a problem with this, both of these guys were deserving and the voters were split. It confuses me then how Verlander picked up 58 MVP vote points, being listed on 12 ballots, while Price only picked up 26 MVP points, being listed on only 5 ballots. How did these two basically tie on the Cy Young vote but have such a difference on the MVP vote. Was it just a fluke due to the different voters for the different awards? Is there something about the word valuable that is completely different from determining who the best pitcher is? Someone needs to solve this.
  • Jared Weaver got two second place votes for Cy Young, both from the LA voters. What the hell is this? I realize Weaver pitched a no-hitter this year, but he was inferior to Verlander in almost every other way. This hometown bias needs to be eliminated. Maybe change the rules to disallow voting for a hometown player? I don't know, but this is ridiculous.
  • John Lowe gave Jim Johnson a third place MVP vote. That wasn't a typo. Look, Johnson was good this year. He had a 2.49 ERA, led the league in saves, and was a big contributor to Baltimore's unlikely record in close games. This is just insane though. Forget comparing him to the batters and starting pitchers on his team who obviously contributed more to Baltimore's season. Forget comparing him to other relievers in the league like Rodney who were clearly superior. Jim Johnson wasn't even the best reliever on the Orioles. Darren O'Day had a lower ERA, higher K rate, lower walk rate, a lower WHIP, and only pitched 1.2 less innings. Johnson got 51 saves though, so guess that makes him the third most valuable player in the AL.
  • Someone gave Raul Ibanez a 10th place MVP vote. Some of his 19 HRs were clutch, but he was a part time player, an absolute disaster when he played the field and outside of those few clutch homeruns, really did very little at the plate. His OBP was the worst of any regular player on the Yankees and his average beat out only Granderson and Russell Martin. To make this even funnier, the voter who gave Ibanez his vote was again John Lowe.
  • Ken Rosenthal gave Chipper Jones a 10th MVP place vote. It's hard to think of this as anything other than a token vote for his career work.
  • The two Mets voters gave Yadier Molina first place votes. So I guess only for catchers are MVP voters allowed to consider defense (and what I assume is only defense).
  • As a fan, I find it especially difficult to care at all about Manager of the Year awards. Managers seem to have very little influence and more often seem to hinder their team than help it. It's difficult to evaluate what goes on behind the scenes so this award just ends up going to the manager whose team vastly exceeds what their talent was on paper at the start of the season. Was the cause of that some great speech the manager gave that got his players to work together as a team? I don't know and since I really can't evaluate most of it, I don't care.
  • I was relieved to see that Trout unanimously won Rookie of the Year. With the current voter crop, you just never know what someone might do. I'll leave you with this memory: Michael Young got a first place MVP vote last season!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jays Acquire State of Florida

It's probably not the smartest thing to comment on this trade in my early stages of euphoria, but I'm going to try anyway. First the trade as it looks now:

To Toronto
To Miami
Josh JohnsonYunel Escobar
Mark BuehrleAdeiny Hechavarria
Jose ReyesHenderson Alvarez
Emilio Bonifacio  Justin Nicolino
John BuckJake Marisnick
$4MJeff Mathis
Anthony DeSclafani

Wow that looks good. After years of being accused of being cheapskates, Rogers has opened up the pocketbooks and taken on some major commitments. A total of $163M in salary is coming to Toronto and that doesn't even include what Bonifacio is due to earn in arbitration. Let's take a look at the different pieces of the deal.

First the Miami franchise. They acquired some nice pieces in this deal which I'll get to, but the team is a disaster right now. After moving to Miami and building a new stadium with $360M in public funds the Marlins made a big splash in the offseason with the signings of Buehrle, Reyes, Heath Bell, and acquiring manager Ozzie Guillen. Those guys are all gone now, along with Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and Hanley Ramirez, who all started the season last year with the Marlins. No doubt it was a disappointing season in Miami last year but it hardly called for such a massive overhaul, especially given the massive investment both in money and years given to some of these players. Marlins fans should feel screwed and Marlins players can't be too comfortable in their current situation. I don't know how much longer Giancarlo Stanton will stay in Miami, but unless they can offer him a ton of money with a no trade clause I don't see why he would want to stay and play for an ownership group that can't seem to decide on what direction to take the franchise. Almost everything that isn't nailed to the floor has been shipped out of town and it wouldn't surprise me if guys like Ricky Nolasco were playing in a different city when the 2013 season starts.

After previous fire sales from the Marlins the state of the franchise should be a major concern for Major League Baseball. Given the history, it's no surprise that guys like Albert Pujols weren't interested in coming to Miami last season without a no-trade clause. I don't know their opinions of Toronto, but Reyes and Buehrle can't be too happy about their current circumstances after making long term commitments to Miami last offseason. Players can be traded at almost any time in baseball but I imagine they thought they'd be spending more than one year in the Sunshine State with no state income tax before heading out to the socialist tundra of Canada. The Marlins are going to have a difficult time attracting free agents in the future given how they treated their last batch.

Let's look at the actual players involved in the trade though. The Marlins picked up 3 major leaguers in Escobar, Alvarez, and Mathis, and 4 very promising minor leaguers. Some of this trade looks like it was done due to positional necessity. Hechavarria was the prized shortstop prospect acquired, but after his end of year stint in the majors it definitely seemed as if he can use some more tuning with the bat before being made a full time starter. Escobar is a very serviceable shortstop, who if he rediscovers how to walk could be the best shortstop in the division. Some of the "character issues" that seemed to ruin his time in Atlanta popped up at the end of his stay in Toronto, but I still don't see why the right manager and team atmosphere couldn't alleviate those issues. Maybe Miami is the right place for that.

Henderson Alvarez is an interesting player. He'll be pushed right into the Marlins rotation, not that they have a real choice after trading half of it away. After being a bit of an emergency callup from AA in 2011, Alvarez put up good enough numbers in his first rotation stint to earn a second in 2012. In 2012 he made 31 starts but it's tough to tell whether that was due to necessity or skill. Alvarez wasn't terrible last year but he left a lot to be desired. He had a 4.85 ERA and struck out a measly 3.8 per nine innings. Against left handed batters he had major walk problems and tended to get hit hard. He's also probably going to need to throw his offspeed pitches more (and more effectively) if he's going to remain a starter. He's only 22 though and skipped AAA, so he could definitely still improve. Moving out of the AL East into the NL will probably also make him look better.

The Buck-Mathis part of the deal isn't particularly interesting. They both have one year left on their deals and would have to be backups in Toronto. This looks mostly like a way for the Marlins to save about $4M. Mathis is the better defensive catcher but excluding last year's catastrophe for Buck, he has been the far better offensive player over their careers. If Buck can get close to to the performance he had in his previous stint with the Jays in 2010 which was his career best, he'll be one of the best backup catchers in the league. If he's good enough and d'Arnaud progresses fast enough then Toronto could definitely have a catching controversy on its hands by the end of the season. I don't really know where Bobby Wilson fits into any of this. It seems like his only opportunities are going to come from injury.

Now onto some of the prospects, which in addition to the previously mentioned Hechavarria is why this deal actually got done. If we go by Fangraph's most recent rankings, the Marlins got the Jays' #5, #6, and #10 prospects from a well stocked farm system.

There was no way the Jays were going to get through this deal without giving up at least one of their big arms from Lansing and Justin Nicolino was the Marlins' prize. Nicolino is a lefty with excellent control who has already shown above average command of his offspeed pitches, the curve and changeup. He doesn't project to be a power arm but he's only 21 and has been progressing well through the minor leagues. 

Depending on the list you look at, Marisnick was often rated as the top outfield prospect in the Blue Jays organization. The inclusion of Marisnick may have been a bit more exciting a year ago before he had some trouble against the higher level hitting. His swing has been reworked a couple times but he still projects to be able to hit with power. He is a tremendous athlete who has shown to be an excellent outfielder. After last season it's clear he still needs some more work with the bat, but he can definitely be a starting outfielder in the years to come.

DeSclafani is not a big prize from this trade as he projects to be a reliever. He's still probably a couple years away from big league time though which will give him the time to work on his secondary and offspeed pitches.

Looking at the prospects given up in this deal it's impressive how much the Marlins were able to get while simultaneously how little the Blue Jays had to give up. After years of working the draft and loading up on prospects the Jays had one of the top ranked farm systems in the league. The Jays were able to keep two of their three Lansing arms, they kept d'Arnaud, Gose, Osuna, Norris, and their entire 2012 draft class, among others. We've seen how trades for other superstars, such as what the Phillies did for Halladay and Lee had wiped out farm systems and nothing close to this has happened for the Jays. There aren't many other teams in baseball that could offer such a prospect load and still keep together a highly rated minor league system.

Let's turn our focus to what really matters for Jays fans though: Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle, and Bonifacio. First off, WOW! These guys aren't without their warts, but oh my god, when was the last time we saw such talent come into Toronto? Roger Clemens? He was just one guy. We'd probably have to go back to 1990 and look at the trade for Alomar and Joe Carter. It's an exciting time to be a Jays fan. The last year or so has been mostly looking at waiver wire transactions on loop while we watched perennial losers like the Orioles pass us in the division. But right now the entire baseball world is talking about how good the Jays can be in 2013 and it's a refreshing change of pace.

Over the last 5 seasons Jose Reyes has been one of the best shortstops in baseball. You could make an arguement for Tulowitzki, Jeter, Rollins, or Hanley taking the top seed, but the conversation starts with Reyes. He leads all shortstops in that time in steals and is in the top 3 in both AVG and SLG. The defensive metrics haven't been in his favour the last couple seasons, but back in his real speed demon days he was one of the best fielders around. There are definitely some injury concerns thought. Although he remained healthy most of last year he has had some leg problems in the past, specifically with his hamstrings. For a player so reliant on his speed to be productive, keeping him healthy will be a major priority.

Reyes comes to the Jays with what is now the largest contract on the team. He has 5 years and $92M remaining plus a $22M team option with a $4M buyout. It's a big contract but Reyes is still only 29 and if healthy should still be a productive player near the end.

Josh Johnson is another player who comes to the Jays with some injury concerns. He's already had Tommy John surgery and has missed significant time in the last couple years due to shoulder inflammation. He managed to make 31 starts last season, but it was his worst year since his first couple in the majors. He's only had one season with 200+ IP but hopefully he'll have the strength to keep up this season. There are definitely some concerns with him moving from the NL to the AL East, but he has a 2.95 ERA in inter-league games (albeit in only 109.2 innings) and he's not especially home run prone, so it looks promising.

Johnson's contract will make is situation with the Jays interesting this year. He's in the final year of his deal and will earn $13.75M this season. If he stays healthy he'll be one of the top free agent targets next offseason  so it's tough to imagine he wouldn't want to test that. The Jays will likely extend him a qualifying offer at the end of the season but there's definitely no guarantee that he'll be in Toronto for more than one season. If the Jays are out of it down the stretch his name will probably also appear as one of the top trade targets in the rumour mill.

I've always had a bit of an irrational love for Mark Buehrle. I used to love seeing his duels against Roy Halladay border on the two hour mark for the entire game. In the age of Daisuke Matsuzaka staring into space between every pitch, it's relieving to see a pitcher stay on the mound and keep up a good pace.

Buehrle is starting to get up there in age but there are few 33 year olds pitching who I would be less concerned about. Buehrle has been the absolute mark of consistency, starting 30+ games for the last 12 seasons. He'as a soft throwing lefty who doesn't strike out a ton but he has remarkable control and can be trusted as a work horse for any team. Against all odds he's thrown a no-hitter and a perfect game. He has a career 3.88 ERA against the AL East in 517 IP, although that goes up to 5.27 against just the Yankees and Red Sox. Either way, I'm excited to have someone reliable in the Jays rotation and he should be fun to watch for the next three years.

Bonifacio is entering his first year of arbitration and will be an interesting fit on the Jays. He doesn't hit for any power (7 career HR) but he can absolutely fly. In the last three seasons he's stolen 82 bases while being caught only 14 times. His 30 SB last season came in only 64 games. I'm not entirely sure where he fits on the Jays roster though. He's traditionally played CF or 2B but those spots seem to be currently occupied by Rasmus and Izturis. He could play LF but I'm not sure how much of a better option he is than Rajai Davis. A lot will depend on who the Jays hire as their next manager and how he likes to utilize speed. Between Reyes and Bonifacio coming in, and Davis and Gose already rostered, the Jays will probably be tearing up the base paths next season. Hopefully the new manager will use a little more discretion than Farrell though when determining what situations to give the green light in.

Speaking of the new manager, I keep seeing how now after this trade the Blue Jays managerial job has become much more enticing. Seriously?!? There are 30 manager positions in the MLB. In any given season there are about a half dozen openings. There is currently one. Almost every ex-player, newscaster, and fanboy would sell their soul to get one of those positions. Unless you're a guy like Terry Francona who can pick any job he wants (and have you seen the Indians roster?) the players on the team shouldn't really matter to a potential manager. The fact that the job is open is usually enough.

I'll conclude this on an upbeat note. For a few years now we've praised Anthopoulos and his strategy in acquiring players. The process has seemed sound even if the results weren't. Trusting the process can become difficult though after repeated disappointments. Well here we are with another trade that was a result of great moves by the Blue Jays front office. It might not work out, players can get injured, age, or just lose their talent; but today I feel more optimistic as a Jays fan than I have in a long time and I can't wait for the 2013 season to start.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Three Tools Triple Crown

It's time to dump on Miguel Cabrera some more. Well not so much him, but the system that's about to give him his first MVP. In what was truly an impressive season this year, Miguel Cabrera led the league in home runs, RBIs, and batting average, allowing him to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

I don't fully understand the Triple Crown though, and this has nothing to do with RBIs no longer being recognized as a stat completely correlated with skill. The Triple Crown is meant to recognize three different skills: hitting for average, hitting for power, and ability to produce runs. The problem is that the third skill is very much a function of the first two. RBIs are produced by being able to hit for power, and being able to frequently hit. Even if you're not getting lucky by having a lot of runners on base in front of you, if you have a high average and a high home run total, the RBIs will naturally follow.

In fact there have only been four instances in baseball history where a player has led the league in home runs and batting average without leading the league in RBIs:
  • In 1912 Heinie Zimmerman led the league with 14 HR and a .372 AVG, but his 99 RBI total put him in third behind Honus Wagner at 102 and Bill Sweeney at 100. With such low home run totals Zimmerman was able to be passed, and it didn't help that Sweeney had 80 more PAs and Wagner had 15.
  • In 1924 Babe Ruth won the home run race with 46 HR, 19 more than second place Joe Hauser. His .378 AVG led the league but he finished second to Goose Goslin 129-121 in the RBI race. Ruth actually ended up with more plate appearances but a lot of those were "wasted" in walks. Ruth's walk total of 142 dwarfed Goslin's 68.
  • In 1939 Johnny Mize won the home run title by 1 with 28, and led the NL with a .349 AVG. His 108 RBIs finished third though to Frank McCormick's 128 and Joe Medwick's (who won the Triple Crown two years prior) 117. The 20 RBI difference is the largest on the list. McCormick finished second to Mize in AVG, and similar to Goslin and Ruth, was able to get more at bats by having 52 less walks. 
  • In 1941 future two-time Triple Crown winner Ted Williams easily won the batting title, becoming the last player to top .400 with his .406 AVG. He won the home run race by 4 with 37, but only finished 4th in the RBI race with 120, falling behind Joe DiMaggio (125), Jeff Heath (123), and Charlie Keller (122). DiMaggio played a great season, finishing 3rd in the home run race and 4th for the HR title, and having the benefit of playing for a Yankees team that won 17 more games than Williams' Red Sox. Similar to the past two guys, Williams was losing RBI opportunities to walks. He led the league with 147, far ahead of DiMaggio's 76, Heath's 50, and Keller's 102. If he takes another couple swings in those 71 extra walks, he probably gets those 5 RBIs he needed for the crown, but his average also probably drops below .400 too.
Winning the batting title and the home run title in the same season is a tremendous feat. Winning the RBI title once you have those two is almost a given. If we're going to give out awards celebrating different skills in baseball we should be looking at metrics that aren't as closely related. We often talk about 5-tool players in baseball, so I'm going to redefine the Triple Crown in terms of the three offensive tools. If we want to talk about the range of skills a player has, lets focus on the Three Tools Triple Crown, which requires leading the league in AVG, HR, and SB to win.

The Three Tools Triple Crown is much more difficult to win than the traditional Triple Crown. In fact it's only been done once. Ever. In 1909 Ty Cobb hit 9 HR, batted .377, and stole 76 bases to lead the league in all three categories. Although it should be mentioned that all 9 of Cobb's home runs that season were inside the park.

No player has come close to winning it in a long time. In the age of stolen base specialists, it's difficult for players with any power to keep up with some of these speed demons. Aside from Cobb, the only times a player was even able to win both the SB and HR crowns were Chuck Klein in 1932 and Jimmy Sheckard in 1903. Both of those guys lost the batting title by at least 20 points. 

The early 1900's saw a few more close calls. Ty Cobb missed the HR title by 3 in both 1907 and 1911. Although that 3 HR gap seems a little larger when you consider that the leaders had 8 and 11 respectively. Honus Wagner came 4 HR away in 1907 and 2 HR off in 1908. In the age of bigger home run totals, Mickey Mantle was the last player to win two of the categories and finish top ten in another. In 1956 he won the home run title by 20 but came up 11 SB short of being the steal king. Unfortunately those 11 SB would have been more than double his year end total of 10.

Last season gave us our closest threat in recent years. Matt Kemp won the HR title by 1, and finished third by 13 points for the batting title. His 40 SBs put him in a 4-way tie for second, but he still finished 21 SBs back of winner Michael Bourn.

In the current age of specialization it's tough to see a player ever winning this award again. Miguel Cabrera barely won the batting and home run titles this season, but he finished 45 SBs short of Mike Trout. Trout may actually represent the best current challenger to the Three Tools Triple Crown. He won the stolen base title last season and finished second in the batting title race by 4 points. He only finished 14 HRs behind Cabrera, but he missed an entire month of the season and at the age of 21 might still be getting stronger. I wonder if he were to win all three of these categories if that would be MVP worthy.