30 November 2006

DPD: Japanese Pitchers and American Dollars: A Match Made in Mystery

This is one of my favorite games. It's called "Guess the Pitchers". I give you their statistics and you tell me (telepathically, of course) who they are. Here you go:

      Yrs   G     IP      H    R    ER   HR   BB    K     W   L   ERA
Mr. I 8 190 1244.0 1149 504 435 116 395 1174 86 60 3.15
Mr. M 8 204 1402.7 1102 508 459 112 502 1355 108 60 2.95

Mr. M has a slight edge in most of the statistics, with a few more games pitched, innings, and strikeouts, and fewer homers, though notably more walks. His ERA is slightly better as well, and his win-loss record is much better, though we know that this is often due to the pitcher's teammates and their ability to hit more than his ability to pitch. The most astute of you have already guessed at who "Mr. M" is, and some of you may know who "Mr. I" is as well, especially if you've already figured out his competitor. Let me give you some more info:

                   Age   G   IP   H    R  ER  HR  BB   K    W  L   ERA
Mr. I 6-yr Avg. 27.5 29 198 182 79 68 18 61 187 14 9 3.09
Mr. M 8-yr Avg. 26.0 26 175 138 64 57 14 63 169 14 8 2.93

Those are the average seasons for the two pitchers since they've been starters. Mr. M is slightly younger, but has been a full-time starter for two years longer, whereas Mr. I pitched only a handful of innings for his first two seasons in this league, so I omitted them in looking at their averages. Mr. M certainly gets credit for having been so good at a younger age, but he also has suffered through a few truncated seasons in his career, which have helped to dampen the sheen on his otherwise sparkling statistics, for his "average" season, anyway. Mr. I now has a slight edge in innings, about 23 more per season than Mr. M, and as a starter, his HR/9 and K/9 rates are very similar, and his BB/9 rate is a bit better, though his hits/inning numbers are not nearly as dominant as those of Mr. M.

When you look at the pitchers strictly on their rate stats, the picture becomes a little clearer:

Name    IP  IP/G   H/9  HR/9  BB/9  K/9   ERA
Mr. I 198 6.80 8.27 0.82 2.77 8.50 3.09
Mr. M 175 6.70 7.10 0.72 3.24 8.69 2.93

Both pitchers provide almost seven innings per start, strikeout almost a batter per inning, and allow around three earned runs per nine innings, on average. Mr. I is slightly stingier with walks, to the tune of about half a walk per nine innings, but Mr. M is much more reluctant to give up hits, over a hit/game better, and is also slightly better at preventing homers.

The pitchers seem fairly even in many respects, with Mr. I's edge in durability largely offsetting Mr. M's edge in dominance with hits. Mr. M's year an a half of youth is an edge too, but not an enormous one.

Now, just one more stat for you to ponder:

Mr. I: $26 Million
Mr. M $51.1 Million

Who the heck are these guys? Find out at Double Play Depth...

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21 November 2006

DPD: 136 Million Reasons the Cubs Will Regret Soriano's Contract

OK, so its not quite that many...

Free agent OF Alfonso Soriano has reportedly signed an eight-year, $136 Million deal with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he is expected to hit lead-off, play left or center-field, and make lots of money while anchoring the better part of a decade's worth of disappointing Cubs teams.

Of course, that's not how the Cubs are billing it, but that's how it will be.

In many ways, Soriano was the biggest available hitter in this year's free agent market. Back in March, when Soriano made a big stink about being asked to play right field for the Washington Nationals, I argued that he was missing the point, and that working his butt off would do a lot more for his market value than just being a secondbaseman would. Turns out that he took my advice, had arguable his best season in 2006, and got himself a pretty nice payday for it. RFK Stadium wasn't quite the Death Valley for hitters in 2006 that it had been in 2005, but with a park factor of 97, it was still a bit more favorable to pitchers than hitters, and yet Soriano set career highs in homers (46) and slugging percentage (.560). More important, perhaps, is that he set a career high in on-base percentage as well (.351), Equivalent average (.300), and Wins Above Replacement Position (8.6), largely due to a career high in walks (67), more than doubling his walk total from 2005. (Granted, 16 of those were intentional, but that still makes 51 unintentional bases on balls, which are 20 more than he had ever had in a single season before.)

Soriano was expected to become a star. A shortstop in the Yankees minor leagues, his combination of speed and power made him a rare commodity as a player, so much more as an infielder, so it was reasonable to overlook his lack of plate discipline and his defensive shortcomings at second base, at least for a while. Though he was showing improvement in that regard while with the Yankees, he regressed considerably as a Texas Ranger, making it reasonable to consider switching him to the outfield, which seems to have worked. He also set a career high in Fielding Runs Above Average (+9) in 2006, which probably accounts for about two wins difference in his actual and expected WARP numbers all by itself.

Those improvements allowed Soriano to sign one of the half-dozen or so richest multi-year contracts in baseball history, with his annual salary trailing only those of A-Rod ($25 million), Manny Ramirez ($20M), His Clutchness ($19M), and Todd Helton ($18M). The real question for the Cubs and their fans: Is he worth it?

Find out if Alfonso Soriano will live up to his contract at Double Play Depth...

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13 November 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect Profile: Kevin Whelan

Kevin Whelan, RHP
Full Name: Kevin J. Whelan
DOB: 8 January 1984, Kerrville,TX
Ht: 6' 0" Wt: 200 Bats/Throws: R
College: Texas A&M University
Drafted: Tigers's 4th-round (120th overall) pick in 2005.

Part of the swag from the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan was initially a catcher in college, but didn't hit much, and was converted from catching to pitching in 2004, his junior year. After spending his entire senior year as the ace reliever for an Aggies team that finished 9th, with a 9-18 record in the Big 12 Conference, (30-25-1 overall), Whelan was drafted by the Tigers last year. He anchored the bullpen for that lackluster team, going 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA, a team-best four saves and 40 strikeouts in 31 innings, though he also walked 20 batters.

Pro Career:
After the draft, the Tigers took the cautious approach with him, placing him in the NY-Penn League (Short-Season), where he struck out 19 and allowed only two hits (but six walks) in his first 12 innings of work. That got him a promotion to West Michigan in the Midwest League (A-ball), where he was even better. He allowed only 4 hits and two walks in 12 and one-third innings while striking out 22 and allowing only one run in 14 appearances. Granted, this was a polished, 21-year old collegiate relief ace playing against a lot of 19- and 20-year olds with less experience, but to some degree, success is still success.

Obviously ready for a tougher challenge, but still without even 25 innings of minor league experience, the Tigers kept Whelan on the slow-and-steady road, pushing him to the High-A Florida State League in 2006, where he stayed the year and did pretty well. With a little more exposure, his control was again shown to be his biggest weakness (29 walks in 54 innings), but he continued to otherwise embarass the opposition, striking out 69 batters and allowing only 33 hits all season, while going 4-1 with 27 saves and a 2.67 ERA that was considerably better than the league's collective 3.79 ERA.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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08 November 2006

DPD: American League 2006 Season Awards

2006 AL MVP Contenders

This year's AL MVP Award looks to be about as wide open a race as we have ever seen for such an award. The "experts" are predicting that Derek Jeter will win it, and so am I, but then both the experts and I thought that the Cardinals would get beaten in the first round of the playoffs, and look how that turned out. There's a distinct possibility that something wacky could happen with the voting, like we saw in 1999 when Pedro Martinez's AL MVP Award went to Ivan Rodriguez, and nobody saw it coming. I hope not, but then stranger things have happened.

There are essentially four guys who can lay some kind of claim to being the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2006, maybe five.

One of the early favorites for the award was White Sox OF Jermaine Dye, who had his best year ever, with a .308 average, 44 homers, 120 RBIs, and 103 runs scored. But that was before the defending champs faded in September and finished in third place in the AL Central, six games behind the Twins. ChiSox DH Jim Thome deserves a mention as well, with 42 homers, 108 rins, 109 RBIs and 107 walks (the 8th time in his career he's cracked the century mark in all three of those in a single season), and a .288 batting average that is the best he's had since he hit .304 in 2002, his last year in Cleveland. But third place and no defense makes Thome a fifth-place candidate for AL MVP, at best, though he'll likely win the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

If you like the new-fangled statistical measures of Baseball Prospectus and their ilk, then you have to at least allow Indians' DH Travis Hafner into the discussion. (Heck, even if you don't like those stats, you should consider him simply because he has the best first name in the history of mankind!) Travis had a .355 EqA, best in the major leagues, almost ten points better than Albert Pujols, who's generally considered the best player in the major leagues right now. Unfortunately for Hafner, he got hurt and missed the last month of the season, and his team finished 78-84, well out of contention in the AL Central Division. It's tough to get serious MVP consideration when you only play 129 games, no matter how good you are in them, so Pronk, you're out of the running too.

Speaking of Designated Hitters with cool nicknames, there's Big Papi. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, last year's AL MVP runner-up to Alex Rodriguez, looks like he'll probably place second once again to a Yankee infielder. Ortiz was phenomenal in 2005, and was even better this year, setting a Red Sox record for home runs in a season, and with a team that has boasted the likes of Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Manny Ramirez, that's really an impressive feat. Unfortunately for Big Papi, his teammates came up pretty small in 2006, finishing with a respectable 86-76 record, but 11 games behind the Yankees and, for the first time in a decade, in third place, behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Ortiz finished first in Equivalent Runs, second in Eq. Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP), and third in EqA, but it's tough to vote for a guy who doesn't play defense and whose team finished 11 games behind their division winner.

As I mentioned, of course, the Yankee infielder who will probably win the AL MVP is Shortstop Derek Jeter. He was only 7th in the AL in EqA, with a .316 mark, behind Hafner, Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi and Joe Mauer. However, because he got more playing time than almost everybody in line in front of him, he's third in Equivalent Runs, with 119.5 (behind Ortiz with 130 and Grady Sizemore with 125.5), and third in RARP, with 68.7, behind Hafner (70.7) and Ortiz (69.1). RARP is the most telling of the numbers because it adjusts for the relative strength of the position they play and shows how much the player was really worth to his team, above a replacement-level guy (say, Nick Green, for example), and two runs are essentially statistically insignificant. So if you've got three guys who are basically a statistical wash, but one of them plays for the best team in the AL and the other two play for teams that finished WAY out of contention, I think you have to give the vote to the guy who plays for the winner.

But that's not the only thing to consider. Since Hafner and Ortiz don't play defense, they neither contribute to nor detract from their team's success with their gloves, so that's the end of their contribution. Jeter, however, is an everyday shortstop, and depending on your perspective, is either one of the best or one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league.

Yankees Chick argued, about a month ago, for Jeter to win it, in part based on his defense, but I'm very reluctant to give him much credit in that department. If you look at traditional fielding stats, he's 4th in the AL in fielding percentage among nine qualified shortstops, he's 9th in double plays turned, 7th in Zone Rating (among 9 qualified SS candidates) and is dead last in range factor. I was at a game this year in which Jeter missed two easy grounders to his right, somehow managing to STEP ON HIS OWN GLOVE while trying to field the latter of the two. This is not a good fielding shortstop. The only reason he didn't make more than 15 errors is that he never gets to anything, so there's rarely a ball to bobble or throw away. Baseball Prospectus measures defense in Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and Jeter's a +7 in that area, a little better than average, which seems generous to me. He won another Gold Glove, but that's essentially a popularity contest, as Michael Young (+20 Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and Jhonny Peralta (+24 FRAA) both had much better cases for that. Nevertheless, the fact that he plays defense, and the fact that he's not a total disaster at it, only helps his case.

In addition, stealing a career-high 34 bases in 39 attempts sure adds to his offensive value. Not like, say, hitting 35 more home runs would, but a lot.

So overall, I'm inclined to give the AL MVP to Derek Jeter, by the slimmest of margins, over Big Papi and Pronk. My ballot would look like this:

1.  Derek Jeter
2. David Ortiz
3. Travis Hafner
4. Jermaine Dye
5. Johan Santana
6. Justin Morneau
7. Frank Thomas
8. Grady Sizemore
9. Joe Mauer
10. Jim Thome

Check out my take on the other 2006 American league Awards at Double Play Depth...

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