Friday, 27 February 2015

Doomed heroes and knee injuries

The injury bug has ruined many a Christmas, and not a few baseball seasons.

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about Michael Saunders' knee.

Before Saunders had surgery today, I was planning to write about how odd it was that the same people who were wringing their hands about the absence of Michael Saunders from the lineup, were many of the same ones who were complaining about how he wasn’t going to hit after the Jays traded for him.

Anyway.  Now we probably don't have to worry about whether Kevin Pillar or Andy Dirks could fill in adequately in LF (they could have, but if Pompey got hurt or struggled, the team would be in dire straits in the OF).  Point being, losing Bautista or Donaldson would be would be disastrous; losing Saunders isn't.   J-Bau and J-Don are both expected to produce 5+ fWAR, while Saunders has never been worth more than 2.1 fWAR and Steamer has him projected to 1.7 WAR (over 113 games, and he may yet reach that threshold!).  Saunders' replacements might be worth half a win less over a half season.

But now all those concerns are behind us, because Saunders didn't have the meniscus in his knee repaired, he had the damaged part of the meniscus removed.  Removing the meniscus cuts the recovery time to 5-6 weeks, instead of 4-5 months.

I understand that the damage to the meniscus was severe enough, once the doctor had opened up the knee to look, that the torn portion was irreparable and had to be removed.  That makes me feel a bit better about the fact that Saunders had reportedly decided to have it removed, regardless of whether it could have been repaired, so he could come back sooner.  His coming back sooner is obviously in everyone's best short-term interest, but losing the meniscus will make it more likely that Saunders suffers from serious knee issues (arthritis), later on in his life.

I can totally understand why Michael Saunders wants to be back sooner - aside from wanting to play baseball and contribute to his new team, he's going into his final arbitration season, and missing 60% of it will likely cut into his future earnings.  Pro athletes have short careers; baseball players play longer than football players do, but even so, Saunders might only have 3 or 4 good years left.  Missing significant time this year could really cost him, earnings-wise.

All that makes perfect sense.  But isn't Saunders deciding to get important parts of his knee removed so he can keep playing analogous to a guy with a concussion getting back on the field so he doesn't lose his job?  Knee injuries aren't brain injuries, but isn't the principle the same - a player (or his team) risking his long term health so he can help the team in the short term?

Maybe Michael Saunders doesn't turn into Mo Vaughan by his mid 30s.  Maybe he has a great career and an arthritic knee in retirement is a price well worth paying.  But I'm glad, in a way, that the injury was so bad that repair wasn't an option.  Because if there was a choice, I would have a hard time feeling good about the choice Saunders made.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Six spring training questions

As you are no doubt aware, the Blue Jays made some well-regarded moves in the early stages of the offseason, landing Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Michael Saunders, Marco Estrada and Justin Smoak.  After that, the club incrementally ran out of money sat on its hands for the last 2 months, and here we are at the start of spring training with unanswered questions at 2B and the bullpen, same as was the case at the end of 2014.

I don’t think that unanswered questions are necessarily a problem, mind you.  Last year, the answer to the second base question was “Ryan Goins!” even though most people knew that Ryan Goins was a terrible idea.  This year, there are options.  Better options than last year.  So let’s dig in and take a look.

Question 1:  Who plays second base?

Last year, Maicer Izturis got the job and after an unsustainably hot start with the bat, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.  Now, Izturis returns to battle for the job with Munenori Kawasaki, Goins, Steve Tolleson, Ramon Santiago and Devon Travis.

At this point, it’s almost a sure thing that Maicer Izturis is on the roster, either as the starter or the infield backup.  Izturis is out of options, and he’s being paid $3MM, so the club is unlikely to just cut him loose or try to ship him off to Buffalo.  I’m not sure you can discount his horrible 2013, but if you do, Izturis is a decent defender at 2B and a better hitter than any of the other known options for the position.  That said, Izturis is now 34 and coming off major knee surgery.

Goins, we know about:  Probably the best defender in the group of 2B options, and very likely the worst hitter.  In a perfect world, Goins would be on the roster as a defensive replacement behind a better hitting starter and behind Reyes at shortstop.

The other player on the 40-man roster is Tolleson, who is coming back after surgery to correct his vision.  We might see a boost in his play post-surgery, but Tolleson hasn’t been great at 2B (in limited time there, admittedly) and his bat doesn’t look to be any better than Izturis’s.

Kawasaki is a better fielder than Tolleson (from what we can see from the sample we have, anyway) but like Tolleson, doesn’t figure to be better than Izturis overall.

Ramon Santiago is a utility infielder who doesn’t hit or field any better than the guys higher up on this list.

Devon Travis is the guy to dream on, here.  Travis came here in exchange for Anthony Gose last fall – he was the top prospect in a pretty bad Tigers farm system.  He’s 24 and hasn’t played an inning above AA, but Fangraphs in particular is very high on him – he’s regarded as a steady defender with a good plate approach, and is expected to compete for a job this spring.  If he fulfils the expectations that many have for him, he’s the best player on this list and starts at 2B on opening day.  On the other hand, he’s never played above AA and the club might feel he needs more at-bats in Buffalo before promoting him later in the season, if at all.

Likely answer:  Izturis starts.  Whoever has the best spring out of Goins/Tolleson/Kawasaki/Santiago backs up, with the edge going to Goins or Kawasaki.  Travis starts in Buffalo barring an amazing spring performance.

Question 2:  Who’s the 5th starter?

Barring injury, the top of the rotation will be Dickey/Buehrle/Stroman/Hutchison.  The battle for the 5th starter job looks to come down to Dan Norris, Aaron Sanchez, or Marco Estrada.

Estrada will make the team, as a starter or as a reliever, while both Sanchez and Norris could possibly end up in Buffalo when April hits.   Estrada, as I outlined yesterday, had a decent track record as a starter in 2012-13, but was victimized by the home run in 2014.  Top prospect Norris roared through 4 levels in 2014, going from A+ to AA, AAA and the majors.  Sanchez went from AA through AAA to the majors last year. 

Likely answer:  If Norris has a good spring, he’s the 5th starter when the season starts.  If he doesn’t, Estrada gets the job and Norris is in Buffalo.  Sanchez ends up in the bullpen – he doesn’t have the control to start in the bigs, but he’s too valuable in relief (and the Jays are too thin in the bullpen) for him to get sent back to AAA.

Question 3: Who’s in the back of the bullpen?

Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins look like locks, or near-locks, for the top 4 bullpen spots.  I think Aaron Sanchez gets a spot as well.  That leaves 2 spots open, or 3 if I’m wrong about Sanchez.

I went over the bullpen options at length here but saved my guessing for this post.  As already noted, Marco Estrada gets a bullpen spot if Norris wins a starting job.  I’d say that both Steve Delabar and Miguel Castro would be locks for the bullpen with good spring performances.  If not, look to Preston Guilmet or Wilton Lopez to take bullpen spots – and if the Jays are fortunate enough to get good performances out of more than 3 of Delabar, Castro, Guilmet and Lopez, we could see Aaron Sanchez in AAA to work on his third and fourth pitches.

Likely answer:  Delabar, Guilmet (or Estrada if Estrada doesn't start), and as noted earlier, Sanchez.

Question 4:  Who’s the CF and 4th OF?

Well, the CF job is Dalton Pompey’s to lose, I think.  If he has a good spring, he’s the man.  If not, I think Chris Dickerson (covered yesterday) will platoon with Kevin Pillar, with Dickerson (lefty bat) getting most of the playing time, and Pompey in AAA.  Ezequiel Carrera figures to be minor-league depth unless he has a great spring and Pompey doesn’t.

Who backs up Pompey is a trap question – you’d think it’d be Pillar, who played well at times in 2013-14 and is a RH bat, which fits nicely when you consider Pompey hits better from the left side.  However, Pillar has options and Carrera/Dickerson don’t.  Still, I’d give the inside track to Pillar.

Likely answer:  Pompey CF, Pillar 4th OF.

Question 5:  Navarro, Thole, or both?

There are a couple of moving parts to this question.  Can Dickey throw successfully to Russell Martin?  And, can the Jays find a trade they like for Dioner Navarro?

The Dickey question isn’t just about whether Martin can catch the knuckleball, but whether Dickey performs well throwing to him.  In 2013, Dickey pitched to JP Arencibia for opening day, and then pitched to Henry Blanco for his next 12 starts, which ran through April and May to the first game in June.  In April and May of 2013, Dickey’s ERA was over 5.  After that, he pitched to Josh Thole, and his ERA was about 3.80…. right around where it was in 2014 (3.71), when he pitched to Thole for the full season.  Thole also caught 27 of Dickey’s 33 starts in 2012, when he won the Cy Young award; the other 6 were caught by Mike Nickeas.  Point being, Dickey may well perform better when throwing to Thole and not just any “knuckler-ready” catcher.

The Navarro question is easier.  I’ve said before that Dioner Navarro isn’t the kind of guy you would want to DH regularly, and if he’s not DHing, he’ll get less than 60 starts at catcher (even fewer if both he and Thole are somehow still around).  That said, injuries happen.  If Russell Martin were to get hurt, Navarro could be the everyday catcher (and there are no other decent options to replace Martin with in the event of injury).  If Smoak or Encarnacion get hurt, he can DH more often.  The 2015 Jays don’t figure to have a bench full of great hitters, and Navarro’s .315 wOBA looks pretty good when you compare it with Pillar’s .304 or Valencia’s .295.  In short, Navarro has too much potential value for the Jays to trade him on anything other than their own terms.

So, likely answer:  The Jays have invested a lot in Russell Martin (and he's far better than Thole in every other way), so unless he’s awful with the knuckler, the Jays let him catch for Dickey and Navarro backs up.  Thole is out of options, so the club will try to sneak him down to AAA and hope that his $1.75MM contract deters him from declaring himself a free agent.  And if Thole does get claimed, the Jays still have Nickeas.

Question 6:  Who are the “out of options” guys who the team might lose?

This is an easy one, thanks to Bluebird Banter’s handy guide.  As far as the players you have heard of, I expect Kyle Drabek, Liam Hendriks and Steve Tolleson to not make the roster.  I suppose someone might take a flyer on Drabek, but I’d consider it more likely that Tolleson and Hendriks get claimed.  As noted above, they might lose Thole, too.  Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera (CF candidates) and Ramon Santiago are also out of options and could be lost if they don’t make the team.

Likely answer:  Lots of guys, with Drabek, Hendriks, Tolleson topping the list.  Fortunately, I don't see any of these players getting added to the 25-man roster as dead weight, the way Jeremy Jeffress was last year.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Quick review of the new faces

This past offseason, the Blue Jays somehow managed to turn over almost 2/3 of their lineup without managing to address second base and the bullpen.  Huh?  Oh, you heard about that, did you?

What follows is a field guide to explain who’s replacing who, and what we can expect from them.

Josh Donaldson: Replaces Brett Lawrie.
Distinguishing feature(s):  Fewer tattoos, veins in neck less prominent.
Upshot:  Josh Donaldson should be a major improvement on Brett Lawrie.  Donaldson is a much better hitter and a better defender (although not without flaws).  He has a lot of range and is a better bat than Lawrie or any of the other hitters (Lind, Cabrera, Rasmus) that left the team after 2014.  The other thing Donaldson brings is health.  It’s not that Brett Lawrie was a bad third baseman (he was average to good, usually), it’s that Lawrie played just 303 of a possible 486 games the last 3 seasons, mostly due to injury.  I don’t know if staying healthy is a skill (and I’m pretty sure you can’t blame Lawrie’s oblique issues and broken finger on Astroturf, either) but Donaldson looks like a much better bet to get into 150+ games.  Fingers crossed.

Russell Martin:  Replaces (directly) Josh Thole, or (indirectly) Dioner Navarro.
Distinguishing feature(s):  Bigger beard, smaller belly.
Upshot:  No matter who the backup is, Martin makes the Jays’ catching corps much better in 2014.  Even if 2014’s great batting numbers are an aberration, he’s a better hitter than Navarro and a MUCH better hitter than Thole.  He grades out better defensively than both Navarro and Thole, and he’s a much better pitch framer (receiving a pitch to make it look like a strike) than either.  Either Martin can catch Rah Dickey’s knuckleball (more on that in a later post) or the Jays need to keep Josh Thole to do that.  If he can, Martin probably catches 100+ games and DH’s a few when Navarro catches.  If he can’t, Martin probably catches almost all the games other than the 32 or so Thole gets during Dickey’s starts. 

Justin Smoak:  Replaces Adam Lind.
Distinguishing feature(s):  Eyes fractionally more open.  No squirrel on face.
Sort of replaces Lind, anyway.  Despite John Gibbons' suggestion that Encarnacion will play first base, I figure Justin Smoak should play 1B against RH pitchers (the same way Lind did) with Danny Valencia playing 1B or DHing against LHP.  He will miss some time when Encarnacion does play 1B so that Bautista, Reyes and Martin get time at DH.  Point being, I would be surprised to see Smoak get 300 PA in 2015, unless things go very well for him, or very badly in other areas.  Smoak’s a downgrade from Lind at the plate, but he does seem a bit better defensively and he’s been healthier as well.  As was the case with Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind’s batting abilities were often frustratingly unavailable due to frequent injuries.

Michael Saunders:  Replaces Melky Cabrera
Distinguishing feature(s):  Work ethic/toughness baggage instead of PED baggage.
Saunders is younger, faster, and better defensively than Cabrera.  He probably won’t hit as well as Cabrera did in 2014, but in fairness, nobody expects Melky to hit as well in 2015 as he did in 2014, either.  So I expect a bit of a downgrade offensively, but I doubt we’d be any happier with Cabrera still in the fold, and Saunders IS a bit better than Melky in the field.  The caveat is that Saunders has had health issues (and then again, Melky hasn’t been aging well either).

Marco Estrada:  Replaces J.A. Happ.
Distinguishing features(s):  Sometimes smiles in pictures.
Estrada has been more valuable than Happ in 2 of the last 3 seasons, but Happ was better in 2014.  Happ goes to Seattle as the likely 5th starter, while Estrada could be the 5th starter (if one of Norris/Sanchez doesn’t win the job in the spring) or in the bullpen.  Estrada was quite good as a starter in 2012-13, but was much better in the bullpen in 2014… and the difference mostly comes down to home runs.  Estrada gave up 27 HR in 107 innings as a starter, but just 2 in 43 innings as a reliever.   A more normal propensity for home runs would go a long way to making Estrada more palatable as a starter.  Nonetheless, he appears to be a slight downgrade on Happ, just based on recent trends.


Chris Dickerson/Ezequiel Carrera:  Replace Colby Rasmus
Distinguishing feature(s):  No mullet/cornrows/goatee.
It’s a lot more likely that Dalton Pompey replaces Rasmus as the full time CF, or that Pillar and one of Dickerson or Carrera platoon in CF this year.  Both Dickerson and Carrera are lefthanded bats who can back up across the outfield, but Dickerson (in a very limited sample) has been better defensively in CF and better with the bat (even if he strikes out a LOT) too.  If Pompey makes the team, I can’t see either of them beating out Pillar for the 4th outfielder job, but if Pompey has a bad spring or gets off to a slow start… look for one of these two to be bumping asses in 2015.  Are either of them better than Rasmus?  Oh hell no, not even close.  The hope is that one of them + Pillar or Pompey might come close, though.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The outlook for the 'pen

Early in the offseason, Alex Anthopoulos indicated that his priority was fixing the bullpen and that second base would be addressed.  You can quibble about whether adding Devon Travis as the 2B of the future and getting Maicer Izturis back from injury "addresses" second base, but at least there are new faces for the position.

Things have been very quiet on the relief pitching front, though.  Do the Jays have the personnel to cobble together a competitive bullpen?

2014 did a wonderful job of demonstrating the adage that reliever performance is volatile.  After a strong 2013, the 2014 bullpen was terrible, despite being made up of pretty much the same group of pitchers as the year before.  Here’s how the group performed in 2014:

Last year:                      IP         ERA     FIP       xFIP     rWAR**  fWAR               Other

Redmond                      75         3.24      3.56      4.47      0.6        0.4                    4.6% HR/FB
Loup                             69         3.15      3.83      3.92      1.2        0.5                    .246 BABIP
Cecil                             53         2.70      2.34      2.51      1.4        1.2                    4.56 BB/9
Janssen                        46         3.94      4.14      4.22      0.2        0.1                    5.52 K/9
McGowan                      43         3.35      4.99      4.13      0.4*      -0.3                   .224 BABIP
Sanchez                        33         1.09      2.80      3.00      1.5        0.6                    .157 BABIP
Jenkins                         32         2.56      3.48      3.87      0.7        0.2                   
Delabar                         26         4.91      5.59      5.51      -0.1       -0.4                   6.66 BB/9, .235 BABIP

* - Baseball-reference doesn’t include WAR in their splits page, but considering that McGowan had a 5.08 ERA as a starter and a 3.35 ERA as a reliever, I’m going to assume that of the 0.5 WAR he was worth in 2014, 80% of that can be attributed to his relief work.

** - recall that rWAR tells us what a pitcher actually did, whereas fWAR tells us what his peripherals would lead us to expect him to do.

The names above are the top 8 relievers in 2014 by innings pitched.  Out of those 8, one (Janssen) is gone, another (McGowan) is likely gone, another (Sanchez) may be unavailable due to being in Buffalo or the rotation, and the last (Delabar) may be unavailable due to not pitching well.

The 4 guys who are left (Redmond, Loup, Cecil, Jenkins) combined for 3.9 rWAR and an ERA below 3.  The others (excluding Sanchez) were worth 0.5 rWAR and had a combined ERA of almost 4.  So it’s not as if they Jays have watched some incredible 2014 performances walk out the door.  Also gone are Sergio Santos, Esmil Rogers, and Neil Wagner, all of whom were awful on last year’s team.

So, who’s left?  What can we count on?  Well, Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup have both been pretty good for 2 seasons running.  Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins, the other 2 holdovers, are not quite on that level – Redmond has only 1 year of relief experience and his xFIP (normalizing the home run rate) suggests he may regress.  Jenkins draws comparisons to Burke Badenhop, but I don’t think we can say that, yet – Badenhop has generated groundballs at a 55% rate over the last 4 seasons (260 innings) with an ERA in the low threes.  Jenkins has just 68 relief innings over 3 years and his groundball rate cracked 50% for the first time last year.  Could he be ok?  Yes, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be counted on.  For what it’s worth, Steamer projects both Redmond and Jenkins to be replacement level in 2015.

Despite the possible likely mediocrity of Redmond and Jenkins, they're probably a safe bet to make the bullpen out of spring training, joining Cecil and Loup.  The other candidates for the other 3 bullpen spots look like this:

Marco Estrada – RH 31 year old.  Will make the team, either as 5th starter or in the bullpen.  If he’s here in the 'pen, that likely means one of Norris or Sanchez cracked the rotation. Was worth 3.1 rWAR from 2012-13, but struggled as a starter in 2014 before being moved to the bullpen, with better results.

Steve Delabar – RH 31 year old.  If he gets the walks back under control and his velocity is back, he makes the team, IMO.

Kyle Drabek – RH 27 year old.  He’s out of options, so he likely makes the team if he’s even serviceable at all in spring training.  After 2 TJ surgeries, if Drabek can’t get the walks under control at the MLB level, he’s likely gone.

Aaron Sanchez - RH 22 year old.  Sanchez is the one guy on this list who everyone thinks would dominate in the 2015 bullpen, based on a really good 33 innings last season.  Is that fair?  Maybe not - Sanchez benefited from a ridiculous .157 BABIP allowed and walked hitters at a (for him) unusually low rate.  Even though Sanchez reportedly made a mechanical adjustment that helped him cut his walk rate, that may not be sustainable.  For sure, the BABIP isn't.  Regardless, Sanchez is viewed as an 8th-inning guy or closer material, if he does relieve.

Miguel Castro – RH 20 year old who finished in High A ball last year, but is considered to have a chance to join the Jays’ bullpen in 2015.  A hard thrower.

Liam Hendriks – Heeee's back!  RH 26 year old who has struggled over parts of 4 MLB seasons (5.92 ERA, 188 innings).  I don't see him as a good bullpen candidate, but the Jays seem to like him, so.... maybe?

Rob Rasmussen - LH 25 year old who had a cup of coffee in 2014 with the Jays.  If he can keep the walks under control, he could help.

Preston Guilmet – RH 27 year old who closed in the minors for Cleveland.  Great minor league K/BB ratio.  Has a chance to help.

Daniel Norris – LH 21 year old.  Could be starting, could be relieving, could be in Buffalo.  Like Aaron Sanchez, in the long run, Norris would probably be better off starting the season in Buffalo if he’s not in the rotation.  Desperate times (i.e. no relief help) may call for desperate measures, though.

Juan Pablo Oramas – LH 24 year old claimed from the Padres this past winter.  Has a good K/BB ratio as a minor-league starter, and missed time in 2012-3 due to TJ surgery.

Wilton Lopez – RH 31 year old.  Lopez actually has had success not that long ago (2010-2013) and has accumulated 4.3 rWAR over 305 relief innings.  Doesn’t walk anyone.  Could be a guy.

And on top of that list, there’s the usual crowd of org guys, non prospects, and likely starters invited to ST:

Jayson Aquino – LH 22 year old, former top Rockies prospect.  I’d expect him to be tried as a starter in AA/AAA as he has never relieved in the minors.
Scott Barnes – LH 27 year old.  Strikeout pitcher with a good slider.
Colt Hynes – RH 29 year old.  Seems like an org guy.
Bo Schultz – RH 29 year old, strictly an org guy, I would think.
Ryan Tepera – RH 27 year old, 6 year minor leaguer with the Jays.  Has a good fastball and the ability to get strikeouts.
Matt West  - RH 26 year old, formerly a hard-throwing Rangers prospect.  Due to injuries, last year was the first year he pitched more than 27 innings as a pro.  Struck out lots of batters in AAA last year but I'd think he'd be a longshot to help.
Gregory Infante – RH 27 year old who saved 22 games in AA last year.  Lots of Ks at AA and AAA.
Scott Copeland – RH 27 year old who put up decent numbers between AA and AAA last year.
Cory Burns – RH 27 year old.
Greg Burke – RH 32 year old with 72 relief innings split between 2009 and 2013.
Andrew Albers – LH 29 year old who made 10 not bad-starts for the Twins in 2013 but spent all of last year in the minors.

Looking at those two groups (the possibles and the less-likelies)… the bullpen could work out.  One of Norris or Sanchez could push Estrada to the bullpen, and Estrada could do solid 7th inning work.  Or Estrada could start and the Jays could throw caution to the wind and stick Sanchez or Norris in the pen to share late innings with Cecil.  Delabar could rediscover his control.  Oramas or Castro could claim a spot with a good spring, and Wilton Lopez could turn into a serviceable middle relief arm.  If any two of those things happened, that would be fine.  On the other hand, an injury to either Cecil or Loup would be disastrous, and as Jays fans, we should be prepared for the injury bug to hit.   For that reason, I’m really hoping that the Jays have the $1.4MM savings from the Donaldson arbitration earmarked for some kind of veteran reliever.  Without another relief arm, there isn’t a lot of quality depth to the 2015 ‘pen.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Belisario and Santiago sign minor-league deals

Wrong hat, but I bet the BlueJayHunter would approve of the 'stache.

I always think of Ronald Belisario as the guy who brought us Magnum P.I. and Airwolf… but that’s someone else

Anyway.  I had seen rumours about the Jays signing Burke Badenhop (who I like), Rafael Soriano, and Francisco Rodriguez (who I like less), but in the meantime, Toronto has picked up Belisario as potential right-handed relief help.  I say ‘potential’, because Belisario is on a minor-league deal and only gets the reported $1.7MM salary if he makes the team.

Belisario figures to be a ROOGY if he does make the 25-man roster; he has much better numbers against RH batters (3.08 FIP and .264 wOBA allowed) than lefthanders (4.50 and .329).  He doesn’t strike out many batters, and until last year he had an uncomfortably high walk rate (over 3.5 per 9 innings).  What he does do is get ground balls.  A propensity for ground balls is a selling point, considering that a) flyballs tend to turn into home runs at the Skydome, b) the new Skydome turf is supposed to be slower, thus easier to field balls on, and c) the Jays’ infield defense should be improved with Smoak standing in for Lind, Donaldson standing in for Lawrie’s injury replacements, and Reyes’s shoulder hopefully feeling better.  Now go sign Badenhop and maybe Soriano, please.

I’m less intrigued by the reported signing of Ramon Santiago to a minor-league deal.  Santiago’s a 35-year old middle infielder who presumably is being brought in to serve as middle infield depth and maybe compete to play 2B.  He’s a decent defender (better than Izturis and Kawasaki, not as good as Goins) and a marginal hitter (better than Goins, probably worse than the other two - his tolerable .307 wOBA in 2014 followed two pretty awful batting seasons).  It’s looking more and more like the club will man second base with whoever impresses them most in spring training.  Let’s hope that’s Devon Travis. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Some thoughts

Um, Jerry... given the context, that is a really inappropriate gesture.

I am a little disappointed that the three-way trade that would have brought Cole Hamels, Dan Duquette and $20MM to Toronto in exchange for Jeff Hoffman, Max Pentecost, Mitch Nay, and Paul Beeston’s unworn socks has fallen apart.

And I’m toying with the idea of pretending the Super Bowl doesn’t exist, and that NFL supremacy was decided last night when the Irvins knocked off the Carters in the Pro Bowl and hoisted the Giant Silver Vagina trophy.  

You know, if Aaron Sanchez ends up being “just” a high-leverage reliever, that’s not a bad thing.  Sanchez struggled with his control throughout his minor-league career, but when he was brought up to the majors and threw his two “good” pitches (fastball and curve), he was able to get groundballs and limit walks.  I’m not saying that the Jays shouldn’t send him to Buffalo to start games in April… but it’s not necessarily a waste of his value to put him in the bullpen.  That may well be where all his value is.

I’m hoping that Rah Dickey’s endorsement of Josh Thole is more him throwing a bone to Thole – who has marginal baseball skills other than the ability to catch knuckleballs – than an insistence on keeping him.  But I doubt it.  And carrying 3 catchers should not be an option, as that would leave just 2 bench spots (assuming Izturis starts at 2B) for Pillar, Goins, Valencia, Tolleson, and/or Dirks.  That’s not much in the way of impact bats on the bench.  I mean, even last year’s bench had guys like Francisco (for 2 months), Mayberry, and Gose (who could steal bases, at least).

If the new commissioner wants to ban defensive shifts, how will that work?  Will infielders (and outfielders) have to stand in a box when the pitcher toes the rubber, and then start running madly when the pitcher begins his delivery?  More importantly, what problem would a ban on defensive shifts solve?  Offense is down, but that’s because of strikeouts, not shifts.  Banning innovation seems like a bad idea in principle, and even if you’re ok with that, smart clubs will always find a way to get an advantage (e.g. the Jays punting the 5th-10th rounds of the draft in order to spend more in the top 4 rounds without violating draft spending limits, after MLB did away with the much-gamed draft pick compensatory system).

So, you're worried that the Jays' offense will be weaker in 2014?  Consider these numbers:

HR hit by Lind, Rasmus, Cabrera and Lawrie, 2013-14: 111

HR hit by Donaldson, Saunders, Pompey and Smoak, 2013-14: 101

wRAA for Lind, Rasmus, Cabrera and Lawrie, 2013-13: 79.08
wRAA for Donaldson, Saunders, Pompey and Smoak, 2013-14: 66.6

PA for Lind, Rasmus, Cabrera and Lawrie, 2013-13: 3390
PA for Donaldson, Saunders, Pompey and Smoak, 2013-14: 2934

In other words, the new players hit 10% fewer home runs in about 15% fewer PAs than the incumbents did.  And produced 19% less wRAA.  They should be fine, particularly when you consider than Donaldson, Saunders and Smoak are all coming from pitchers' parks to the hitter-friendly Skydome.... and Russell Martin is on board, too.

RIP, Ernie Banks.  I wonder if 1950s and ‘60s Cub fans ever argued for trading Banks, because he “deserves to play for a contender”… you know, like some Jays fans said about Halladay and are now saying about Bautista.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Let's not make a deal.

Always change your guess.

Obviously, sending last year’s 1st-round draft pick, Jeff Hoffman, to the Orioles is a terrible idea.  Terrible, and terribly scary in that Rogers may do it just to make the problem go away, and to hell with the on-field consequences.

Here’s a list of things that might be more appropriate compensation to the Orioles for Dan Duquette.  Or if not appropriate, at least not infuriating:

Any one of Ryan Goins, Maicer Izturis, Danny Valencia or Steve Tolleson (i.e. a Mike Aviles type)

Chase DeJong or Matt Boyd (i.e. a second-tier pitching prospect)

Chad Jenkins (i.e. a Chris Carpenter type)

AJ Jimenez

Kevin Pillar

Coupons for a pregame Steam Whistle tour AND a drunken ride on the adjacent miniature train

The Skywalk

Gregg Zaun, Bob McCown, and Steve Simmons

Last season’s Astroturf.  Baled.

A solemn promise not to type “OrioLOLes” ever, ever, ever again.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The shadow of the Duke

Or... A subreference too far?

It’s tempting to blame the Dan Duquette situation for all the things that aren’t happening with the Blue Jays.

No moves to fix the bullpen or find a second baseman?  It’s because the club doesn’t want to make any transactions under the direction of the lame-duck Beeston.

Arbitration for Donaldson and Valencia?  Nobody wants to make a make a decision and risk tying the hands of the next guy in the President’s seat.

All of that is probably nonsense.   Josh Donaldson may be getting an extension, as we saw happen with Jose Bautista a few years ago when it seemed certain that J-Bau and the Jays were heading to arbitration.  I’d be ok with that, at the right price.  But as a “Super 2”, a player with 4 years of arbitration eligibility, it’s in Donaldson’s interest to get as much money as possible in his first year of eligibility – even more so than would be the case for any run-of-the-mill arb-eligible player.   Arbitration awards tend to snowball from year to year, and the $1.45MM difference between what Donaldson is asking and the Jays are offering for 2015 could amount to as much as – I don’t know, a $15-20MM difference? – over the next 4 years.  So I can see why neither side wants to just split the difference.  Donaldson has been an elite player for the last 2 seasons, and if he puts up another year of 5+ WAR (which would be just fine, thanks) he has the potential to get a $10-15MM arbitration award for 2016.  Lots of money is at stake.

Valencia?  *Shrug* I don’t know why they couldn’t agree.  It looks like the Jays tried to lowball him, and even Valencia’s own proposal was less than what MLBTR had projected for him.  I’d be fine if he wins his case, and if he loses, I don’t care that much if Danny Valencia is pissed off.  He doesn’t figure to be a major piece for the 2016-17-18 Jays like Donaldson should be.

Nonetheless, the ongoing, unresolved Beeston-Duquette situation has fans on edge.  We as fans know that executives don’t draw a lot of compensation when they move from team to team – John Farrell got the Jays a bench piece (Mike Aviles) and Theo Epstein brought Chris Carpenter (this one, not that one) back to the Red Sux.  We know this, but presumably Buster Olney does too, and when Olney says things like one or more of Sanchez, Stroman, Pentecost, Norris or Hoffman would be fair compensation, it makes people nervous.  Surely the Jays wouldn’t be stupid enough to give away anything more than a spare part for Duquette… would they?

You’d hope not.  But then you go out and read other things that make you wonder how rational the people running the show at 1 Blue Jays Way are.  For instance, the Jays might still be interested in James Shields, who is now looking at 4-year deals as opposed to 5-year deals.   And you read that they might be spending $70-80MM to get Shields.  And then you try to reconcile the idea of spending $20MM/yr on a pitcher when we’ve been told that there’s no more than $12 – no, $7MM left to spend.  How does that work?  Deferred money, you say?

Here’s the thing about deferred money… it’s still money.  If the Jays were to sign Shields and pay him $7MM in 2015, they’d have to pay him about $25MM for each of the other three years.   Yes, there is such a thing as time value of money, but it makes very little sense for the club to be okay with a salary of $7MM (but not $20MM) in 2015, when the obligation to the same player would be much, much higher in 2016.   Yes, Mark Buehrle and his $20MM salary are off the books in 2016, but Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson will be getting raises in 2016.  As will Brett Cecil.  Loup and Hutchison will be arb eligible for the first time in 2016.  So it’s not as if the Jays will find 20MM for Shields vastly more affordable in 2016 than they do in 2015.  What the club fetish for salary deferral does is rob Peter to pay Paul, simple as that.  There are no magical savings to be found in 2016 unless you decline options on key players like Bautista, Dickey and Encarnacion.  There are cost savings in 2017, but the team will have huge holes to fill if JB, EE and Dickey aren’t re-signed or extended before then.  Money will have to be found for those spots, too.

I would love to see James Shields in a Jays uniform in 2015 – even if he’s a couple notches below Scherzer and Lester, he’d still be a massive improvement over the guy he’d be replacing, whether you consider that guy to be last year’s 5th starter (Happ) or 2015’s possible 5th starters (Estrada, Norris, or Sanchez).  And all Shields costs is money and a draft pick.  But what I can’t understand is why there might be $80MM available over the next 4 years for Shields, but there doesn’t seem to have been any money available to solve bigger problems (bullpen and 2B) which could have been fixed for half of the $80MM it looks like Shields will cost.

In other words, it would be nice if whoever winds up in the President's chair could insist on a more stable allotment of dollars made available to the Jays.  I'm tired of seeing the financial rug pulled out from under my team, thanks.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

What to do with Dioner Navarro?

Can't you just picture him fixing your computer?

Immediately after the Russell Martin signing was completed, it looked like Dioner (“Dinner”, “Reboot”) Navarro was a surplus asset.   Martin, as the clear #1 catcher, was going to catch 100+ games, Josh (“T-Hole”) Thole was going to catch Rah Dickey’s 32 starts + the odd day game after a night game, and Navarro would be left with 20-odd games to catch and/or a role as a part time DH.  Protip:  Navarro’s not worth having as a part time DH.    He’s the owner of a .304 career wOBA (.315 last year, projected to .317 this year) and the Jays aren’t going to bench Encarnacion (the regular DH) or any of getting-a-fielding-day-off Bautista/Reyes/Martin to DH Navarro ahead of them.  Even the much-maligned Justin Smoak has a better career (.305) and projected (.327) wOBA than Navarro… and nobody is contemplating DHing Smoak.  Smoak’s value as a player is dependent on a bounceback season and playing a serviceable 1B, not DHing.

And then Martin said he’d like to try catching Dickey’s knuckleball, and the situation kind of changed.  If Martin can catch the knuckler, then T-Hole becomes expendable, and Navarro has a role – his bat doesn’t play at DH, but it plays quite decently at catcher, and it’s a lot more feasible to give Martin days off when his backup isn’t horrible offensively (like Thole is).  On top of that, Navarro is a much more credible option as an everyday catcher if Martin should get hurt for any length of time.  So, 100 games for Martin, 60 for Navarro.  Right?

Well, maybe.  There’s a couple of problems with that idea.  The first one is a practical one – we won’t know how good Martin is at catching knuckleballs until spring training.  If he can’t do it, and the Jays have hung onto Navarro on the expectation that Martin can, the market for Navarro’s services may be a lot smaller than it is now.  Moreover, if you cut Thole loose before spring training, you have no safety net if Martin can’t catch Dickey.

The other problem is opportunity cost.  Dioner Navarro is due to be paid $5MM in 2015.   That’s a lot of money for a backup catcher, money that could be spent elsewhere.  But it's not a lot of money for a starting catcher, and that same $5MM is a good price for a catcher who projects to close to 2 fWAR over a full season as a starter.  In other words, he might be more valuable to someone else who would use him as a starter.   Without the need for a caddy for Dickey, the club could pencil Martin in for 100+ games and give the others to one of A.J. Jimenez or a free agent (personally, I like the idea of taking a shot at Ryan Doumit on a 1-year bounce back deal.  Or Geovany Soto.  Or Laird or Nieves or… you get the idea).  Or hell, even Thole, if $1.75MM isn’t a bit rich for a no-hit backup catcher with the superfluous ability to catch knuckleballs.

What could you get for Navarro?  Beats me.  The Diamondbacks need a catcher and have lots of relief pitchers, so on paper, a trade with Arizona makes sense.  Evan Marshall would be a nice addition to the bullpen, but I’m not sure Navarro gets him, straight up.  Addison Reed?  Maybe, but it doesn’t look like Arizona is willing to give up much for catching help.   Outside of the D-backs, who needs a catcher?  The Braves do, but they just picked up AJ Pierzynski.  Perhaps the White Sox, but they don’t have relievers to deal.   So at the end of the day, even though the Jays need relief help more than they need a $5MM backup catcher, if there are no relievers to be had, the catching flexibility that comes from keeping Navarro may be the outcome the club is stuck with.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Advanced Statistics! What are they good for?

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article on Blue Jays Plus that covered the philosophical difference between how Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference calculate pitcher WAR (without giving too much away: fWAR is predictive, and rWAR is retrospective). 

Frankly, I hadn't thought too much about this (I know, I know... most people don't think about this stuff at all).  I tend to spend more time at Fangraphs than at BBR lately and I consequently have fallen into the habit of using Fangraphs WAR without considering how it was calculated.  I don't think that's too big of a deal - when I write about pitchers here, it's usually with the intention of postulating how good a player will be next year and making a case for the Jays to acquire/deal a particular pitcher.  fWAR is fine for that.  But it did get me wondering about how the different statistical measures compare, what they do or don't take into account, and what each does best.  It would be really helpful if there was some kind of chart out there that compared the various advanced statistics, as a way of determining which statistics are best used in which situations.

So I looked for that chart.  There are lots of great resources on sabermetric stats online - at Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and other pages - but I didn't find anything like a table comparing each statistic to other stats that measure the same thing.  So, consider this my attempt to compare some of the better-known advanced baseball statistics - what they measure, how they measure it, use of league and park benchmarks, strengths and weaknesses.  I'm sure that I'm missing some stats that could be relevant, but I do hope that I haven't mischaracterized any of the stats I cover below.  If I have, please send me an email and I'll do my best to correct what I've done wrong.  So, here goes: 

On-base plus slugging (OPS)
What is it?  A sum of a player's on-base percentage (OBP) plus his slugging percentage (SLG)
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted?  No.

OPS rates hitters based on a combination of on-base skills and power skills.  On the positive side of the ledger, it's easy to calculate.  On the negative side, it isn't park adjusted or seasonally adjusted, making it hard to compare players who play in different parks or eras.  OPS also gives OBP less weight than SLG, which is inappropriate given that most statisticians feel that OBP is more important than slugging percentage.

What is it? OPS+ is OPS normalized to park and season and set to a base of 100 (league average).  An OPS+ of 110 is 10% better than league average for that season, for example, while an OPS+ of 90 is 10% worse than league average.  Higher OPS+ scores are good for hitters and bad for pitchers (in the form of OPS+ allowed).
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted?  Yes
Seasonally adjusted?  Yes

Better than OPS because it sets everyone up against the same baseline, making it easy to compare a hitter who plays at Safeco with one who plays at Yankee Stadium, for example.  Still doesn't account for OBP being more important than SLG, though.

Runs allowed/9 innings (RA/9)
What is it?  Runs allowed (earned and unearned) per 9 innings pitched
Positionally adjusted? N/A
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? No

RA/9 is similar to ERA, but doesn't exclude unearned runs (on the basis that they still count, and a pitcher often has a lot to do with an unearned run scoring, even if the runner reached due to error).  It measures what a pitcher actually did for a team (distinct from FIP and xFIP, below).  RA/9 does not account for park and seasonal effects, but RA+ does (basically in the same way that OPS+ does).  RA/9 is less useful than FIP and xFIP as a predictive tool, because it doesn't account for things like fielding and BABIP.   A few bad bounces, and a good pitcher might have an ugly RA/9 or RA+.

Fielding-independent pitching (FIP)
What is it?  A measure of a pitcher's ability that excludes things he can't control (fielding) and focuses on the things he can:  walks, strikeouts, and home runs.
Positionally adjusted? N/A
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? No

The idea behind FIP, as far as I can tell, is to determine how well a pitcher played with respect to things he can control.  A pitcher controls how many hitters he strikes out and walks, and if you think home run per fly ball rate is random, xFIP is FIP that assumes a league-average home run rate.  In theory, FIP is a better predictor of pitcher performance than measures like RA/9 and ERA, because it excludes things that the pitcher can't control.  The problem, though, is that we're not quite sure if things like BABIP and strand rate are outside a pitcher's control, and pitch framing suggests that strikeouts and walks may not be entirely within a pitcher's control, either.  FIP therefore tends to give short shrift to players like RA Dickey, who fields his position well and tends to have a low BABIP due to players getting a lot of weak contact off the knuckleball.

Defense Independent ERA (dERA) is similar to FIP in concept but uses formulae to normalize things like hits allowed, rather than discounting them altogether.

Weighted on-base percentage (wOBA)
What is it?  A substitute for OPS, wOBA weights the different events that get a batter on base (walk, single, double, HR, etc) by the run probability associated with the event.
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? No

wOBA is very similar to OPS, but adjusted to reflect the consensus that on-base percentage is more important than slugging, and that extra base hits have values that aren't simply multiples of 1 (a double isn't as valuable as two singles, and a HR won't, on average, lead to as many runs as two doubles would, to give a couple of examples).   I am a wOBA adherent; I think it's a very useful tool to help evaluate a batter's ability.  That said, it has its drawbacks:  It's not easy to calculate, the weightings for each on-base event change a bit each year, and it's not adjusted for position, park or season effects.

Weighted Runs above Average (wRAA)
What is it?  A measure of the (notional) offensive runs a player contributed, above the league average.  WRC with league average scaled to 0.
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? Yes

wRAA, in a nutshell, compares a player's wOBA with the league wOBA, and seasonally adjusts it.  Average is 0, and higher numbers are better (while negative numbers are worse).  A player with more than 20 wRAA is having a good season.  Advantages:  It's seasonally weighted, so you can compare players from different seasons and years.  However, it is not positionally or park weighted, and it doesn't take stolen bases and other non-batting offensive skills (i.e. baserunning) into account.   It also is based on plate appearances, so it's a counting stat.   See also Weighted Runs Created (WRC) and WRC+; WRC also tracks runs created, while WRC+ tracks runs created and accounts for park as well as seasonal effects.

Win Probability Added (WPA)
What is it?  A measure of the change in win expectancy in a game that can be credited to a play made (or not made) by a player.
Positionally adjusted? N/A
Park adjusted? N/A
Seasonally adjusted? N/A

Baseball schedules are very long.  As a result of these long schedules, there have been so many games played that statisticians can determine how probable it is a team will win a game, based on the game situation and how matching game situations in previous games turned out.  Once we know how probable it is for a team to win a game based on a given score/inning/outs/baserunners situation, we can know the value of a subsequent play (the Win Probability Added, or WPA) by comparing the win expectancy of the score/inning/outs/baserunners situation before the play to the score/inning/outs/baserunners situation after the play.  For example, let's assume a team has a 50% chance to win a game, in the 9th inning.  The next hitter hits a home run.  Now the team has a 90% chance to win the game.  The batter who hit the home run has 0.4 WPA from that play and the pitcher who gave up the home run has -0.4 WPA from the same play.  If the batter had instead struck out, his team might then have a 45% chance to win the game.  The batter would receive -0.05 WPA from the strikeout and the pitcher would receive 0.05 WPA.  Over a season, an average player would have 0 cumulative WPA.  Good players would be in the 3+ range and terrible players would be below -1.  In this way, WPA looks superficially similar to WAR.

WPA measures what a player has done, so it can't be used as a predictive stat.  It also doesn't take defense into account.  And it also makes assumptions that may not make sense - for example, it assumes all teams start with a 50:50 chance of winning, even when last-place teams play first-place teams.  What it does do is reflect situational performance - i.e. "clutch" play.  A 2-run HR in the first inning of a scoreless game might add 0.2 or 0.3 WPA, but a 2-run HR in the bottom of the 9th inning of a 5-4 game would likely add 0.9 WPA or more (turning an almost-certain loss into a win)

What is it?  A meaure of defensive ability based on play-by-play data and expressed as "Runs Saved".  League average is 0, higher scores are better, lower are worse.  Anyone above 15 (good) and below -15 (bad) is exceptional.
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? No - but unlike UZR (below), TZ has data going back past 2002, and thus can be used to compare current fielders with historical players.

I wish I was capable of quickly explaining how TZ is calculated.  The method of calculation varies with the data available (there's more data in more recent seasons).  A fielder is charged with hits based on the location of the hit.  Rate of hits is compared to league averages, converted to runs, and then converted to runs saved above (or below) average.  TZ is considered less accurate than UZR but as noted, it has more utility when making historical comparisons.  Note that the general consensus is that you really need 3 years of fielding data to draw a conclusion about a player's defensive ability

What is it?  A measure of defensive ability based on range, errors, double plays, throwing arm, and other fielding elements.  League average is 0, higher is better, lower is worse.
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? Yes
Seasonally adjusted? No

UZR is considered more accurate than TZ because more factors go into the calculation of a player's rating.  That said, a lot of these factors are subjective.  Data used in UZR is compiled by human observers, who have to determine whether a ball is hit slow, medium or fast, whether it is a fly ball or a line drive, whether it was an easy play or a hard play, whether a shift was in effect, etc.  One point in UZR's favour is that it is park adjusted, so good defenders who play in spacious, hard-to-defend-in parks get credit for doing so.

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) (See
What is it?  Another defensive metric which calculates runs saved based on whether a player should or should not have made a play.  For example, if a player makes a play that is only successful 8% of the time, he gets .92 points.  If he fails to make a play that is made 80% of the time, he loses .8 points.  League average is 0, higher is better, lower is worse.
Positionally adjusted? No
Park adjusted? No
Seasonally adjusted? No

Like UZR and TZ, you should look at 3 years of data to have a clear idea of a player's defensive skill.  Also like UZR, DRS relies on human scorers to compile data, so the results may be a bit subjective, especially in small samples.  UZR and DRS tend to produce similar scores.

Put it all together, and what do you get?


WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is calculated by taking the estimated number of runs a player produces (or saves) through batting, defense, and baserunning (and for pitchers, pitching), and dividing by 10 (10 runs are considered to equal about one win).  Note that a replacement level player (a AAA call-up, for example) is not the same as a league-average player; a league average player is worth between 1 and 2 WAR.  A player who is worth 3 WAR is about 30 runs better than a replacement level player, and 12-18 runs better than an average player. and each have their own versions of WAR, with slight differences in how they calculate position player WAR and significant differences in how they calculate pitcher WAR.  Baseball Prospectus has another version, called WARP, which I will ignore for the purposes of this post.

rWAR (position players/DH's)
What is it?  Baseball-reference's version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), also called bWAR.  A measure of a player's offensive and defensive ability, using wRAA for batting, Total Zone rating for defense, and a separate baserunning measure.
Positionally adjusted? Yes (+10 runs for a catcher, −10 for a first baseman, +3 for a second baseman, +2 for a third baseman, +7.5 for a shortstop, −7.5 for a left fielder, +2.5 for a center fielder, −7.5 for a right fielder, and −15 for a DH)
Park adjusted? Yes
Seasonally adjusted? No

fWAR (position players/DH's)
What is it?  Fangraphs' version of WAR.  A measure of a player's offensive and defensive ability, using wRAA for batting, UZR for defense, and something called Ultimate Base Running (UBR) for baserunning.
Positionally adjusted? Yes (+12.5 runs for a catcher, −12.5 for a first baseman, +2.5 for a second or third baseman, +7.5 for a shortstop, −7.5 for a left fielder, +2.5 for a center fielder, −7.5 for a right fielder, and −17.5 for a designated hitter)
Park adjusted? Yes
Seasonally adjusted? No

The two versions of batting WAR take essentially similar approaches, and in fact, both use WRAA to measure batting skills.  However, they each use different baserunning and defensive measures, and apply different positional adjustments to runs created/saved.

rWAR (pitchers)
What is it?  Baseball-reference's version of WAR for pitchers, calculated using Runs Allowed (RA) and Innings Pitched.
Positionally adjusted? N/A
Park adjusted? Yes
Seasonally adjusted? No

fWAR (pitchers)
What is it?  Fangraphs' version of pitcher WAR, calculated using FIP and innings pitched.
Positionally adjusted? N/A
Park adjusted? Yes
Seasonally adjusted? No

The two versions of pitcher WAR take radically different approaches to determining pitcher value:  rWAR looks at what a pitcher did in a given year, while fWAR looks at what a pitcher should have done.  Taken another way, you should look at rWAR when picking a Cy Young winner, and fWAR to determine who is more likely to pitch well next season.  In both cases, more innings equals more value.

And that's all I've got.  Sorry about the wall of words, but even if you knew all this stuff already, I hope it helps to have all this information down in one place, anyway.