Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jeremy Hellickson and thoughts on defense

I have been looking at all the angles on the Jeremy Hellickson trade that brought two prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks. And all that contemplation led to some thoughts about the recent history of both teams and what might have contributed from their falls from grace over the past few seasons. A lot of my thoughts ended up settling on defense.
The thought for years was that Jeremy Hellickson was not nearly as good as his results. In 2011 his ERA was 2.95 but his FIP was 4.44. Similarly, in 2012, Hellickson's ERA was 3.10 but his FIP was 4.60. He also had a high strand rate of 80% or better in both seasons.
It all seemed to catch up with Hellickson in 2013 and his ERA ballooned to overtake his FIP and that lack of success continued into his injury-shortened 2014. Those of us who felt that Hellickson was overrated clucked like proud chickens and said, "See!?" Perhaps our thinking is too simplistic.
The reason this resonates with me was watching the post season this past year. The Orioles and, more pointedly, the Royals seemed to make hay with flawed teams because their fielders seemed to catch everything in sight, especially in big spots. Every time you tuned in, some Royal was diving and making a play. More than anything else besides perhaps the bullpen, defense seemed to define the Royals.
If you look closely at the Orioles, the most drastic change from 2011, when they were terrible, to 2012, 2013 and 2014 was their pitchers' team BABIP or batting average for balls in play. In 2011, the Orioles' BABIP was .302. The next year, that figure went down to .285 and the team won 93 games. In 2014, that figure went down to .280 and they won 96 games.
While BABIP is not a magic bullet to point at for the sole reason a team succeeds, it does point to better defense and team positioning.
The Royals lost 90 games in 2012. Their pitchers' BABIP was .311! The team has won 86 games or better both of the last two seasons and that BABIP is down to the .291 range for both seasons. This corresponds to a defense that ranked first among all teams in team defense in 2014. In 2012, the Royals' team defense finished 18th among 30 teams in team defense. That has to make a difference.
Let's look at the Rays during Hellickson's career. In 2011, the Rays finished second among the thirty teams in defense. The Rays were sixth in 2012. They fell to ninth in 2013 and were only fourteenth in 2014. Just to give you an idea of the drop, according to, the Rays' defense was worth 59.8 runs in 2011. It was worth 4.5 runs (total!) in 2014. That is a huge drop. Hellickson's BABIP is only .269 for his career, but has been over .300 the last two seasons.
Just for kicks and giggles, I looked at David Price's BABIP statistics over the years with the Rays and 2014 marked the third year in a row that his BABIP had gone up, so there does seem to be some sort of relationship.
So what is going to happen as Hellickson goes to the Diamondbacks? The Diamondbacks have had a similar and maybe more dramatic fall in team defense. In 2011 the Diamondbacks were the best defense in baseball. They were strong at shortstop, the outfield could fly and they were also strong behind the plate and at third base.  They won 94 games and their pitchers' BABIP was .290.
In 2012 Stephen Drew got hurt, someone thought it was a good idea to break up the terrific outfield defense and put Jason Kubel out there and the defense fell to 13th and the team won thirteen less games. The BABIP for its pitchers went up over .300.
The 2013 Diamondbacks won the same number of games as the 2012 version, but this time the defense bounced back to second place. The outfield minus Kubel was again strong and the up the middle infield was strong as well.
2014 was a fielding disaster for the Diamondbacks. Mark Trumbo proved that the team hadn't learned from the Kubel education, Gerardo Parra was moved from left to right. It just didn't work and the team was awful. The team went from a pitching BABIP of .296 in 2013 to .316 in 2014. That is a full twenty point swing!
The bad news is this is what Jeremy Hellickson is getting himself into. However, there is hope. The entire front office and the manager on the field have all been cleaned out and perhaps the focus will again be on defense and preventing runs. Heck, it couldn't get much worse, so it has to get better under Tony La Russa's house.
The Diamondbacks play in Arizona where the hot and dry air means that the baseball flies. Defense has to be a key to how well the team can compete in those conditions. It's not quite  as bad as playing in Coors Field, but it's a tough environment. Hellickson is more of a fly ball pitcher. Outfield defense will be very important to him.
If the Diamondbacks improve defensively, Jeremy Hellickson, if healthy, will thrive in his new environment. He will get to pitch quite a few times in LA, San Diego and San Francisco, which should help even out the Chase Field disadvantage. He will not have to deal with the DH regularly and lineups aren't as deep. IF the Diamondbacks can support him defensively, he can be a nice addition. That is one heck of an IF though.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The 2014 Kyle Davies Award

The CYA were just announced the other day and that is the good news side of the coin. But for every Yin there is a Yang. The CYA celebrate the best pitchers of 2014. This award celebrates the worst. Call that negative if you want and it probably is. But, ultimately, baseball is about failure. All baseball players fail. The best batters fail 60% of the time. The best pitchers fail at least 40% of the time. Some fail more spectacularly than others. That's where I come in.
First, why Kyle Davies? Well...just ask a Royals fan next time you find one. I don't want to beat up Mr. Davies because he's probably a great guy and is still toiling in the minors trying to work his way back to MLB. As such, I root for him. But I had to have a symbol of what I am shooting for and Mr. Davies qualifies as such.
My method for compiling this list starts with rWAR. I have a preference for the way calculates pitching WAR over the way does. This is strictly personal. But I did not want to rely solely on rWAR. But it was a starting point. I did a search for all starting pitchers with 22 or more starts with a negative rWAR. That rWAR was turned into points. If a pitcher finished with an rWAR of -2.3, then he got 23 points. If i was -0.9 rWAR, then it was 9 points.
But then I took the bottom five of the following categories: ERA+, OPS+ against, FIP, IP per start, Quality Start percentage, Game Score Average and walks per strikeout. The worst stat in each garnered five points, the next to last, four points and so on down to one point for fifth worst. Then I simply added up all the points and the guy with the most won the award. I will list the best worst five with the highest point totals.
So here we go:
5. Franklin Morales. It's no fun pitching half of your starts at Coors Field. Morales did not have a Rocky Mountain High. Well...he did if you look at his stats. A 5.37 ERA to go along with a 5.42 FIP will help  you rack up the points. His WHIP over 1.6 wasn't pretty either. In the age of the pitcher, Morales did not get the memo.
3 and 4. Clay Buchholz and Kevin Correia. With all the goop Buchholz puts in his hair and on his arms, it's hard to watch the guy pitch. For Red Sox fans, it was even harder. His peripherals were not all that bad, but man, he went from a stud in 2013 to a really poor 2014. Kevin Correia is a pitcher only the Twins could covet.
2. Justin Masterson: For Indian and Cardinal fans, they know all about Masterson's struggles. When a sinkerball pitcher loses his sink, his pitches get whacked like a bad wrestler. For those looking for an example of a trade deadline deal gone bad, just look at Masterson. Never has a pitcher gotten in a fan base's dander faster than Masterson in St. Louis.
1. Our winner! Edwin Jackson! Theo Epstein will never stop hearing about this signing. Jackson has a .298 winning percentage for his two years with the Cubs with a 5.58 ERA. His ERA topped six in 2014 and his WHIP was over 1.6. He had the lowest ERA+ for all pitchers and his -2.3 rWAR is simply indicative of a guy that did not provide Cubs fans with a whole lot to cheer about (except when the manager came to get him).
So there it is, Edwin Jackson is our 2014 Kyle Davies Award winner. I really expected Ricky Nolasco to be on this list.
We have to have a relief pitcher edition. For this, I went just by rWAR. And your top bottom five are:
5. Rex Brothers: Cool name. But perhaps another victim of Coors.
4. Craig Breslow: A hero from the 2013 season tanked in 2014.
3. Ronald Belisario: The Windy City got windier with the catcalls.
2. Ernesto Frieri: His pitching did not fool anyone in 2014. Lost the closing job twice.
1. Our winner! Jim Johnson: His season was legendarily bad for Johnson. From 101 saves for the 2012 and 2013 Orioles, Johnson finished 2014 with a 1.950 WHIP. That's really, really bad.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jack Nabors: the anti-Clayton Kershaw

Last season, when I came up with my first Kyle Davies and Dan Meyer Award winners for 2013, a comment accused me of focusing too much on the negative. It was a fair enough comment since the awards go to the worst players in a particular baseball season. There is just something that fascinates me about players that do not succeed in such a spectacular fashion. The world focuses so much on success, that perhaps I am drawn to the opposite. Poor Jack Nabors pitched for three years in Major League Baseball. He was about as much on the opposite side of success as you can get. He was the anti-Clayton Kershaw.
For example, Nabors, who played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1915 to April of 1917, pitched on the worst teams in MLB history. The team he joined in 1915 were just a season away from losing the 1914 World Series and had won it three times in the four years prior to that. But Connie Mack had a problem. The team was going broke despite the success and the purging of his best players would not be repeated until the Florida Marlins did the same thing after their World Series win. He got rid of everybody.
Thus, when Jack Nabors showed up in 1915, the A's were the fourteenth worst team in baseball history with a 43-109 record. Then Jack Nabors played his only full season in the NaborsMajors in 1916 on THE worst team in baseball history. The 1916 Athletics won only 36 games and had 117 losses. That .235 team winning percentage was the worst ever in the modern era of baseball. Even the 1962 Mets were better.
The 1916 Athletics came in dead last in OPS by the batters and dead last in ERA from the pitching. They also made over 300 errors and came in dead last in fielding percentage. They were a really bad team. Connie Mack's team went 11-32 in one-run games and were blown out in 39 of their games. In the two full months of June and July, the team won five games. Not five games in each month--five games total.
Into this atmosphere walked one Herman Jackson Nabors. Some scout must have found him in an obscure D League called the Georgia - Alabama League that had only begun a couple of years earlier where Jack Nabors was twirling at the age of 27 against much younger players. He was 12-1 for the Talladega Tigers and Newnan Cowetas when Mack paid Newnan $500 to purchase Nabors.
According to, 1915 was Nabors' first minor league year. Research has shown that not to be the case. A guy doesn't usually show up at the age of 27 in the minors. The trouble is, the trail is cold. The 1910 U.S. Census shows Herman Nabors living with his father, James Crow Nabors (I know, right?), a farmer in Montevallo, Alabama. Next to Herman (Jack) was his information including his occupation and that was listed as a baseball pitcher with his employer being listed as the Southern League.
The Southern League wasn't called that back then. It was then called the Southern Association and I looked at the rosters of all the teams in that league from 1909 - 1914 and did not find any pitcher with a name anywhere close to Nabors. Often times, players used aliases so as to get their pay and not have to worry about taxes. It was a very common practice. If you look at many names from any minor league team from that time period and you find no birthplace, no birthdate and a question mark in B-R's database on even the player's name.
Anyway, you can get the idea that from his census record, he was pitching for a living somewhere until he shows up on the 1915 D-League under his own name. In other words, my research could not find him anywhere.
That research fail happens often when looking for Herman Jackson Nabors. We know his birthdate as November 19, 1887 and we know he died on October 29, 1923 at the age of 35. We even have his tombstone shown below.
Nabors ts
But that tombstone leads to another question. He is listed as Sergeant Jack Nabors and that he served in World War 1 and perhaps that led to his early death. But I could not find an enlistment record or any military record for Herman Jackson Nabors or Jack Nabors or Herman Nabors or H.J. Nabors. Tombstones don't lie though.
The Nabors family can trace their roots back to an interesting guy named Abraham Neighbours who settled in Pennsylvania prior to 1690. According to the story, he was a French Huguenot. He was among many who were driven out of his adopted Pennsylvania home by Indians and fled south to Virginia. Virginia was not keen on Huguenots either so he kept going further south. According to research found, the man lived until he was 114 years old and his wife was still alive at 105 and they were married for over 80 years!
One record said that Abraham served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, but that has to be impossible as he would have been in his 90s! That perhaps was his son, Abraham Jr.
Anyway, forgive my little side trip, I get lost in these details. Back to 1915 and Jack Nabors.
Nabors made his MLB debut on August 9, 1915 against the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park. He pitched a complete game even though he allowed twenty base runners. But only five of his eight runs allowed were earned. He lost the game. He started five days later against the Yankees and got clobbered and did not make it to the end of the fifth inning and lost again.
He didn't pitch again for ten days and then it was in relief and he did not pitch well there either. He was better in his next start against the St. Louis Browns, but he still lost a 5-3 game in a complete game effort. You can see where this is going.
Nabors pitched six more times that season including three more starts. He lost twice more and finished his first season at 0-5. That was just a prelude to 1916, where it would get worse.
To get an indication of how bad the 1916 Athletics were, Jack Nabors was their opening day starter. His mound opponent was another Herman--George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Nabors would pitch four innings without giving up a run. He was relieved by Bullet Joe Bush who gave up two unearned runs and lost the game, 2-1. Babe Ruth got the first of his 23 wins in 1916 and Bush (un)earned his first loss in a 24-loss season. The A's season was off to a resounding thud.
Nabors would lose his next start against the Yankees for his sixth straight MLB loss even though he pitched reasonably well. The final score was 4-2. But then a strange thing happened!
On April 22, 1916, Jack Nabors beat the Boston Red Sox in a complete game gem that his team won, 6-2. Both runs were unearned. His fielders were awful. Jack Nabors was 1-1 for 1916 with a 1.42 ERA! It was the pinnacle of his career. It was all downhill from there.
After that win, Jack Nabors toiled the entire rest of the season and never won another game. In fact, he lost nineteen games in a row, to this day a single season record. But just so you don't think it was all his fault, check out the losses:
7-6, 16-2 (okay, those two were clunkers), 3-1, 4-3, 3-2, 5-0, 6-4, 3-2, 7-3, 7-2, 3-2, 3-0, 9-0, 4-3, 3-1, 2-0, 2-0, 9-1 and 4-1. If I have done my math correctly, his team scored 32 runs in those 19 straight losses, were shut out five times and scored two runs or less in 14 of the 19 losses.
Nabors' final record that season of 1-20 and  with its .048 winning percentage is the single worst winning percentage for any pitcher in a season with more than 20 starts. Nabors 3.47 ERA was not all that bad (82 ERA+) when you consider that 28 of the 110 runs he allowed that season were unearned. He finished eleven of his 30 starts.
Nabors would pitch twice more for the A's in relief in 1917 until he was traded on April 29 to Indianapolis of the American Association along with $5,000 for the 37 year old Cy Falkenberg. That was a heck of a deal for Indianapolis as it was Falkenberg's last year in the Majors.
Nabors would pitch dutifully for the Indians in 1917 and also that same year with the Denver Bears in the Western League. He would go 9-18 for those two clubs so things did not improve much for him. He would pitch three more starts for the Sioux City Indians in 1918 and lost all three before hanging it up for good or until the war came along.
Jack Nabors made 37 starts in the Major Leagues to go with fifteen relief appearances. His overall record of 1-25 complete record sets the standard for all pitchers with at least 20 starts in a career with his .038 winning percentage. Only Joe Harris (1905-1907) and Mike Thompson (1971-1975) come close. Joe Harris had a 3-30 record in his career. He could commiserate.
Nabors had an unfortunate career, but he did pitch in the Major Leagues against the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. He would die way too young, but his spectacular lack of success in Major League Baseball will live on forever.

Monday, November 10, 2014

25 most important people in baseball announced

Graham Womack has long been one of my favorite writers. To me, a great writer makes you think and Womack's projects usually do just that. A while back, he created a poll to consider the 25 most important people in baseball history. He included a ballot online which anyone was able to go and vote. While this led to 262 votes, it's possible that a percentage of those who voted would not have the perspective to view baseball history as a whole. No matter. There were enough voting who did. I participated and I'll let you decide where in that category I fit!
What it got correct
The list began with Babe Ruth at Number One and Jackie Robinson at Number Two. I think that's just perfect and as it should be. The list also included Branch Rickey, Marvin Miller, Hank Aaron, Dr. Frank Jobe, writer Harry Chadwick and others deserving recognition to be there.
Where it erred
In my judgement, Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy did not belong on the list. Cy Young has long been overstated. I thought Ted Williams and Willie Mays were too high on the list. The top 25 did not include pioneer owners that opened up the West Coast, other owners such as Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner who brought huge money into the game via connection to cable television and bravado. I also think that Hideo Nomo is overlooked because he opened the door for the flood of Japanese players that began to stream onto this continent to play. Once again, Larry Doby is overlooked.
But the project was indeed useful and fruitful and thought provoking. So Graham Womack succeeded greatly in promoting, implementing and then writing about the idea and results. It's well worth the read and the time. I highly recommend you check it out.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The amazing career of Anthony Young

Anthony Young is the answer to a trivia question. Feel free to use it at your next party. The record for most consecutive losses in which a pitcher had a decision belongs to Young with 27. Between May 6, 1992 to July 24, 1993, Young did not win a game. He pitched for the Mets those two seasons and they were really bad teams. But the Mets' winning record for those two seasons at least led to a .404 winning percentage. Anthony Young's winning percentage for those two seasons was a combined .100. He went 3-30. Those numbers are just the start of a whole lot of numbers fun concerning Anthony Young.
Anthony Young first arrived on the seen for the Mets in 1991. That season, he went 2-5. By the time he was mercifully traded to the Chicago Cubs (for Jose Vizcaino) before the 1994 season, his final record with the Mets was 5-35, good (or bad) for a .125 winning percentage. The teams' winning percentage during that span was .420. Young started 31 games in those three seasons and pitched in relief another 70 times. He actually compiled 18 saves for the Mets. But he couldn't win.
Young fared a little better for the Cubs in 1994 and 1995. He was a starter for them in 1994 and pitched in relief in 1995. His record for the Cubs was 7-10. At least that was good for a .412 winning percentage. His last season was with the Astros. It was his only season not in the red and he finished at 3-3.
Those last three seasons at least allowed him to finish his career with a .238 winning percentage (15-48). Only Fernando Abad has pitched in 180 games or more and has a lower winning percentage. And only two pitchers in baseball have pitched in as many as 480 innings with a lower career winning percentage. Dolly Gray pitched between 1909 and 1911 and had a .227 winning percentage. Ike Pearson lead the way as he pitched between 1939 and 1948 and compiled a .206 winning percentage.
What is sort of amazing about that last paragraph is that Gray and Pearson had an ERA+ for their careers in the 70s. Anthony Young's career ERA+ was 100. We'll get to that a bit later.
There is so much more fun to explore first. As a starter, Anthony Young went 7-27 (.206). As a relief pitcher, Young went 8-21 (.276). He was 0-7 in save situations (though he did successfully save 20 games). He went 8-28 at home (.222) and 7-20 on the road (.259). June was a particularly bad time for Anthony Young. He went a combined 2.16 in June (.111).
Young went 9-32 in the first half (.220) and 6-16 in the second half (.273). He went 8-28 at night (.222) and 7-20 during the day (.259). Young went 9-33 on grass (.214) on grass fields and 6-15 on artificial turf (.286).
Remarkably, Young finished with a 2-20 record in games he pitched at Shea Stadium. Shea was a pitchers park. His other dark place was Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, where he went 0-5.
The only way Anthony Young could win as a starter was if his team scored six or more runs. He went 6-0 in such situations. But that happened fourteen times when he started games. In other words, there were eight times his team scored more than six runs and Young could not even manage a decision.
Anthony Young's teams scored five or less runs 37 times. Young went 1-27 in those games. He was 0-18 when his team scored two runs or less and 1-9 when they scored three to five runs.
One of the biggest arguments between old school baseball observers and the new statistically minded writers is what makes a good pitcher. The old school thought was: Did the guy win and did he have a good ERA. Now we look at FIP and WAR and other things. By old standards, Anthony Young was awful in that he could not win. But his ERA (and ERA+) were often quite acceptable. His ERA+ was over 100 (league average) in four of his six seasons.
FIP tells us another story. Young had a FIP of 3.38 in 1992, which isn't half bad. But it went up every season after that by more than fifty points. And, as mentioned, he finished with a 100 career ERA+. There are a lot of mixed signals in his career numbers. gives him 1.1 rWAR for his career. gives him 2.5 fWAR including positive WAR for all three years he was a Met. Hmm...
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Mets were dead last in fielding efficiency in 1991, next to last in 1992 and in the bottom half in 1993. In other words, his fielders did not help him. Since he was not a strikeout guy and put the ball in play, that had to hurt him. For his three years with the Mets, he allowed 148 runs, but only 115 of them were earned or 78%. Compare that with the 84% of his runs were earned with the Cubs and 94% with the Astros.
The numbers also tell us that as a right-handed pitcher, Young did not pitch well against left-handed batters. They had an .828 OPS against him in his career with a batting average over .300.
An old school guy would say that Anthony Young did not know how to win. But he did go 15-3 in Double-A in 1990. But perhaps a well-balanced look at everything overall tells us that Anthony Young had an extraordinary run of bad luck with the Mets and while not one of the best pitchers ever, did pitch better than his record.
The losing streak was amazing. Fans were sending him rabbit feet and all kinds of things to help him. The family of the previous record holder, Cliff Curtis, even made a video telling him to pitch a no-hitter so not to break the family's record. Young broke it anyway. The losing streak created a life of its own and colored his career forever.  Perhaps he deserved a kinder fate. But at least this way, his career will never be forgotten.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Second Annual Dan Meyer Awards

During Major League Baseball's award season, the best of the best are featured (maybe not always with the Gold Gloves). And we should celebrate the best. But there is always a flip side. For every best, there was a worst. Saying that does understand that even the worst MLB players in a particular year are among the best players in the world. MLB players are an elite group of talent. So keep that in mind.
Baseball will award its most valuable player. The Flagrant Fan awards what my friend, Mike Hllywa of Off Base Percentage, likes to call the LVPs. These players did not have good seasons. These players were, in most cases, worse than replacement level. These players made fans look at GMs and ask, "What were you thinking?"  Some of these players have big contracts that now look like albatrosses. Like I said, you celebrate the best? You also have to celebrate the worst.
Why are they called the Dan Meyer Awards? That's a long explanation and I will save myself some typing by referring you to last year's award post.  Suffice it to say that Dan Meyer played twelve Major League seasons and compiled -6.5 fWAR and -5.5 rWAR. That was a lot of negative value for that long of a career!
To qualify, each positional player had to have at least 450 plate appearances except for catchers that only needed 350. Here are your 2014 Dan Meyer Awards for the LVPs (h/t to Mike) for each position. We will consider the pitchers in a later post:
Catcher: This one was easy. A.J. Pierzynski was the only catcher in baseball with more than 350 plate appearances that scored in the negative numbers on offense, defense and base running. Quite a few were in the negative for two of the categories, but only AJP nailed the three-fer. The Red Sox released him and then blasted him in the press (anonymously, of course) and then the Cardinals signed him and the guy actually played in the post season. AJP only walked 3.9 percent of the time and had a wOBA of .277.  With positional points because of the importance of catching, it is very difficult to score a negative WAR as a catcher. AJP nailed it.
First Base: This is quite interesting that the first two positions winning this award feature players who played for both the Cardinals and the Red Sox in 2014. And I hate to pick Allen Craig here as it feels like I am piling on. Mr. Craig had a brutal season in 2014 after being feted as the world's best clutch hitter in the years leading up to 2014. Injury probably played a part. Either way, he fell out of favor in St. Louis by a fan base that became enamored with Matt Adams and Craig became part of the trade that brought John Lackey to Cards. Hopefully, the season was an outlier for Craig as his 66 OPS+ for 2014 was half of what it was in the prior two seasons. Craig played a lot in the outfield too in 2014, but we will just limp it all together here. Honorable mention goes to Ryan Howard, but that is another story entirely.
Second BaseAlberto Callaspo had a fairly brutal season for the Oakland A's. His .580 OPS was awful and a hundred and twenty points below his career average. Plus, for the first time in his career, he scored in the negative for his fielding. He is a second baseman who turned 31 in 2014. The early thirties for second basemen is like the age of 27 for rock stars. Careers seem to die quickly at the position. Perhaps Callaspo will rebound. He will need to because his season was one of the rare misses of the Oakland front office. Oh, and Callaspo grounded into 18 double plays too. Ouch.
Shortstop: Yes, all you haters, Derek Jeter wins the Dan Meyer Award at shortstop for 2014. He was 20th in defense (there were worse, believe it or not) and he was next to last in offensive value. Obviously, his age caught up to him and his offense could not make up for his defense. But the commercials were cool and he will be in the HOF in five years. So there you go.
Third Base: This was another easy call. How about a 63 wRC+ and a .260 wOBA? How about being almost two wins below replacement level? How about doing that while not fielding well and not running well? And, he still came to the plate 607 times. Our hero here is Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros. The former first round pick simply hasn't found himself in the Majors. Dominguez doesn't walk and he doesn't hit. That is a deadly combination combined with not fielding well and not running the bases well.
Left Field: It is safe to say that this is another easy pick. No left fielder has a poorer season than Domonic Brown and like Dominguez of the Astros, the Phillies have hoped against hope that this prospect ship would come in and it foundered instead. Brown was absolutely brutal in 2014. Like Dominguez, Brown had almost two wins below replacement. He had a 75 wRC+ and a .280 wOBA to go along with having a poor season in the field. Either Brown needs a change of scenery or he simply is never going to live up to the hype. Interestingly, Dayan Viciedo was the runner up for the second year in a row. That's hard to do.
Center Field: did not have any center fielders with a negative fWAR because of the position importance. Their two lowest ranking CF guys were tied at 0.4 and they were Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. But Upton gets the nod because he had more plate appearances AND because DID rank him in negative territory. Poor Upton has become such a symbol of this new pitching age that he cannot seem to get beyond the mire he has found himself in the last two seasons. New glasses might have helped in the second half. But he still finished with a wRC+ of 74 and he struck out just shy of 30% of the time. Ouch. Fortunately, he is still capable in center field and can still go get the ball because his offense has been an Atlanta nightmare.
Right Field: What in the world happened to Jay Bruce? His OPS dropped a hundred and fifty-three points in 2014 from 2013. He batted his weight and his ISO dropped sixty points. His wins above replacement fell off five wins from the season before on both major stat sites. And while fielding statistics still have their flaws, they tell a story of a guy who fell down in his fielding as well. One big difference became his success against left-handed pitching. His OPS dropped against them by a hundred and eighty points from 2013 to 2014! I suspect that infield shifts hurt him as his BABIP fell to .269. Whatever the case, Bruce went from a very useful and valuable player to terrible in one fell swoop. Let's hope that it was a fluke season and he'll bounce back.
We could probably throw the DH in there too which would be Billy Butler. But he got to the World Series, so he can smile about it now. Adam Dunn was in the building, but at least he hit some dingers, a marketable skill set nowadays.
Thus is the list of Dan Meyer Award winners for 2014. God willing, come back this same time next year for the 2015 awards. And remember that the pitchers are not forgotten. The Kyle Davies Award winners will be announced soon.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Long term Max Scherzer is a big risk

Signing any player to a long term contract is a risk. Things rarely work out for the life of the deal. Sometimes the player is so good in the first few years of the deal that the back end evens out the worth of the investment. The risk seems even larger for Max Scherzer because, first, he is a pitcher and secondly, all you have to do is look at his teammate from Detroit as a cautionary tale.
Scherzer famously turned down a large offer from the Tigers to test the free agent waters. And it seems he has set himself up nicely with another ace-like season. The financial rewards of his roll of the dice will pay off handsomely. Someone will give him the money. But will they be happy with the investment?
Scherzer's own teammate, Justin Verlander and American League rival, CC Sabathia seem to show the risks involved with signing up a talented power arm up beyond their peak seasons. Let's take a look at what could happen.
Justin Verlander was the unquestioned ace of the American League. His Age 26 to Age 29 seasons were all fantastic. In those four years, Verlander piled up 78 victories and compiled 26.1 rWar. His Age 30 season was still very good, but he started to show a few cracks and he really tumbled in 2014 and compiled only 1.4 rWAR. He was still a good pitcher, but not dominant like in years past.
Sabathia from his Age 26 season to his Age 29 season compiled 76 victories and 23.9 rWAR. He will still dominant at Age 30 but has since tumbled and lost velocity and endured injury.
The shared feature of Verlander and Sabathia were a ton of innings plus the stress of post season appearances. The old saying goes that there are only so many bullets in a power pitcher's arm. The key for both when it comes to the rest of their contract life is whether they can adapt with less power and pile up enough statistics to warrant their pay and build Hall of Fame careers.
Now let's look at Max Scherzer. Scherzer just completed his Age 26 through 29 seasons. He compiled 70 victories and a ton of rWAR. He won a CYA and pitched twelve times in the post season during that time. The only slight difference from Verlander and Sabathia is that he did not pile up innings in the first two seasons in the front end of those seasons. He pitched under 200 innings those first two seasons but has piled up the innings since.
And we can already see a difference beginning with Max Scherzer. According to, Scherzer averaged 94.2 MPH on his fastball three seasons ago and was down to 92.8 MPH in 2014. But that is really the only warning sign. The rest of his peripherals were pretty much identical to the season before.
Scherzer could very well have another season or three dominant seasons remaining as a power arm. Three would be a stretch based on the history that was just looked at. The problem is the amount of money it is going to take to sign Scherzer.
It is doubtful that Scherzer will get the length of a deal that Verlander and Sabathia received. Teams are not throwing around eight or ten years deals anymore (Cano being an exception). But say you give Scherzer $25 million a season for six seasons. That is $150 million and probably light for what it will take to sign him. Scherzer would have to average five wins above replacement per season for six seasons or 30 rWAR.
Projection systems do not see that happening. Baseball Prospectus, for example, projects Scherzer to compile 8.1 WARP over the next six years. That hardly comes close to the 20 WAR needed to pay off the investment. And remember that Scherzer will get well north of my low-ball figures.
The best a suitor for Max Scherzer's services can hope for is two more ace-like seasons followed by better than league average contributions for the rest of his contract. The risk is very high. There are only a handful of teams that can afford to throw the kind of numbers at Scherzer that he will be looking for. Scherzer has taken a risk here himself.
It is a high stakes game in a baseball era where offense is becoming more valuable than pitching. No doubt somebody will give Scherzer the deal he wants. But if Verlander and Sabathia have taught us, power arms rarely stay powerful beyond the Age of 31, especially as the innings pile up in a career.