Monday, 1 February 2016

In praise of the Pro Bowl

I will now spend 20 minutes parsing the meaning of that gesture on the internet.

Hey, did you watch the Pro Bowl last night?

Me neither.  I mean, I was really looking forward to it, but then discovered that it wasn’t on any channel I get.  It was probably on TSN, which I decided I could do without the last time I wrangled with the bloodsucking cable leeches over a new bundle.  TSN broadcasts what, hockey?  Soccer?  Basketball?  CFL?  Beats me.

Anyway, this year’s Pro Bowl looks like it was a bit of a disappointment.  It was a blowout for the Irvins, 49-27, which means that Jerry Rice might have actually been surrendering in the picture above.  But on the other hand, there were no gratuitous head shots, no defenseless receivers hit, no concussions (that I could find in the postgame news releases) and only one injury (Tyler Eifert of the Bengals; leg).  There was also almost 1000 yards of combined offense for the 2 teams, and only 3 punts.  Who likes punts?  Who doesn’t like offense?

Learn to love the Pro Bowl, for it is the way of the future.  Some – players, fans, former players and coaches – may lament that the game is going soft, with its ever-expanding litany of rules against hitting vulnerable players, and protocols put in place when concussions or other serious injuries are suspected.  They can lament away, and they will, until the NFL loses its first big lawsuit.  It might not lose one for a while – the league seems to have settled the CTA lawsuit for $1B – but it will, eventually.  And if the NFL knows how to protect anything (no, not players’ brains, or players’ girlfriends), it’s money.   Once the consequences of the NFL’s inherent violence start to hurt owners as much as players, the violence will get dialed back – way back.  Purists and old-school fans will hate that, but on the other hand, when the NFL stops putting a premium on physical contact, we might see a new era of smaller, skilled players in the game.

The Super Bowl?  It’s a throwback – even the halftime show is usually a paen to the values and artists held dear by the old, rich, white owners.  It’s serious stuff, and that will make it tough for the announcing crew to sell it when one team (you can probably guess which one) is up by 24 points at halftime.  By contrast, the Pro Bowl is hip, fun, and the face of things to come.  If the Super Bowl is 60 Minutes, the Pro Bowl is the Onion.  And nobody has fun watching 60 Minutes.

Sunday, 31 January 2016


It hasn't been easy to write about the Blue Jays for the last few weeks - so I haven't.  I suppose I could have commented on the way the pitchers I highlighted in this post are mostly (or in the case of the lefthanders, entirely) gone.  Clippard, Tommy Hunter, and Burke Badenhop (I keep coming back to that name) are still available, but it's starting to look like Drew Storen will be the only bullpen addition this offseason.  Storen's great to have and all that, but once again, we will be going into 2016 with Aaron Loup (who had some nice advanced stats last year, but struggled overall) as the only alternative to Brett Cecil from the left side.  And Cecil may well be gone after 2016.

And I suppose I could have commented on Maicer Izturis being brought back on a minor league deal, putting the lie to my confident assertion that we'd never see him in a Blue Jays uniform again.  Maicer Izturis is now 35, and hasn't done anything of note since 2012, when he put up 0.7 fWAR over 319 PA for the Angels.  So, my new confident assertion is that we won't see Izturis on the big-league roster unless a rash of injuries hits - Darwin Barney, at this point, is a better player than Izturis is.  Barney will back up the middle infield until Devon Travis can play 2B again, at which point Goins will be the backup.  Yes, I said Goins.  Goins should not start ahead of a healthy Devon Travis, based on how they both played last year.

I could also have mentioned that Kevin Pillar will get his own bobblehead, suggesting that the team doesn't plan to trade him (while his value is highest).  With Ben Revere in Washington, I wasn't expecting Pillar to go anywhere.

The collectible might be the only thing that Pillar bobbles:

I could also have written about the layoffs in the sports department at Postmedia.  Even if you put aside the human element - these are people who now must look for new jobs writing for a living, in a job market that is getting tougher and tougher for writers - this is bad news for baseball fans.  It's sometimes overstated how important it is for writers to be in the same room as players, to get firsthand quotes and interviews.  Sometimes overstated, but that doesn't mean those things aren't important, either.  Forty years ago, baseball fans had the newspaper writeup of the previous day's game to chew on, and not much else.  The internet and cable TV have made it possible to get immersed in sports coverage in a way the 1970s fan could only dream of, but (incredibly, in a sport with multibillion dollar TV contracts), it seems that there aren't enough dollars to support fulltime (baseball) writers.  Or that's Postmedia's story, anyway.  Fewer voices covering the Jays - and baseball - is not a good thing.

Finally, I could have written about the leadoff spot, and who will be in it now that Ben Revere is an undead Expo.  I'll do that next... probably.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The only thing falling faster than Mark Shapiro's reputation in Toronto...

Many of us follow sports as a way to escape the universe's harsh realities.  If you count yourself among that group, forgive me for injecting some real-world bad news into this post.

In short:  Wow, the dollar is taking a beating, huh?


The Canadian dollar was worth about 80 cents US through the first half of last season.  Then it started a gradual slide to about 75 cents by the end of the season, and it's sunk further to 68 cents US as of Friday.  And some experts see it going even lower, to bottom at 59 cents.

I'm not going to weigh in on how far the dollar will sink - although I will point out that the hyper-bears, the analysts with the gloomiest outlook, will usually get more press than the middle-of-the-road ones, because they make for more dramatic headlines.  But regardless, the local currency is getting a beatdown.  How much will this impact the Jays?

The short answer is, we don't know.  People talk glibly about currency hedging, and speculate about how Rogers, a multibillion dollar conglomerate, must surely hedge its currency exposure.  And it probably does, to some extent.  However - and bear in mind that I am no expert - there is no way to perfectly hedge a currency.  The simplest hedge - a forward - is a right to buy US currency at the current price (say, $0.80 Cdn as of last April) at a later date.  Trouble is, when the outlook for the currency is bad, hedging gets more expensive (nobody wants to sell you that forward at a low price).  And you can't hedge forward indefinitely without buying a laddered series of forwards (expensive) or repurchasing existing forwards as they expire (also expensive).   My point being, Rogers isn't likely to have hedged the value of the entire $120MM+ payroll over the next few years, due to the expense.  How much did they hedge?  We don't know.

The other thing we (or I, anyway) don't know is how much revenue the Jays take in, and how much of that is in $US.  We know that Forbes calculated their 2014 revenue at $217MM  ($US) as of March 2015,  and we think that their C$ revenue has increased due to last year's playoff run and increased ticket sales (and prices) this past offseason, and we strongly suspect that Rogers doesn't pay itself market value for the Jays' TV rights.  We also know from the same Forbes story that the Jays had an $18MM operating loss in 2014, based on the numbers Rogers gave to Forbes.  We also know that the Jays get approximately US$50MM/yr from MLB's TV deals, and another US$10MM from MLB Advanced Media.  I don't think they receive anything else from MLB - they don't collect revenue sharing money any more, and I haven't heard anything about MLB compensating the Jays for their currency disadvantage.

So let's say that the Jays get about $60MM US revenue and the rest is in C$.  As we all know, payroll is the biggest expense, and it's all in $US (in effect, Canadian-resident players whose living expenses are mostly in C$ got a big raise over the last 6 months).  So, assuming the $US revenue goes right to payroll, the Jays have another US$60MM+ in expenses to pay out of their $C revenue - plus whatever other expenses are in $US.  How much will the exchange rate affect payroll?

Well... here's a chart of payrolls over the last 15 years, to illustrate how things worked out in the past.

(y axis is thousands of dollars, x axis is years.  The US$ is the higher blue line, for comparative purposes)

Back in 2000, the dollar was even worse than it was now, averaging about $0.67 US for the year.  The Jays payroll was right about the league average (a shade under $50,000,000) for the time.  Over the next 2 years - when the exchange rate got even worse (down to $0.637 in 2002) payroll actually increased by almost 50%.  By 2003, when the Jays pared their payroll under new GM J.P. Ricciardi, the exchange rate had improved dramatically.  The Jays started to increase their payroll again in 2006, when the dollar was at $0.88.  Alex Anthopoulos was hired after the 2009 season and he promptly started to pare the payroll when the dollar was close to par.  Payroll jumped again in 2013 and the dollar was still around par, and it hasn't started a shrinking cycle again yet, even with the dollar declining from $0.97 in 2013 to about $0.69 now.

I'm not sure we can point to the chart and say high payrolls have coincided with poor C$-US$ exchange rates and that therefore the exchange rate doesn't impact payroll.  Payroll is determined in large part by the contracts you signed in previous years, and it's entirely possible that team management of the time made erroneous assumptions as to future exchange rates and made payroll decisions that turned out to be more (or less) expensive than they expected.

So, ok.  But look at the 2015-2016-2017 points on the chart above.  The Jays had a $126,000,000 (approx) payroll on opening day 2015; apply the average exchange rate for 2015 of $0.783 and that's a C$161MM payroll.  If the dollar continues to hover at the current rate ($0.69), the projected 2016 payroll ($141MM, per baseball-reference) will cost $204MM Canadian.  And if the dollar goes to $0.59 in 2017 (the doomsday scenario), keeping the same $141MM payroll will cost $239MM Cdn,  So, from 2015-2017, the Jays' player-related expenses (in what I hope is the worst case) could jump by C$78MM, or almost 50%, despite the actual payroll increasing by just US$16MM, or 13%.

It's hard to imagine a sliding dollar not impacting the Bautista/Encarnacion extension negotiations to some extent - and everything else the team does.  Let's hope that the Jays have $US revenue coming in beyond the $60MM or so I could spot, or that they're really well hedged.

Or, y'know, the Chinese get their economic act together, the Saudis give up on trying to drive the frackers out of business, and the C$ recovers somewhat.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Jays acquire "proven closer" Drew Storen

Drew Storen is expected to bolster the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen after being acquired Friday night from the Washington Nationals.

Yesterday night, the Blue Jays traded Ben Revere to the Nationals Zombie Expos for reliever Drew Storen.  You may remember Storen as the closer for Washington who was having a terrific season (29 of 31 save opportunities converted) before his club traded for noted D-bag Jonathan "Pigface" Papelbon and handed the closer job to their new acquisition.  Storen wasn't happy, asked for a trade, and struggled in the setup role, relatively speaking.

So, what the Jays have acquired is a quote-unquote "closer" who immediately slots into the 9th inning role, freeing up Roberto Osuna and/or Aaron Sanchez to pitch in higher leverage or starting roles.  They've acquired a guy who apparently has something to prove after losing his closing job last year, and who is a free agent in 2017, adding incentive for him to have a good 2016.  And they do this without giving up any prospects, and apparently the deal is cash-neutral as well (Washington is apparently going to pay some $ to offset the difference between the ~$8M Storen will make, and the ~$6MM Revere will make).

If you don't know anything about Storen, here's a statistical primer:  He throws a fastball, sinker and slider, hitting the mid-90s with the fastball.  He's averaged almost a strikeout per inning for his career, and less than 3 walks per 9.   He has FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) scores of 2.79 and 2.71 over the last 2 seasons, generally doing a good job of limiting home runs.  He's not at the level of Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman (the acquisitions made by Boston and NYY) but he's a lot cheaper and cost less in talent to acquire.

This is a good trade, in my view, because the Jays had a need for relievers and an excess of outfielders.   With Kevin Pillar presumably ensconced in CF and Bautista in RF, one of Revere, Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey was surplus.  Meanwhile, the Jays needed a reliever or two, or possibly more if they want to give their young relievers a shot at starting.  So, fine.

But absent the dealing-from-surplus angle, the deal wouldn't really look like a win.  Ben Revere, for all his limitations (no power, middling on-base skills, not enough defense for CF and not enough offense for LF) was an everyday player who was worth about 2 fWAR per season.  Storen is a good (but not elite) reliever who's put about 1 fWAR up per year.  Reliever performance is volatile from year to year, and even if Storen is good again in 2016, he's going to provide about 60 innings, total.  It's easy to overvalue Revere for his batting average and stolen bases, and to wonder who's going to bat leadoff in 2016, but it's also easy to overvalue Storen for his 'closing' skills.  And on top of that, Storen is a free agent after 2016, so the Jays have traded 2 years of control of Revere for 1 year of Storen.

Would I have liked the Jays to have gotten more for Revere?  Yes, particularly because Revere (or Pillar, or Pompey) was the only real trade chip on the big league roster, and with him gone, Pillar and Pompey can't really be moved.  And getting a 1-WAR player back when trading a 2-WAR player feels wrong.  But, hey... the Jays have finally gotten some relief help, and I'm glad of that.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The importance of (being) Drew Hutchison

The Jays have a lot of medium sized to big contracts on the books past 2016 – Tulo, Martin, Happ, Estrada.  No team, not even the Dodgers, can afford to give 25 players $20MM/season contracts, or even 10 players $20MM+ contracts and 15 players $5MM contracts.  The path to financial flexibility, to my mind, is not in signing key veterans to team-friendly, long term deals.  It’s in having a pipeline of good pre-Arb or early arbitration players that can provide WAR for the major-league minimum salary or close to it.  And the Jays, in the last couple of seasons, have come up with a few of those type of players:  Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Pillar, Roberto Osuna, Devon Travis, Ryan Goins, Chris Colabello.  Those 7 guys combined for 11 fWAR – almost ¼ of the team total – while making a combined $4MM or so.  If Stroman and Travis had been around for full seasons, the WAR number could have been even higher, and Dalton Pompey figures to join this group in 2016.

And there’s Drew Hutchison.  Hutch is occupying a kind of middle ground – he’s not making $20MM/yr, but he’s not making league minimum, either.  Hutchison is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, and is expected to wind up with a salary of about $2.6MM.  Jesse Chavez is expected to get twice that much, and Estrada and Happ got between 5 and 6 times as much.  And the thing is, as bad as Hutchison was in 2015, his ceiling might be higher than that of any of those other 3 pitchers.

Hutchison is 25.  He strikes out about 8 batters per 9 innings and walks fewer than 3 per 9.  He has games where he’s almost unhittable – check out his game logs from 2014-5.  A lot of his issues can be blamed on BABIP or sequencing – Hutch allowed a .343 BABIP last season, stranded just 64.5% of baserunners, and opposing batters had a .381 wOBA with runners on base, and .406 with runners in scoring position.  Hutch gave up more line drives with runners on base, but opposing batters didn’t have a higher percentage of hard-hit balls against him in those situations, so it appears that his situational struggles might be just bad luck.  The wOBA splits with runners on base weren’t as pronounced in 2014, so let’s call some of the difference luck, and some of it – maybe – pitch selection or struggling to pitch from the stretch.

Better minds than I have tried to figure out how to fix Drew Hutchison.  These articles suggest that many people think that Drew Hutchison has the talent to be a very good pitcher; nobody writes articles on how to fix Chad Jenkins or Liam Hendriks (as starters).  And if Hutch can pitch to, say, the Mark Buehrle level (3-4 WAR/season), he’ll provide the Jays with a great deal of payroll flexibility.  R.A. Dickey is a free agent after 2016, and replacing him on the open market would likely cost something like 4 years and $60MM.  But if Hutch can perform to the Dickey/Buehrle level (in WAR, even if not in innings), the Jays will have 4 capable-to-good starters (Stroman, Hutch, Estrada, Happ) for less than $30MM/yr.  Being able to field a good rotation cheaply makes it that much more likely that expensive free agents like Bautista, Encarnacion, and Cecil will return for 2017.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My IBWAA HoF ballot

Not the real Hall of Fame, you say?  Well, neither is the one in Cooperstown, that has enshrined Jim Rice and not Tim Raines.

Barry Bonds - 164 WAR, almost 100 before 2000 and the cranial inflation (see image above).

Roger Clemens – 133 WAR, 77 in Boston

Those WAR numbers are all you need to know about Roger and Barry's HoF case.  They're the 2 best players (pitcher and hitter) of the last generation, and among the all-time best.  And they would have been Hall of Famers without PEDs.  

Mike Mussina - 82 WAR

Curt Schilling - 80 WAR

Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina go together because – for me, anyway – they have interesting similarities and differences.

Schilling, I remember for his performance in the playoffs (11-2, 2.23 ERA overall, including his incredible 2001 with the Diamondbacks, his shutout of the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series, and his overhyped-but-memorable performance in 2004). Schilling led the majors in strikeouts twice (cracking the 300 mark 3 times for his career), innings twice, complete games 4 times, and finished 2nd for the Cy Young 3 times.  Mussina?  I don’t remember anything special about him other than his childish feud with Clarence Gaston over not pitching in the 1993 All-Star game.  Mussina led the majors in innings once, and in shutouts, once.  He finished 2nd for the Cy once.  He seems entirely unremarkable compared with Schilling.

And yet, Mike Mussina accumulated just as much value as Curt Schilling, by bWAR and fWAR.  Yes, he started a bit younger and ended up with a couple hundred more innings, but if you pro-rate their performances over 162-game seasons, they each have their merits.  Schilling has the big K totals and a better ERA and FIP; Mussina was good for more innings and was more consistent (10 seasons of 5+ WAR), and if you like old-school stats, Mussina had more wins and a better winning percentage.  I doubt that any pitcher now playing will surpass the 270 wins Mussina amassed.

The other thing Mussina and Schilling have in common is my dislike for them – but I’ll hold my nose, and give both of them my vote for the HoF, if not the Hall of Not Being an Asshole. 

Ken Griffey, Jr. – 77 WAR.

In 10 years with the Mariners he was below 4.9 fWAR just once, with 3 seasons of 8+ WAR.  He hit 209 HR over a 4 year span.  Before there was Mike Trout, Junior was the CF who put up video game-like numbers.

Larry Walker – 69 WAR

WAR, wRC+, and other stats exist so we don’t have to argue about how much Larry Walker was a product of playing at Coors Field.  Walker would have a better case for the HoF if he had been healthier or played longer; like Griffey, he had some amazing seasons and others that were marred by injury.  Still, he was a plus defender and baserunner who hit for average and power and drew walks.  What’s not to like?

Edgar Martinez – 66 WAR

Yeah, he didn’t play defense.  He’s also 10th in wRC+ (a measure of offensive production against league averages, adjusted for park effects) since 1980 (for players with 1000+ games).  Ahead of Edgar?  Bagwell, Schmidt, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, Frank Thomas, Pujols, Votto, McGwire and Bonds.  Schmidt and Thomas are in the Hall; Cabrera and Pujols will be in the Hall; Votto is on his way there; and Bagwell, Ramirez, McGwire and Bonds are not in the Hall because of steroid use or suspicion of use.  Edgar Martinez has a higher wRC than A-Rod, Mike Piazza, Vlad Guerrero and David Ortiz.  He’s an elite bat and belongs in the HoF.

Alan Trammell – 64 WAR

Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, and Trammell was a better defender than Larkin, and comparable offensively given the eras they played in.  This article makes Trammell's case nicely.

What about the guys I didn't vote for?

McGwire - 66 WAR, and Sosa - 60 WAR.  Both were proven to have used PEDs, and both (Sosa in particular) are borderline cases.  I'm not making a moral judgment here, but I just don't feel right about voting in 2 guys who took advantage of baseball's lax drug regime to vault ahead of the other players below them on this list.

Edmonds – 64 WAR.  Uhm...  ask me again next year.  Edmonds, even more than Walker (obviously) suffers from not being able to stay on the field.  Great defender, great OBP, power out of CF, 6 seasons in a row of 6+ WAR.. but he didn’t reach the majors until he was 24 and broke down at age 35, with some injury-plagued years in between.   

Sheffield – 62 WAR.  He was a very good hitter for a very long time, but terrible defensively and the rest of his game isn’t at the Edgar Martinez level.

McGriff – 57 WAR.  Consistently good, but not really elite for very long – 134 wRC+ career and meh defense at IB does not a HOFer make.

Kent – 56 WAR   Great offense for a 2B, but not appreciatively better than Lou Whitaker, who was a far better defender and baserunner and is not in the HoF.  

The others (Glaus, Garciaparra, Kendall, Winn, etc) don't have the stats to be in the discussion.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 28 December 2015

On Expectations


This time of year seems as good as any for a post about expectations.  At the end of the year, children expect presents at Christmas, adults may expect an end-of-year award from their employer.  People expect to eat too much and drink too much at Christmas and New Year parties.  Some of these expectations may be unrealistic for some people, others may have their realistic expectations dashed, and still others may be pleasantly surprised.

And then, there are Blue Jay fans.

I don't think many of us expected the Blue Jays to win 93 games in the regular season, and to come within 2 games of playing in the World Series.  That definitely counts as a pleasant surprise.  Most of us expected Josh Donaldson to be very good, and for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to continue their strong play as Blue Jays.  However, I'd go so far as to say that Donaldson's MVP was less of a surprise than the ALCS berth was.  Donaldson was a 7-WAR player for the previous 2 seasons, so he was going to be in the MVP conversation, but the Jays were picked by Vegas to have 83 or so wins in 2015, with a 1 in 3 chance of winning the division and less than 1 in 6 to make the ALCS.

Pleasant surprises breed more extravagant expectations, though.  One of my most-repeated stories from my work in sales has management expectations as its punchline:  Having beaten a sales quota by over 80% in the previous fiscal year, the sales target for the next fiscal year was raised by 80%.  In other words, what was a stupendously good performance one year became the minimum acceptable performance level in the next.  That's unrealistic, and sets everyone involved up for failure.

Are fan expectations for the Blue Jays in this offseason, unrealistic?  I don't think so.  For example, there was an argument for and against bidding for David Price.  I would have liked the club to attempt to bring him back, but management decided that he was too expensive, or too risky, or that $30MM would be better spent on 3 pitchers (Estrada, Happ, Chavez) to fill 4 spots vacated by free agents Price and Estrada, likely retiree Buehrle, and the inconsistent Drew Hutchison.  That's perfectly defensible if the team doesn't want to push the payroll up by 20%+; a rotation of Price, Stroman, Dickey, Hutchison and cross-your-fingers would collapse if any of them struggled or had to miss time due to injury.

On the subject of payroll, was it unrealistic to expect it to jump by $30MM?  I don't think so.  The club made somewhere around $40MM in additional revenue in 2015 thanks to the 2nd half surge and postseason appearances, and revenues for 2016 are likely up as well thanks to increased sales of higher priced tickets.  Yes, the team has all but announced that the Skydome requires improvements and upgrades that could easily cost far more than the amount of increased revenue in 2015-2016, and yes, the increased revenues could be paying for those upgrades instead of additional players.  Except, of course, that the upgrades were going to be required anyway, whether or not revenues were up.  Rogers got the Skydome for free, basically, and it's disingenuous to say that the Jays' owner is hard done by for having to maintain an asset they paid next to nothing for.

What else?  I expected the Blue Jays to sign some kind of veteran lefthanded reliever to provide some kind of non-Aaron Loup depth behind Brett Cecil, and maybe another relief option to allow for the possibility that Aaron Sanchez makes the rotation, and/or Drew Hutchison starts the season in Buffalo.  To be fair, that could still happen.  Overall, I'm less than satisfied with the way the Blue Jays's offseason has gone, but some perspective is called for.  I'm sure Dodgers fans aren't happy with losing Greinke to a division rival (paralleling the Price situation) and seeing another rival, the Giants, load up on pitching while their own team more or less treads water.  And of course, the Royals have seen Zobrist and Cueto leave town, and may have seen the last of Alex Gordon.  Having won the World Series presumably softens those blows, but the point is that we can't expect every offseason to go as well as the last one (Donaldson, Martin, Estrada) did.

So.  Expectations are unmet.  Or to put it another way, the Jays' new front office isn't doing things the way we would like or expect them to.  Maybe what I - and others - expected or hoped for, wouldn't allow for the team to be competitive beyond 2016, as key players age, and the 'Shapiro approach', for lack of a better term, will lead to playoffs in 2017-20.  And maybe Shapiro and Co. are right and we're wrong and the 2016 Jays will be a championship contender; even if the "Shapiro approach" doesn't work next year, they should be a strong team anyway.  Just not as strong as we'd like them to be.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

My Hall of Fame biases

Now that’s a trophy to take home.

I’m obviously not a Baseball Writers Association of America member.  But I am an Internet Baseball Writer’s Association of America member, and as such, I have a (IBWAA) Hall of Fame ballot.  And this changes everything!  I have hitherto had a hate-hate relationship with the regular Hall of Fame, for doing stupid things like voting in Jim Rice and keeping out Tim Raines, or overvaluing relievers (Bruce Sutter?  Seriously??) and for becoming a soapbox from which old-school baseball writers champion their biases and air their grievances.  Fie on the Hall of Fame, and fie on the people like this who have ruined it.

But now I have a vote.  So now, instead of just railing against the idiocy of the Hall of Fame and the people who vote on its membership, I can effect changes from within… the hipper alternative to the regular Hall of Fame.  It’s a start.

So, what’s my stance on the big issues that Hall of Fame voters bravely grapple with ignore in favour of airing their personal prejudices?

Hall of Fame membership standards:  The BBWAA site says that “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”  (the IBWAA doesn’t specify HoF voting criteria on its site).

That’s a pretty broad set of criteria, and some of those things seem to have been ignored at times in the past (*cough*Ty Cobb*cough* sportsmanship?).  Not being trained as a baseball talent scout, I can’t judge playing ability other than by looking at on-field performance… and isn’t that “record”?  Or does “record” refer to a pitcher’s won-loss record?  Integrity, sportsmanship, character… how can a writer who typically follows one or two teams judge that about other teams’ players?

To me, the Hall of Fame isn’t about “Fame”, or titles, or setting records.  It’s about on-field performance and value, as measured against other players in the league, first and foremost.  All those other criteria are tiebreakers at best.

Relief pitchers:  The principal problem I have with electing relievers to the Hall of Fame is that they’re part time players.  A typical top-end reliever pitches about 1/3 as many innings as a starter.  Even 60 elite innings aren’t as valuable as 180 pretty good innings, which is why the $10MM/yr that the Jays gave to the sainted BJ Ryan is so puzzling in retrospect.  And one thing about the Hall of Fame is that it rewards longevity and ‘counting stats’.  Get to 500 HR, 3000 hits, or 300 wins as a pitcher, and you’ve got a pretty good case for the Hall of Fame, especially for traditionalist voters.  And if you don’t get to 10 seasons, you can’t even get on the ballot, even if those were 9.5 all-star seasons.  Well, to put it in HoF terms, voting relievers into the HoF is like voting in a starter who just played 6 seasons.  Voting relievers into the HoF is like voting in a starter who won just 100 games.  No, scratch those analogies – let’s compare apples to apples.  Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner are both on the Hall of Fame candidates list.  Both of them were elite relievers.  Hoffman was worth 26 fWAR over 1089 innings, and Wagner was worth 24 WAR over 903 innings.  But Brandon Webb (remember how great he was?) was worth 30 WAR over 1300 innings before injuries ended his career, and Chris Sale has been worth 23 fWAR over 883 innings to this point.  Nobody would argue that Webb should be in the HoF, and as good as Sale has been, if his career ended tomorrow he wouldn’t get any HoF consideration (even putting the 10 year minimum aside).

The other point about relievers is that many (most?) of them are failed starters.  Baseball teams recognize that a good starter is worth more to them than a good reliever is, so pitching prospects tend to begin their careers as starters until they demonstrate that they can’t be successful, at which point they are switched to relief.   So why are there so many good relievers, you may ask?  Well, it’s because a guy who can throw 91-93 mph over 100 pitches as a starter, can often throw 95-96 as a reliever.  Starters have to pace themselves and turn over lineups, while relievers can go at maximum effort over 20-30 pitches, and often get brought in when they have the platoon advantage.  What I’m saying is that it’s easier for a reliever to post better-than-average rate stats (ERA, FIP, strikeout and walk rate) than it is for a starter to do the same.

And that’s why I won’t be voting for any full-time relievers anytime soon, with the possible exception of Mariano Rivera.

PEDs:  I’m not going to get into the morality of PEDs.  They aren’t a good thing to put in your system, but they weren’t formally banned until 2005, and the sport turned a blind eye to PEDs for at least 4 decades before that.  So – I’m not going to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame over their “character” as it relates to PED use.  But did PEDs turn them into Hall of Fame calibre players?  Well, if you figure Clemens started to use PEDs around when he left Boston and came to Toronto determined to show Boston’s front office that he could still play, he had already accumulated about 77 fWAR.  Same argument applies to Bonds – if you figure that he started heavy PED use about the time that McGwire and Sosa had their home run race, Bonds had already put up almost 100 (presumably?  possibly?) steroid-free WAR.  I know that’s some pretty fuzzy reasoning – for all we know, Clemens and Bonds were using PEDs all the way back to the 1980s – but some perspective has to be established.  Other HoF candidates in this year’s slate top out at about 80 fWAR for their careers.  Clemens and Bonds finished with 133 and 164 fWAR.  Steroids or no steroids, they are two of the best dozen players to ever play baseball.

I mentioned Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in that last paragraph.  They’re on the ballot as well, but put up less than 70 WAR each.  In other words, they’re somewhat borderline HoF candidates (Larry Walker, Tim Raines, and Edgar Martinez are on the ballot, with similar WAR totals and no PED suspicions).  Did PEDs make McGwire and Sosa the players they were? I have no idea, but I feel a lot safer excluding them on the basis of their PED use being a tiebreaker that works against them.  Barry Bonds would have been great even if he never took a PED.  Sammy Sosa without ‘roids might have been Dave Kingman (and no offense to Dave Kingman, even though he was an asshole).  So, no votes for them – at least not until the Larry Walkers and Tim Raines’ are in the Hall.

Pete Rose:  I don’t get the fuss.  Rose is, in my view, a moderately strong HoF candidate.  He gets remembered for longevity and the hits record, but he was worth 1.2 fWAR over his last 7 combined seasons (3685 PA!) and if you take those seasons away, there’s no hits record.  Defensive metrics don’t like him.  His wRC+ for his career was 121 (about the same as Yunel Escobar last season).  He had a 57% stolen base success rate and averaged less than 10 HR per season, even if you exclude the 7 washed-up years at the end of his career.  And the .375 career OBP is great, but not superhuman – Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Seitzer had moderately lengthy careers and finished with a .375 OBP, too.  Why all the outrage over Pete Rose and none for Tim Raines?

(Oh, in case you weren’t paying attention, and you happen to be a BBWAA member – vote Raines.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Chris Davis rumours, and the all-too-real coming cash crunch

Not literally crunchy.

If you’re hearing rumours about the Jays being ‘in on’ first baseman Chris Davis, do you believe them?  I don’t – I mean, why would the Jays be interested in committing $20+MM for 6+ years to Davis, when they weren’t at all interested in negotiating with David Price?  The Jays have a first baseman/DH (Encarnacion) and two relatively inexpensive alternates/backups (Colabello and Smoak).  They don’t have a pressing need for Davis, but they do have a pressing need for pitching.

How could a Davis signing work?  If the Jays don’t intend to re-sign Encarnacion and Bautista after next season, Davis would be a younger, lefthanded, longer-term replacement for both of them.  Jose and EE are both under contract for 2016 at bargain basement rates, but if they were to leave after the 2016 season, they’d free up $24MM and bring back 2 draft picks.   And frankly, the more I think about it, the more sense that makes.

Consider:  Jose Bautista will be 36 in a year.  Encarnacion will be 34.  Davis will be 30.  A while back, I blogged about how risky a longer-term deal would be for hitters who are 36+.  If you don’t remember it, or don’t want to click the link, here’s the gist:  No non-Bonds player has put up more than 2 3+ WAR seasons after turning 36.  There are only 5 players (outside the steroids division) who put up more than 10 WAR total after turning 36.  So, if you wanted to give Edwin a 5-year, $100MM deal, or Jose a 4-year, $90MM deal, there’s a good chance you’d be paying each guy $20MM/yr to be worth 2 WAR per year, or less.  Both men have been great for the last several years, but both also have defensive limitations and on-and-off health issues.  And those negative qualities will only intensify with age.

Davis, meanwhile, is 29, turning 30 in 2016.  A 6 or 7 year deal for him would be expensive, in the $20-25MM range per season.  But Davis is much further from his decline phase, and probably has 4 or 5 more good seasons left.  He strikes out too much, but also walks a lot, and has off-the-charts power.  In 2017, the Jays lineup will (as things stand now) include Donaldson, Tulowitzki, and Martin as righthanded power bats.  Chris Colabello and Devon Travis also figure to be around, and also bat righthanded.  Ben Revere, Michael Saunders and Ryan Goins are the only strictly lefthanded bats on the roster now, and none of them are guaranteed to play much next season (and Saunders, the only power bat, is a free agent in 2017).  So, adding Davis next season allows the Jays one year of a massively loaded lineup, and they would start 2017 with a middle-of-the-order group along the lines of Donaldson-Tulowitzki-Davis-Martin-Colabello (provided the club finds a way to retain Colabello through 2016).

Would it suck to not have Bautista and EE on this team and to see them hit homers for someone else?  Oh hell, yes.  But by 2017, the Jays will have the following commitments:

Tulo:                 $20MM
Martin:              $20MM
Donaldson:       $20MM (approximately)
Happ:               $13MM
Estrada             $14.5MM

That’s almost 90MM for 5 guys.  Add another $45MM or so for Jose and Edwin, and you’re north of $130MM for 7 players.  On top of that, you’ll need to pay or replace Cecil (free agent), Saunders (free agent), and Revere (Arb-3), Hutchison (Arb-2) and Colabello (Arb-1).  The year after that (2018), the Estrada contract goes away but all of Stroman, Goins, Pillar, Sanchez, Osuna and Travis become 1st-year arbitration eligible, so figure about another $10+MM for those 6 right there.  Yes, Rogers made a lot of money last year (and more, so far this offseason), but if you bring both Jose and Edwin back in 2017 you’re looking at maybe $170MM as a salary baseline for 2017, with a 70-cent dollar to pay those USD obligations with. 

I don’t want to scare anyone, but in 2019, the Jays will be paying a 37 year old Russell Martin $20MM, a 35 year old Troy Tulowitzki $20MM, and if both JB and EE were brought back, they’d be making $20MM+ each while aged 38 and 36.  Paying almost $100MM to guys in their late 30s doomed the Phillies and has put the Yankees, even with their nearly unlimited financial resources, on a budget.  If the Jays go down that road, this team could get really old and really bad REALLY fast, with nothing to be done but wait for contracts to expire.

So, if you accept the idea that re-signing both of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion is a bad idea over the long term, Chris Davis makes sense.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Relief pitching: Zircons in the r...debris?

A few weeks ago, I posted about unheralded starting pitchers.  This is my post on relievers the Jays might pick up on the free agent market.

In some ways, weeding through the relievers out there was a harder process than it was with the starters.  Fortunately, there’s nobody with a QA attached, so no need to factor in lost draft picks in the free agent cost calculation.  But what the Jays really need, I think, is at least one lefthanded reliever to provide another option behind Brett Cecil, in the event that Aaron Loup can’t regain his overall effectiveness.  Adding a second reliever – whether righthanded or lefthanded – is necessary to fill the spot that opened up with the Liam Hendriks trade.  Getting a third solid addition to the bullpen would be great, if somewhat unlikely.  A pen consisting of Osuna-Cecil-Sanchez-new LHP-new RHP-and 2 choices from Loup/Schultz/Tepera/Venditte/Dragmire/Hutchison/Chavez for the last 2 spots would be fairly decent.

Below is the list of unsigned free agent relievers from MLBTradeRumors.  The guys marked “no” are players who I don’t feel would be an upgrade over the present back-of-the-bullpen options.  The ‘maybes’ are guys who I wouldn’t feel great about, but might turn out to be useful.  I’ll focus on the guys with no annotation next to their names.

David Aardsma             RHP                             no                                           
Matt Albers                   RHP                             no       
Burke Badenhop            RHP                                        
Antonio Bastardo          LHP                                         
Joe Beimel                    RHP                             no                                           
Matt Belisle                   RHP                             no                                           
Rafael Betancourt          RHP                             maybe.  FIP was much better than ERA last 2 years, but is now 40.                                            
Joe Blanton                  RHP                                        
Jerry Blevins                 LHP                              maybe.  Was hurt for much of 2015, but fairly solid before that.                                     
Blaine Boyer                 RHP                             no                                           
Craig Breslow                LHP                              no                                           
Jonathan Broxton          RHP                                        
Chris Capuano              LHP                              maybe. Had a bad 2015, though, and is now 37.                                   
Randy Choate               LHP                              maybe.  Extreme groundballer with low walk rate, but also 40                                         
Tyler Clippard                RHP                                        
Neal Cotts                     LHP                              maybe.  Had a poor 2015 in which he gave up for too many home runs, and his velocity is in a slow decline.                                    
Ross Detwiler                LHP                              no                                           
Brian Duensing              LHP                              maybe. He’s 32, but his strikeout to walk rate is terrible.  He does get ground balls, though.
Jeff Francis                  LHP                              no                                           
Jason Frasor                 RHP                             no                                           
Ernesto Frieri                RHP                             no.  Extremely homer-prone of late.                                          
Tom Gorzelanny            LHP                              no                                           
Jeremy Guthrie              RHP                             starter                          
Roberto Hernandez        RHP                             no.  This is a Fausto-free zone.                                     
David Hernandez           RHP                             no                                           
Tommy Hunter               RHP                                        
Edwin Jackson              RHP                             no/starter                                 
Casey Janssen              RHP                             no                                           
Cesar Jimenez               LHP                              no                                           
Shawn Kelley                RHP                                                    
Kyle Lohse                    RHP                             no/starter                                             
Sean Marshall               LHP                              no.  Recovering from injury                                           
Nick Masset                  RHP                             no                                           
Justin Masterson           RHP                             no/starter                                 
Franklin Morales            LHP                              maybe.  A cheap lefthanded option, but I’d like to aim higher.                            
Edward Mujica              RHP                             no                                           
Joe Nathan                   RHP                             no                                           
Hector Noesi                 RHP                             no                                           
Eric O'Flaherty              LHP                              no                                           
Bobby Parnell               RHP                             no                                           
Manny Parra                  LHP                              maybe.  He’s lefthanded and may come cheap, but injury prone of late                                      
Joel Peralta                   RHP                             no                                           
Fernando Rodney          RHP                             maybe.  Had a terrible 2015 which may make him cheaper.  Still gets Ks at age 38                         
Tony Sipp                     LHP
Tim Stauffer                  RHP                             no                               
Eric Stults                     LHP                              no/starter                                             
Joe Thatcher                 LHP                                         
Dale Thayer                   RHP                             no                                           
Matt Thornton                LHP                              maybe.  He’s lefthanded and controls home runs, but also 39 and made             $3.5MM in 2015                        
Carlos Villanueva           RHP                             maybe.  He’s at least league average, cheap, and just 31.                                              
Ryan Vogelsong           RHP                             no/starter                                 
Ryan Webb                   RHP                             no                                           
Jerome Williams            RHP                             no                               

So the lefthanded options, as I see 'em, are these names:

Antonio Bastardo, LHP:  Bastardo racks up strikeouts (11 per 9 innings, career) and walks (4.3 per 9 innings, career), but limits home runs.  His velocity has been climbing over the past 3 seasons.  He’s 30 and made $3.1MM in 2015.  He may be due for a raise, but he’d be another big arm for the bullpen.

Tony Sipp, LHP:  Like Bastardo, Sipp racks up strikeouts, but he's done a better job of limiting walks.  He’s 32 and made just $500,000 last year, so he’ll be due for a raise.

Joe Thatcher, LHP:  Yet another big strikeout guy, Thatcher is a soft thrower who has had problems staying healthy.  He’s 35 and was on a minor league deal last year, so he’d probably be the cheapest of the lefthanded options here.

And here's the righthanders:

Burke Badenhop, RHP:  My love affair with Burke Badenhop continues.  ‘Ol Double B, as I have just christened him, rewarded my confidence in his groundballing ability by posting the worst groundball percentage of his career in 2015.  His walk and strikeout rate also went in the wrong directions.  That said, Badenhop is 33, a candidate to return to his previous form, and shouldn’t break the bank, having made $2.5MM in 2015.

Joe Blanton, RHP:  You might remember Blanton from posts I wrote in previous years about starting pitching options.  Well, Blanton missed all of 2014 due to injury and got turned into a pretty decent reliever this season.  Lots of strikeouts, lots of ground balls, not many walks.  Blanton’s 34 and made $8MM last year, but I can't see him getting that salary in 2016.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP : Broxton’s not the guy he was in 2006-2009, when he struck out billions of hitters and provided 8 fWAR of relief over 4 seasons… but… he’s been pretty okay the last 2 seasons and can still throw in the mid-90s.  Just don’t think of him as an elite reliever; he’s more of a back end type who could be useful for about $2MM.  Broxton’s 31 and made $9MM last year (he had his 2016 option declined).

Tyler Clippard, RHP:  Clippard was a sold reliever for the Nationals for several years, up to 2014.  Then he went to the A’s and Mets last year, and wasn’t the same guy.  K rate was down, walk rate was up, groundball rate was down, and he was worth just 0.2 WAR (although it should be noted that Clippard has always allowed low BABIPs, and Fangraphs WAR discounts that).  Regardless, I’d be hesitant to make a play for Clippard – even if he’s just 30, he may expect to be paid like he was in 2015 ($8MM) and that doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Tommy Hunter,  RHP:  Hunter was traded to the Cubs after 4 and a half seasons with the Orioles, and surrendered a bunch of home runs for Chicago.  He made $4.6MM last year.

Shawn Kelley, RHP: 31 year old fastball-slider guy who strikes out a bunch of hitters and occasionally has trouble with home runs.  2015 was a career year, so he may be looking for a raise from the $2.8MM he got last season.  May be gone to Nationals.

Bastardo and Badenhop would be just fine, and would probably cost about $6-8MM/season, combined.  Sipp and Thatcher might be even cheaper than Bastardo, and Blanton seems like he could be a bargain, too.  I'd think that Clippard and Broxton would make less than they did last year, but with Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria getting between $7MM and $8MM AAV, I might be wrong about that.  I'd hesitate to spend more than $4MM on any of the guys listed above.