Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Zack Greinke

The Brewers completed a deal this weekend to acquire 2009 Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke from the Royals for four prospects. The Royals felt they would not be able to resign Greinke when he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, and wanted to trade him now so that they could maximize the value for him and receive prospects to supplement their #1 farm system.

From the start, the Brewers were considered a favorite for Greinke because of their commitment to improving their pitching staff this winter, and because of their ability to trade the major league ready "up-the-middle" help that the Royals stated would be necessary in any deal. With the deal complete, we answer the burning questions.

1. Did the Royals really need to trade Zack Greinke?

Need is a strong word, but the Royals clearly felt that there was no chance that they could keep Greinke after 2012. The losing and constant rebuilding behind him seemed to have taken its toll, but if Moustakas, Hosmer and the rest develop quickly, that could turn around quickly. More important to the Royals, they felt they were in a situation where they could trade Greinke and get significant value in return - talent that would be under contract through the middle of the decade at a low cost when the Royals expect to contend.

2. Which Zack Greinke will show up for the Royals?

In 2009, Greinke went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA, winning the Cy Young Award. In 2010, he fell off to 10-14, and the ERA jumped over two runs per game to 4.17. So where will he stand? Which was the real Greinke? Are the Brewers getting a 27 year old ace, or a glorified #3 starter two years away from free agency?

It's very possible that he will never reach the heights of 2009 again. Let's take a look at his last three seasons. His walks and groundball/flyball numbers all stayed about the same, but fewer fly balls went out of the park, and he struck out 9.5 per nine innings, rather than 8. However, Greinke had more than his share of bad luck this year. First off, the Royals defense was the worst in the American league in converting balls in plays into outs. That .312 BABIP was among the worst of AL qualifiers, and right about in line with what a pitcher on the Royals would be expected to have. However, Greinke seemed to have several of those fall in at especially bad times - opposing players hit 26 points higher with men on base than they did with the bases empty, despite his strikeout rate being the same and home run rate being lower. A pitcher with Greinke's rate stats, pitching in front of the bad Royals defense, would be expected to have an ERA around 3.27, and in front of an average defense, it would go down to between 3.10 and 3.15.

Unfortunately for Greinke, the Brewers defense was actually slightly WORSE Than the Royals - only Pittsburgh had a lower defensive efficiency in all of baseball. On the bright side, Grienke is in the non-DH league, meaning his strikeouts will go up, and his walks and home runs will likely go down. Adjusting for the difference, his expected ERA goes down to 3.03, good for 12th in the National League. Even better for Greinke is the Brewers offense. It wasn't quite as potent as in some past years, but they were still 4th in the NL in scoring, compared to the Royals, who were 10th in the AL. An ERA in the range between 2.90 and 3.25, with the innings Greinke provides, should give him a won-loss record of something in the neighborhood of 18-9. That's probably not quite enough to compete with the Phillies aces and Tim Lincecum for the Cy Young award, but it is a legitimate #1 starter. Going into his age 27 season, the Brewers have an ace for the next two years and possibly beyond.

3. If Greinke had such bad luck last year, wasn't it foolish for the Royals to trade him while his value was low?

Maybe? The Royals got a legitimate haul for him though, and suppose Greinke blows out his shoulder in May? This was a deal Kansas City might have considered even if they thought they could resign him.

What did the Royals get back in return?

Quite a bit.

Alcides Escobar is the most famous player going to Kansas City. Before 2010, the Brewers traded JJ Hardy to the Twins to open up shortstop for the 23 year old Escobar, their #1 prospect. Meanwhile, the Royals decided Yuniesky Betancourt was good enough to go into their season as the starting shortstop. For an organization that had decided the same thing about Neifi Perez and Angel Berroa in the last decade, I suppose that was about par for the course, but it still didn't make it a good idea. So what happened? Betancourt hit .269/.288/.405-right in line with his career numbers. Escobar, though, was MUCH worse, hitting an anemic .235/.288/.326. Of the 138 major league qualifiers, he had the 133th highest slugging average and the 132nd highest OBP.

On the bright side, unlike Betancourt, Escobar was a plus defensive player, and has acceptable batting numbers in the minor leagues: .298/.353/.409 at AAA Nashville in 2009. There is possibility of improvement here, especially since Escobar's contact rates are solid. He is just going to need to hit the ball harder in order to be a major league player. At the very least, his defense makes him an upgrade over Betancourt. Long term though, he has a lot of work to do on offense to be part of the solution for the Royals.

Lorenzo Cain is a centerfielder who will turn 25 a couple weeks after opening day. Cain was solid in 2010 for the Brewers, after being fantastic in the minors earlier in the season, but there are warning signs. Cain has little in the way of power, and has been old for his level in most of the minor leagues he's played in. However, Cain is very fast, and his defense looks to be above average. More importantly, he's kept his walk rates about 10% for most of his career, which means he'll be able to keep his OBP above .330 even in seasons where he's not getting much luck in the batting average department. For a plus defensive center fielder, that is a player with value. Cain should start over Melky Cabrera this season, and be a serviceable player for a long time, and the upside here for the Royals is a pretty exciting leadoff hitter in front of Butler/Moustakas/Hosmer.

Jeremy Jeffress throws a baseball harder than just about anyone else alive. A first round pick of the Brewers back in 2006, and going into 2010, he was looking like a bit of a bust. Despite outstanding (10+ per 9 inning) strikeout rates, Jeffress simply had walked WAY too many people to make any progress, throwing too many pitches to get him through significant innings. Even more alarming was the 100 game suspension for a "drug of abuse." So, despite a fastball that sits at 100 miles per hour and can reach 102, Jeffress was on the outside looking in.

In 2010, the Brewers moved Jeffress to the bullpen, with outstanding results. Those high strikeout rates turned even higher, the walks didn't hurt him quite as much, and his ability to keep the ball in the park was magnified - across four levels he allowed zero home runs. Jeffress probably needs a couple months of fine tuning in Triple A, but there will be significant pressure to get him on the Royals major league roster. If Joakim Soria is traded at midseason, this is your closer in waiting. The upside here is a thinner Bobby Jenks in Jenks' best seasons. There is risk here, but lots of potential reward as well.

Jake Odorizzi
is the upside portion of this trade. The 2008 first rounder turns 21 in March, and was fantastic at Single A Wisconsin in 2010, capped by a start in late August where he threw 8 no-hit innings against Cedar Rapids. He is mechanically smooth throws his fastball in the low 90's, touching 95 on occassion. He has work to do on his secondary pitches, but he has time. There is ace potential here.

5. How does this affect the Royals and Brewers, short term and long term.

The Brewers are back in line to compete with the Cardinals and Reds for the division title. Greinke will give them lots of quality innings, and makes them a much better team in October if they reach there. Considering the haul they gave up, they'd better reach October, because there is not a lot of help on the way. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had Jeffress and Odorizzi as the Brewers top two prospects.

Meanwhile, in the Royals organization, they become the #8 and #9 prospects, respectively, which just goes to show how insanely deep the Royals system is. The Royals are in a position much like the Tampay Bay Rays in 2008. After several years of ineptitude, they have had several quality drafts in a row, and they should be contenders by 2013. Trading Greinke hurts them for 2010, but they will be able to evaluate Cain and Escobar. This is a trade that looks like it makes sense for and should benefit both teams.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

So, Exactly How Good is Adrian Gonzalez?

As you may have heard, the Red Sox traded three prospects and a PTBNL to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. Getting by asking why the Padres would give up on their 2011 season instead of playing it out, letting Gonzalez walk as a free agent, and getting two top draft picks for him, the biggest question seems to be about how good Adrian Gonzalez is. We all know that he is good, and we all know that playing in the cavern in San Diego has hurt his offensive production. So how good has he been in the last few years, and how good will he be in Boston?

In order to figure that out, the best place to start are Gonzalez’s home/road splits. On the road the last three years, Gonzalez has done the following:
2008: 359 PA, 20 2B, 29 BB, 71K, 22 HR, .308/.368/.578
2009: 346 PA, 15 2B, 46 BB, 51K, 28 HR, .306/.402/.643
2010: 356 PA, 21 2B, 44 BB, 55K, 20 HR, .315/.402/.578

As we know, the AL is a bit harder to hit in than the NL due to the competition level, so I took out 5% of his walks, 10% of his home runs, 10% of his walks, and added 10% more strikeouts. Then, to recreate a normal home/road split, I calculated likely neutral home statistics by adding 10% to his doubles, 12% of his home runs, 10% of his walks, and leaving strikeouts alone. Before giving you this numbers, I want to acknowledge some statistical oddities. First off, Gonzalez walked 73 times in 81 home games in 2009. Several of these were intentional, several more were of the unintentional/intentional variety. Opponents seemingly were not worried that other Padres could beat them at Petco, and were simply not giving him pitches to hit. Because Petco plays so far out of line with what other parks do, I just didn’t use those numbers. Not because they’re not important, but because they produce fluky outliers like that one. Since this is really the only number that will seem a bit off base, I continued with the exercise as is.

So, playing as an American leaguer in a neutral park, we would expect Gonzalez’s stats to have looked something like this:
2008: 710 PA, 40 2B, 55 BB, 156 K, 43 HR, .300/.356/.560
2009: 681 PA, 30 2B, 87 BB, 112 K, 53 HR, .298/.389/.619
2010: 704 PA, 42 2B, 84 BB, 122 K, 39 HR, .310/.393/.568

Fenway isn’t quite a neutral park – for lefties, it tends to give you a couple points of batting average and take away some of the home runs, but we’re pretty close here. This production puts Gonzalez among the elite hitters in baseball, and quite likely the best hitter in his division. When the news of the trade was breaking, it was reported that Gonzalez was seeking Mark Teixeira-like money. If he was, it was being generous to Teixeira, whose 2009 near-MVP season had him at .292/.383/.565, and his down 2010 gave him only at .256/.365/.481.

How will this impact the AL East race? Short term, it doesn’t quite bring them up to the Yankees level. The Red Sox will move Kevin Youkilis to third base, where his potent bat will be even more valuable. However, the Sox got a very good season out of Adrian Beltre there last year, slightly worse than Gonzalez would be expected to produce. It also may take Gonzalez 6-8 weeks to get acclimated with the American League pitching.

Long-term though, the Red Sox are now in a much better position than they were in three days ago. Gonzalez is still in his 20’s, and he’s put up production that would have had him the top 3 in MVP voting both of the past two years. He is also durable, having not played in less than 156 games in any of his five seasons in San Diego. His defense is a little overrated, due to how good he is at making quick throws from seemingly odd angles, but he’s still well above average overall. So yes, the Red Sox will still need better production out of John Lackey, Josh Beckett and the bullpen in order for them to win in 2011. Long-term though, building off of Gonzalez, Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester all under contract, the Red Sox a core to compete with any in baseball.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Dunn Deal!

And it’s a great one for the White Sox. It is being reported that the White Sox have just signed Adam Dunn to a 4 year contract for $56 million. For $14M, Dunn steps right in as the American League’s best designated hitter. Not only that, but he does it for a team that got the least production of any team from the DH position in the American League. Check this out:

White Sox designated hitters had 45 extra base hits last season. Adam Dunn has hit at least 38 home runs and 63 extra base hits every season since 2004. Even though it seems like he’s been around forever, Dunn just turned 31 in November, meaning the White Sox have only committed to him through his age 34 season, so he is likely to retain much of his value. The change from the easier National League will probably cost him a few points of batting average, but moving from Nationals Park to the smaller Comiskey Park should allow him to keep his power, and moving into an improved lineup will help his RBI and run totals significantly (meaning you may want to consider drafting him in fantasy or holding onto him in a keeper league).

How much will he improve the White Sox? Well, Dunn was nice enough to make the math easy for us by having almost exactly the same number of plate appearances as the White Sox DH position. By my calculations, White Sox DHs were worth 76 runs, and Dunn was worth 95, so the simple answer is “about 19.” But, wait, there’s more! Of those 76 runs, 26 of them were created by Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, the starting 1B and RF, respectively. So 1/3 of the White Sox DH value was provided by players needed at other positions. Dunn isn’t the butcher some portray him as at 1B and can exist in the outfield, so he’ll be able to play on the days Quentin and whoever is playing 1B for Chicago need days off from the field.

Beyond that, Dunn had a .356 OBP last year, and a .381 mark for his career. The difference came mostly from a drop-off in walks - only 77 last year, after walking over 100 times in his last 7 qualified seasons. Whether that drop-off was an aberration or a loss of skill is important, as those 25 points of OBP are huge over the course of a season, and a loss of this skill could represent significant decline. Looking deeper into the numbers, Dunn was seeing slightly fewer pitches per plate appearance, looking at 4.11 last year, compared to between 4.2 and 4.4 in previous ones, so there was a slight drop-off, but not a huge one. The biggest change was on 3-2 pitches where pitchers seemed to be much more aggressive with Dunn. In 2009, Dunn went .159/.537/.293 on 3-2, while in 2010, he went .176/.402/.400. Pitchers were giving up a little bit of power for more outs. In the White Sox lineup, on a better team, Dunn should be coming up with runners on base in a close, important game a bit more often, making that choice harder for pitchers when they get deep into counts. When a pitcher is leading 7-3 and nobody is on base, it makes sense to be aggressive and try to get outs. Leading 5-4 with runners on first and second, and the situation is totally different - a pitcher would rather walk Dunn than give up the 3 run homer.

I'll split the difference and call part of the drop off a drop in skill/change in approach by Dunn, and call the other part a more aggressive approach by pitchers, and say that Dunn will draw in the 90 walks range this year, getting an OBP to around .370-.375. This represents close to 40 points higher than White Sox DH's last year, meaning he'd be making outs 12% less frequently. That means the hitters AFTER Dunn will have a 12% better chance of doing something before the third out is made.

So let’s put Dunn’s value over who he is replacing at about 42 runs (19 on his own, plus 30%, or 8 runs of Konerko and Quentin’s contribution, plus 15 runs that other guys in the lineup will have opportunities to provide). That represents three to four wins over the course of the season. That won’t be enough on its own to push Chicago in front of Minnesota as the best team in the AL Central, but they have corrected their biggest problem, and done so at a reasonable cost.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Andrew Miller

A couple days ago, the Red Sox traded relief pitcher Dustin Richardson to the Marlins for one-time prospect Andrew Miller. Only three years ago, Miller was one of the key pieces that brought the Tigers Miguel Cabrera (and Dontrelle Willis). Now he is being dumped for a low-upside lefty reliever. The #6 pick in the 2006 draft, he may have gone first overall if the Royals weren't scared off by his bonus demands.

Miller had an excellent college career at the University of North Carolina. He left school as their all time strikeout leader, and formed the best one-two pitching combination in the country with a fellow flamethrower named Daniel Bard. After being drafted sixth overall, Miller has ranged from mediocre to downright bad in professional ball, bottoming out with a 8.54 ERA between the rotation and bullpen for the Marlins in 2010. So is Miller a guy with a chance to take advantage of his change of scenery? Or is destined to be remembered as one of the great busts of the last decade?

What has gone wrong with Miller? Maybe the best response to that is to ask what HASN'T gone wrong with him. Digging a little deeper though, we find an odd development path. After 3 games in the minors after singing in 2006, Miller was brought up to the Tigers and showed flashes of his brilliant stuff in the bullpen. Following that, there was some sentiment to put him in the rotation to start the 2007 season. The Tigers were wisely patient, making 13 starts at three levels before being called up to the Tigers.

After going to the Marlins in the Cabrera trade, things started to go horribly wrong. Fighting some injury problems, inconsistency, and being bounced around the system, Miller never seemed to develop on any level. His shaky control got worse and worse, his approach to pitching grew more timid, and in 2010 the bottom completely fell out. The approach to pitching is what stands out most to me, and I think it is fair to blame the Marlins. First of all, why has Miller only pitched 17.2 innings in his whole career in AAA? With his results poor and his confidence shot, shouldn't he have been sent to New Orleans and given a solid 100 to 125 innings to work out the kinks? If he failed as a starter, he could have been tried as a reliever. Instead, the Marlins tried to have him work out his problems at the major league level, and the results to that strategy were predictable. Now Miller finds himself out of options, so he cannot be sent to the minors, but with a new team that has had some success developing young pitchers with control issues.

With the Red Sox, the logical assumption is that he is going to be pitching out of the bullpen. With Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka all under contract, the Red Sox are pretty well set there, but they had one of baseball's worst bullpens in 2010. Can Miller harness his stuff and be an effective reliever?

There is a theory, which I believe has merit, that starting pitchers who have control issues, but keep the ball in the park, will often be more effective in the bullpen. The thinking is that, with a little more juice on the fastball pitching in shorter stints, one is able to increase the strikeouts enough to balance out the walks. So suppose a player has 150 strikeouts and 90 walks in 150 innings. over 50 innings, he may be able to keep the walk rate the same, giving him 30 and increase the K's 15-20%, getting that strikeouts around 60. In close to 300 career innings, Miller has 238 strikeouts, 174 walks, and allowed 28 home runs. So I think that the skills are in place to translate into an effective reliever. However, that hasn't happened so far in the majors - he has a 6.83 ERA in the bullpen, compared with 5.74 as a starter. Another issue is that he has never been more effective against lefthanded hitters than righties, so Terry Francona will need to be cognizant that Miller would be miscast as a one-out situational guy.

So, while it is impossible to tell whether Miller can make the transition, all while moving to the more difficult league, it is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Red Sox, and a chance for Miller to work with Curt Young and Mike Cather, two of the best pitching coaches in the business.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/10/10 Live Blog!!!!

1:00: Welcome to the Sunday LiveBlog! Rays vs. Rangers will be starting momentarily. If you have any questions, comments or insight, e-mail it my way at jamesdunne24@gmail.com. We'll see how long it takes for me to get tired of this.

1:08. I love that Maddon bats John Jaso leadoff. Get that high OBP at the top of the lineup, and he starts it off with a solid single to CF. Rickey Henderson (and Tim Raines to an extent) totally changed the complexion of what a leadoff hitter should be. For awhile you would get guys like Dwight Evans and Brian Downing who could put up a high OBP in front of the power hitters. Then in the late '80's, everyone thought that it was the speed of Henderson and Raines that was making the difference. It was important, but the bigger part was how hard they were to get out.

1:14: Buck Martinez propagating the "knows how to win" myth. Tommy Hunter doesn't win because he "knows how to win." He wins because he's a pretty good pitcher in front of a good defense on a team with a good offense. Is that a bad thing?

1:27: Vlad Guerrero just hit into a double play. Vlad cooled down significantly in the second half, but I'd have to say he's the one player who cemented his Hall of Fame case this year. With the election of Andre Dawson, the comparison between the two is obvious. Both were great athletes when they were young whose knees were shot playing on the bad turf in Montreal. Both had a reputation for swinging at bad pitches. However, Guerrero is the better player, because he actually hit more of those bad pitches.

1:56: Who would have a better chance of beating the Yankees? The conventional wisdom has been the Rays, but the Rangers have Cliff Lee, who the Yankees can't be quite as patient against, and Josh Hamilton, arguably the best left power hitter in baseball, going into the best park in baseball for a lefty power hitter. Thoughts?

2:06: The Rays are very reminiscent of the 2000-2005 A's in my mind. A team that walks a lot and hits a lot of home runs, but does not hit for a high average, is well built for the regular season. Over 162 games, a team sees a lot of mediocre to bad pitching, and the approach of waiting for a pitch you can drive instead of swinging at the first strike makes lesser pitchers pay. However, in the playoffs, you face the best pitchers on the best teams. Generally, those aren't the type who are prone to giving up walks and homers. That's why the Rays, despite being a good team, have been no-hitter prone, and it's something they need to make up for in the playoffs with good defense and pitching.

3:42: Calzones interrupted my posting. Anyway, another way in which the Rays remind me of those A's teams is all the talk about how much trouble they'll be in losing Crawford, Pena and Soriano. Crawford will be a big loss, no doubt. Wishy-washy "face of the franchise" discussion notwithstanding, Crawford had 62 extra base hits and 47 steals. He's a dynamic player still in his 20's who will get lots and lots of money. Pena, however, is replaceable. He has good power, and plays good defense, but 1B who can't put up a .330 OBP are a luxury that a poor team can't afford. As he moves into his mid-30's, his inability to make consistent enough contact could lead to his value diminishing in a hurry, a la Jason Giambi. Soriano had a great year as a closer and is a very good pitcher. But again, poor teams can't pay a premium for 50 innings a year. Like those A's teams, the Rays ability to continue developing their young pitching will keep them contenders despite the loss of significant talent.

4:41: And by "live" I mean "updated once or so an hour." Anyhow, after they Rays win today, the road team has won all four games of their series. The only time that I recall a team has lost the first two of a best of five at home, and then got back their for Game 5 was the 2001 Yankees. Those Yankees did not have to go home to meet Cliff Lee, who the Rays will see on Tuesday. David Price is very good, but Lee gets the slight edge, even on the road. The big winner here is the Yankees, who will face neither of those two in Game 1 of the ALCS.

5:00: Jason Heyward has impressed me this year. Ken Griffey didn't have a .390+ OBP until his 3rd year, Barry Bonds until his 5th. Heyward's power will continue to develop, and a batting eye that good is something you can't teach. He will have some adjustments to make on the hard stuff inside, but he is already a very, very good baseball player. If he'd had the numbers he had in Atlanta in Double A, he'd still be the #1 prospect in baseball. If he's not an MVP candidate from 2012-2022, something went terribly wrong.

5:12: Something like running too hard into a wall, for example.

5:13: Maybe if he's healthy, Heyward makes it to that ball, but Brooks Conrad is crushing the Braves. Chipper Jones' injury was tough, but it looks like the Prado injury is the one having the larger affect on the Braves.

5:42: Watching Mike Fontenot making a nice play on an Omar Infante grounder, it's crazy to think that the Giants were able to put a playoff team together with almost no contribution from Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval's extra base hits fell from 74 to 50, and since he doesn't walk or play great defense, that's basically where all of his value comes from. AT&T Park is a tough place to hit, but plenty of hitters have put up 20 HR seasons there.

6:26: Love the no-hitter being broken up by the opposing pitcher.

7:21: Eric Hinske! Following Hinske's 2002 Rookie of the Year campaign, settling in to a long career as a backup four corners guy may seem like a bit of a disappointment. Hinske really seems to have had more than his share of big moments on good teams since moving over to the Red Sox four years ago. Unlike his mammoth home run off of Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the '08 series this one was a line drive that barely cleared the wall. He's not quite baseball's Robert Horry, and Big Shot Eric just doesn't roll off the tongue the same way, but let's go with it.

7:29: When Brooks Conrad called off Derrek Lee for that pop-up, I'm pretty sure Turner Field made a sound sort of like "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWHEW"

7:40: While the idea of the "Proven Closer" may be severely overrated, what is NOT overrated is having good pitchers in your bullpen. Billy Wagner is not as good as he once was, but he was the best reliever the Braves had.

7:46: This Giants rally is the fire, and Kyle Farnsworth is the fuel that Bobby Cox has just decided to throw onto it. Peter Moylan gave up a ground ball to second base, it's not his fault that Brooks Conrad is having a meltdown on national television. Moylan should still be in this game.

8:16: For the 29 teams about to lose out to the Yankees for the right to pay Carl Crawford $150M over the next 8 years, Jayson Werth will be a nice consolation prize. Attitude problems notwithstanding, he had a great season. 75 extra base hits this year, and four straight years with an OPS above .850. Some of those homers and doubles may turn into outs elsewhere, but his road OPS over the last four years is only about 40 points lower than his home OPS, which isn't far off the normal home/road split. He won't cost nearly as much as Crawford, and won't end up with as many years either. Because of injuries it took him awhile to get good - he's 31, so he is not going to get better than that, but he is a well-rounded player who will be a solid investment over the next four years.

9:11: For all of the talk about the inconsistency of Raul Ibanez this year, he has been one of the most consistent players of the past decade. His OBP has been between .345 and .358 every year since 2001. Despite the huge drop in power numbers this year, his OBP actually went UP two points from '09. This speaks to the consistency of his plate approach. For the criticism his contact took, he has been worth at least the $23.5M he's gotten the past two years, and is a safe bet to be worth the $10M he'll get next year. It's not the late career improvement on the level of Dwight Evans, Chili Davis or Jim Edmonds, but Ibanez has had a nice career.

9:42: I don't think I agree with taking Johnny Cueto out right here. I'm all for the quick hook in the playoffs, especially when a team is in the Reds position. Ron Gardenhire left Brian Duensing in a bit too long yesterday when he clearly didn't have good stuff. Cueto though, has been pitching very well, only one earned run in five innings, and not a whole ton of hard hit balls. The bigger issue is that Miguel Cairo isn't such a good hitter that he's likely to tie this game, and there is nobody on base, so they need two runs back. Cueto seems to me to be as good a bet as anyone in the Cincinnati bullpen to keep this a two run game.

10:42: You have to feel a little bit of sympathy for Cincinnati. After a very good season where they really didn't get as much attention as they deserved, they're running into a Philadelphia team whose pitching staff is as dominant as any and seems to be catching every break. Plus their football team is atrocious. If their season does end tonight though, they should take heart - they made a huge step forward this year. Joey Votto will likely win the NL MVP (and deserve it), Jay Bruce was one of the best players in the league in the last two months, and I'll take a Volquez/Cueto/Arroyo/Bailey/Harang rotation over any in the NL outside of Philly in 2011. They, along with San Francisco and Texas, are one of the few teams that can consider their season a success no matter what happens the rest of the way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Angels get Haren

My first impression was that it is a bad move for Arizona. Upon further review, it just looks worse.

The Angels today received starting pitcher Dan Haren for Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin. In doing so, the Diamondbacks traded an excellent player who is under contract for two more years, at reasonable money, and did it at the lowest point in his value, getting minimal value in return.

First, Haren is not perfect, and is not a “counter” to the Rangers deal earlier in the month for Cliff Lee. Lee is the best pitcher in the American League right now, and no single player can counter the value Lee provides a playoff contender. He nearly single-handedly won a World Series for the Phillies last year. On the other hand, this isn’t meant to be a counter. Unlike Lee, Haren is signed through 2012. If the Angels can get back in the race this year, that’s great. Haren is immediately the ace of the 2011 and 2012 teams.

Haren’s drawback, and the one thing that keeps him from being elite, is the fact that he just gives up too many home runs. Last year, having a very good year, he was giving up a homer once every 33.7 batters. This year, it is up to 26.3 batters. Arizona is a tough place to pitch, but that’s simply too many. However, Haren’s 4.60 ERA this year is also a function of bad luck and bad defense. Arizona is the third worst team in baseball in defensive efficiency. Accordingly Haren has the 5th worst batting average on batting average on balls in play, at .344. The median qualified pitcher this year has a .288 BABIP, so if Haren was getting average luck and defensive support, he would have 22 fewer hits allowed this year, lowering his overall batting average against from .286 to .246, and his ERA about half a run. Moving to a more pitcher friendly park, in front of a better defense should on its own lower his ERA a good amount.

Meanwhile, Haren’s strikeout to walk ratio, the best indicator of future success, has stayed consistently near 5 for three years now – his 2010 stat of 4.86 puts him at 4th in the majors, just behind new teammate Jered Weaver.

Trading a very good but perhaps not elite pitcher like Haren isn’t necessarily a terrible move, but the Diamondbacks have done it in just about the worst way possible. Haren does not have free agency pending, so he did not NEED to be traded. So the Diamondbacks inability to get something to help them in the future in return is really a disaster for them.

Joe Saunders is the known piece here, and he did win 33 games the previous two seasons. However, he is not a building block for the future. First of all, he is only 10 months younger than Haren. Secondly, while his win-loss record is an unimpressive 6-10, his 4.62 ERA is right in line with his 4.60 of a year ago, and not significantly higher than his 4.29 career number. He strikes out less than five per nine innings, and his walk rate has climbed to 3.4 per nine. On pace to surpass 180 innings for the third straight season, Saunders is a solid back and of the rotation guy. The cost-savings for Arizona aren’t even going to be that great here. Haren is due $12.5M next year, while Saunders will likely early between $6M and $7M. So unless they plan to turn around and either trade Saunders or non-tender him, then Arizona is not going to save a ton of cash.

As far as the two prospects, neither are considered impact talents. Rafael Rodriguez is a 25 year old reliever, who has some good minor league ERAs, but his stuff is considered average and his peripheral numbers are not indicative of someone who is dominant. In 50 innings at Salt Lake, he has 30 strikeouts and 15 walks. At AAA since 2008, Rodriguez may be able to help some in the Diamondbacks struggling bullpen, but he does not profile as someone who will be a high-leverage guy.

Patrick Corbin is younger, and his numbers do show some flashes of potential. Only 20, he has moved up from Single A Cedar Rapids to High A Rancho Cucamonga, and shown good consistency, overall striking out 106 and walking only 28 over 118.2 innings, posting a 3.87 ERA. He was not on any prospect lists coming into the season, but he was considered an excellent athlete coming out of college, so the performance may be starting to catch up with the potential Still, his fastball peaks at only around 93, and sits at 89-91. His slider is considered his one “plus” pitch. He is a solid organizational piece to follow and develop, but not the prime prospect in a trade for an all-star.

Two years ago, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren looked like they would be the two aces at the front of a contending Diamondbacks team for many years. It did not work out that way, and Arizona fans cannot be blamed for being disappointed in their organization for failing to get more in return. Meanwhile, after an offseason that saw their team lose a lot of talent, and in the midst of a regular season that has them losing more games than usual, Angel fans have a right to be hopeful again about 2010 and the future.