Friday, February 25, 2011

Introducing the ISO Challenge

I said beefy arms!There is a lot of talk about the new dimensions of the Blue Jays offense. I, for one, don't really buy it. The 2010 Jays clubbed baseballs like they were baby seals, outpacing the rest of the league in ISO by nearly 10%.

Going through the offensive projections over the past few weeks then reading the Tao's post yesterday (same guy!) I came to the realization this year's edition might be different.

Consider the projections I posted for Yunel Escobar and Rajai Davis - two players who figure to get into the lineup every day (top or bottom, does it really matter?) Both Davis & Escobar figure to post isolated power numbers right around the .100 mark. When league average is around .160, these two are staring Punch and/or Judy status right in the face.

The question I pose to you is this: which, if either, of these players will crack triple digits with the ISO? Both? Neither? The falling offensive stone that is Yescobar! or the bag-swiping urban-Ichiro Rajai Davis?

Based on his track record, Escobar seems like the safe bet. The man hit 14 home runs in 2009, though his ISO still lagged behind league average. A full season in the right handed cuddle-blanket that is the Rogers Centre should help, though his ISO as a Blue Jay was a paltry .081! His obsession with bunting runners over certainly won't help his cause.

Rajai Davis doesn't bunt quite as much as Escobar but he doesn't hit for power at all. Davis is yet to post a single-season slugging percentage above league average. He has but 12 career home runs! The one thing that might save Davis and put him over the triple digit threshold? His new ballpark.

Boon at power hitters as it might be, the Rogers Centre — by virtue of its very high fences and slow turf — is a triples haven. Though the rate at which Jays hitters leg out three baggers slowed in the past two years, it is still an above average place to see the "most exciting play in baseball."

So what do you think? Will some residual Citocity rub off on these two Marys or will one drink from the chalice of manliness? Cast your vote below!

Who will post an ISO > .100 in 2011?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Projectin' Thangs - Pitchers

Before I dump the "relevant" data, I need to convey one important message: I love Ricky Romero. The more I read and learn about him, the more stock I put in stories of his otherworldly make up. From his radio hit the day Jose Bautista signed to his cinematic Nike commercial, I find so much to like about Ricky Romero. Dude rules. Also, a great pitcher!

That silky smooth segue brings me back to the long-forgotten projection summary posts I started weeks ago. With the hitter comps out of the way, the focus switches to pitchers. Projecting pitchers is hard because pitching is crazy. Guys regress, they improve, they lose the ability to locate certain pitches or it all comes together.

A recent Fangraphs community study shows mechanical projections aren't as good pitchers as they are hitters, but we won't let that stop us from having fun, now will it? There are only five pitchers selected below, not because of my inherent biases but because of available information. It isn't ME that hates Jessie Litsch, it's the computers.

Ricky Romero
Bill James213207.443.851.930.850.2601.420.3104.074.31
All Fans (43)212187.603.402.240.760.2521.330.3043.763.74
Brandon Morrow
Bill James162159.614.782.010.830.2351.400.3063.833.78
All Fans (46)176179.873.942.510.870.2401.330.3163.613.97
Brett Cecil
Bill James177187.
All Fans (32)186206.682.712.460.970.2671.330.3074.014.13
Kyle Drabek
Bill James3437.153.711.930.790.2441.320.2893.963.71
All Fans (24)150177.022.942.391.020.2591.310.3004.094.23
Marc Rzepczynski
Bill James110109.
All Fans (11)129158.513.912.181.050.2461.360.3014.164.25

If, by chance, these five men make the lion's share of starts for the Jays in 2011 and the worst of the lot finishes with a FIP just north of 4.00, I will throw a party. Nothing too extravagant but some nice sandwiches, some decent bottles of wine, a tasteful quartet, decent venue. You are all be invited. By the way, the place will be crawling with strippers. Oodles of them.

Because that event, however unlikely, would be cause for celebration. A depraved bacchanalia the likes of which this city will never forget. Because teams that pitch like that usually get cool t-shirts designed in their honor. Oh and they win the crap out of playoffs series.

I'm very interested to hear what other people think of these bullish projections. Do you put a lot of stock into them? They can't predict Jose Bautista-style breakouts but nobody can. In the case of Brandon Morrow, the projections suggest something we all know/believe: a great season lurks in those peripherals. Though I'm on the record saying things might get worse before they get better, I remain excited to see how this pitching staff shakes out.

Getty Images photo courtesy of Daylife, projections courtesy of Fangraphs.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't Lose Sight

Didja hear? Jose Bautista is now richer than three astronauts. 5 years rich! The money isn't crazy and, while I'm not in love with the term, it is a risk the Jays can afford to take.

Either way, Jose got Fuck You money for real, son. It is also a pretty clear sign of faith from the Jays brain trust, who believe completely in the abilities and characteristics of Jose Bautista.

Let there be no doubt: Jose Bautista has abilities. He has lots of pop1 and, most importantly, a terrific batting eye. To me that is his greatest and most important skill. Speed doesn't slump but neither does patience. Drawing walks is always in style. Stealing first when "they're not falling in" is one thing Bautista can do that a guy like Vernon Wells cannot.

Bautista will slump eventually. He will miss pitches in his wheelhouse and scrape the wrong side of the fence a few times. His home run per fly ball rate won't always sit above 20% but his ability to draws walks can (and must) stay around his career average (11.85% a.k.a. very good.)

The temptation to Try And Do Too Much when you're getting paid the big bucks makes even the best grip the bat a little tighter. That's what we're told, anyway. People talk about pressure to perform and meet heightened expectations as though the pressure to keep a job and survive the margins of big league life is a carefree stroll in the park. If anyone knows about the pressure of walking the line between washout and enviable riches it is Jose Bautista.

Staying patient and continuing to draw walks is something Jose cannot abandon. As the team's presumptive cleanup hitter his approach cannot adjust to the presence of his face on the side of the stadium.

If it was as easy as that then we would all be GMs and there would be no such thing as outlier seasons. Just as Parkes points out at Getting Blanked, a terrific comparison for Jose Bautista is Carlos Pena. Both came on late and went nuts. Pena quickly devolved into the prototype Three True Outcome guy, completely eschewing singles for huge haymaker cuts. He still draws walks to salvage him from the depths of Mendoza Line Hell.

Jose Bautista doesn't need to hit 54 home runs again to justify his contract. If Jose Bautista hits 30 home runs in a single season again it will rank as a serious victory for Alex Anthopoulos. Which is all well and good but this move also signifies a shift towards building towards competing, not just acquiring assets like a coked-up broker.

Is Jose Bautista a key piece of a winning team? Obviously 2010 Jose Bautista makes any team better. My hope is the player doesn't change who he is to conform to a preconceived notion of what a Leader and Run Producer is supposed to be. No matter how much praise he receives for his intangibles it's still about being an effective baseball player. Here's hoping the odds stay defied for a few more seasons.

1 - Insight!

AP photo courtesy of Daylife.

Key Thursday Thoughts

While I attempt cobbling together something worthwhile to say about the Jose Bautista situation (which itself pushes other projects like compiling more projections further down the list) I think it is important to pass off one key tidbit of information.

The tweet you see above, from the Toronto Star's Richard Griffin, is perfection distilled to 100 characters. Satire is now officially dead. I love it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Doom, Gloom, and Sponging Up the Fun

It looks more and more likely that Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays will reach a long-term agreement, especially after postponing their arbitration hearing until Friday. That, I think, could be a good thing for the Blue Jays in the future, provided the length and terms are agreeable.

Just about everything looks good for the future of the Blue Jays. The present...not so much. It isn't that the upcoming season is already lost or that I don't eagerly await Opening Day. I just think there are many short-term potholes between the Jays and a steady cycle of success.

I said as much during my turn at the helm of the ESPN Sweet Spot blog over the weekend. The Jays are in great shape for the future, unencumbered by regrettable contracts with a nice pipeline of talent streaming towards the big leagues. Too bad not enough of that talent is ready to salvage 2011.

The 2010 rotation was alarmingly durable, not missing a start until the Jays shut Brandon Morrow down. Can that continue? I know I'd like to think pitchers progress in a linear fashion but there is a real chance either Ricky Romero or Morrow suffer setbacks at some point of their career. If anything, shouldn't we hope this happens in 2011?

Adam Lind and Aaron Hill were very bad in 2010 at doing anything other than hitting one home run a week. They were much better in 2009 as you well know. Which season was the fluke? Adam Lind has the minor league track record and all but Hill is the human outlier. Assuming this duo fills the productivity hole left with Vernon Wells' departure & Jose Bautista's return to Earth is reckless indeed.

Frankly, I'm scared. I'm afraid 2011 will be ugly enough to kill all the good vibes Alex Anthopoulos accrued this winter. I don't even know why. What does it matter to superfans like us? (That's me writing this and you reading it.) The fairweather fans are only going to be there in fair weather, it's right there in the name! Maybe I like the idea of bloggers and fans of other teams coveting our wonder boy and his Ichiro-esque batting average.

As warily cynical as I am about the two items discussed above, I am completely bullish and hopelessly positive about Travis Snider in 2011. Nothing I see or read this spring can dissuade me from believing, for no real reason, that this is the year he goes off. Even if he doesn't, he sure seems like a swell dude to hang out with, which is more than any of us have any right asking for.

Building on the 85 wins Cito's magic potion rung from the Jays in 2010? We cannot get greedy. Enjoy the growth, enjoy the sun and enjoy the ups and downs. I think it is important we take the downs in stride because I've written this post too many times and at some point need to sack up and demand Playoffs!!1! like a real fan should.

Reuters Image courtesy of Daylife

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dear God No

Hey, did you hear Michael Young made his now-annual trade request? Of course you did, except this year: he's serious! Most folks with brains laughed off one of the more overpaid players in baseball foolishness, but most folks with brains don't write for The good folks at actually advocate acquiring Young! I know! Let's open up a hot can of fisk on one of the more specious pieces you'll read today, or ever.

With the Michael Young situation in Texas looking like it's heading to a rather unpleasant ending, baseball fans North of the 49th parallel have to wonder if the one-time Toronto Blue Jays farm hand would make sense for the club in the 2011 season and beyond.

That conversation, if we must have it, is a short one. Michael Young isn't a very good baseball player anymore. He had a good year in 2009 thanks to in play average inflation but beyond thanks. Next! Oh wait, this article continues..

For his career, the 34-year old Young is a .300 hitter, who posted five consecutive 200-hit seasons between the years 2003 and 2007 and led the American League with a .331 average in 2005. Last season, he hit .284 with 21 home runs.

Yup, that is true. He hits .300 and compiles singles. Woo. For his career, he is barely above league average offensively when you look beyond the holy grail of batting average. 105 wRC+ for his career. Not great, especially not for an aging player with frightening home/road splits. Which I shall address later.

To be clear, there are several hurdles that would need to be cleared up before a deal could happen. Firstly, Young has eight teams that the Rangers could deal the six-time All-Star game participant to without needing Young to approve of the deal first. Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, Toronto is not one of those teams, meaning that Young would have to consent to any deal that would send him to the Blue Jays.

Too bad Jays fans don't get to approve this deal. How great would that be? A fandom-wide referendum on dumb, expensive, dream-crippling trades! We could start lobby groups! Think of the kickbacks! VOTE NO ON YOUNG! NO MORE PORK FAT TRADES! Seriously, this is what you call a "blessing in disguise."

The second major issue would be the fact that Young is owed $46 million over the next three seasons, which is a steep price for a player who would be 37-years old when his deal expired in three years.

Yes. That is a major issue, a minor one compared to the roster implications of bringing in a fire hydrant to play third base when younger, cheaper, better options languish in the minors.

Money aside for now, would the acquisition of Young make baseball sense for the Jays?

Nope. Yet look at the sheer volume of words below this sentence. My guess is the author doesn't agree.

There's a solid argument to be made that he could. The most pertinent point is that Young could fill the team's current hole at third base, which would allow the club to shift Jose Bautista back to his preferred position in right field. Travis Snider would then be slotted into left field, with the speedy Rajai Davis patrolling centre field.

That's the argument for acquiring any third basemen. It's also a ringing endorsement for punting on 2011 when you consider the "Rajai Davis in center field every day" part.

The infield would be offensively productive with Adam Lind and Aaron Hill on the right-side and Yunel Escobar and Young on the left.

The right side of the infield would indeed be offensively productive with Hill and Lind, provided they, um, produce offensively. The hypothetical left side of the infield features two league average offensive performers at best; one of whom is a superlative defender, the other being Michael Young.

Young's reputation as being a solid clubhouse presence would also be a plus for a largely young group of hitters. He can hit for average and power, and while his defense isn't great, he did capture a Gold Glove award in 2008 and perhaps some of his lack of range could be covered by Escobar.

Young's reputation as a solid clubhouse presence is COMPLETELY UNFOUNDED. The man is — as you go on to state yourself! — a very poor defender. So poor that his current team moved him from his position twice because of the damage he does there. AND HE PICKED UP HIS BALL AND HE WENT HOME. This valued clubhouse presence has now grumbled to the press about his job and barked about wanting out. Just because he's old doesn't mean he provides one iota of leadership.

As for his power and average, Michael Young is the proud owner of some of the most extreme home/road splits in baseball. Away from the Arlington Jetstream, Michael Young's offensive profile becomes eerily similar to slap hitting glovemen instead of a muy macho power hitter. His career wOBA at home is 50 points higher than his (below-average) road numbers. After 3000 plate appearances, that just doesn't happen.

Naysayers of the deal would point to the fact that Young's advanced age means that he does not fit into what the Jays are attempting to do. Maybe so, but if the club wants to seriously compete in the American League East in the next few seasons, they're going to need to get an established player or two. Simply put, the Jays could do a lot worse than Young.

Advanced age, high price tag, bad reputation, diminishing returns. Grand slam! They could do worse, sure. Let's consider the other side of this coin, even for just a second: what part of Alex Anthopoulos' track record suggests they couldn't do better?

Unfortunately, a good baseball move doesn't happen in a vacuum and other concerns always take precedent.

First off, the Jays would have to work out a deal with the Rangers, which could be difficult, Texas has already stated that they're not simply going to give the talented Young away. Along those lines is the money that Young is owed.

Is something wrong with my browser? Am I reading Bleacher Report or the most heavily-trafficked sports website in Canada?

It stands to reason that if any clubs that the Rangers speak to are willing to give up better prospects, Texas would more likely eat a substantial portion of Young's current contract than if the deal was simply a salary dump.

So if money is problem, the Jays should just overpay? That sounds great! Who doesn't love a bidding war over a bad investment?

With that said, if the Jays decide to make a move for Young, money shouldn't be a huge deterrent. In the last two-years alone, the club has saved around $145 million on their commitments to Alex Rios and Vernon Wells, not to mention the fact that they're not paying any pitcher close to the $20 million that they would have paid Roy Halladay had they been able to keep him.

I can only assume the Blue Jays offices and finance department looks like the final table of the World Series of Poker, huge stacks & piles of money everywhere. "Toss a couple bundles into a nondescript sack with a dollar sign on it Tony, we're going Young huntin!"

No one is saying that the Jays should take Young's entire contract; however if the Rangers picked up $15 million or so, it would work out to be around $10 million a season for a proven bat at the hot corner that would help put the club one step closer to their goal competing in the AL East.

Would he waive his no trade clause to come to Toronto? I have no idea, but it's interesting to consider at least.

Just like that. The Rangers agree to eat 8 figures of the insane contract extension they signed and the Jays could have an aging singles hitter without a position! Plan the parade!

Look, it isn't as though Michael Young is the worst player in baseball. He is simply overrated and overpriced, an aging guy with a distorted view of his own value and abilities. What part of that package suits a rebuilding team hoping to begin their assault on the division crown in 2012?

Getty Images photo of Michael Young, once again, coming up just short courtesy of Daylife.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Projectile Vomiting Numbers

Projection systems aren't without value. Much like advanced defensive metrics they can be useful if you go in with the correct state of mind. Don't pick and choose which numbers suit your preconceived notions but apply heavy dash of skepticism at all times. Sometimes the numbers don't add up or seem to make sense but you can't expect too much from (relatively) simple algorithms.

Below I took the three projection systems available at Fangraphs - including newcomer Rotochamp - and averaged them together with fan projections available on the site. None of the numbers are weighted to allow for Bill James' insanity or the simplicity of the system with a name so dumb I can barely bring myself to type it: Marcels. Take in the results and scroll down for my jaded commentary.

Please note Rotochamp (listed as RotoC) doesn't include a wRC+ projection and no way in Hell am I capable of those types of mathematical gymnastics. The Rotochamp people also exhibit the good sense to completely ignore Juan Rivera who, I am shocked to learn, now plays for the Blue Jays.

Jose Bautista
Bill James61413434713.00%22.30%0.2580.2620.2510.3550.5090.373136
Fans (88)65514536513.40%22.40%0.2580.2670.2560.3610.5130.377134
Travis Snider
Bill James340851668.50%27.00%0.2220.3270.2730.3370.4950.361128
Fans (49)5711412579.10%25.80%0.2140.3200.2720.3400.4860.356119
Adam Lind
Bill James5951552617.40%20.90%0.2160.3150.2810.3380.4970.362128
Fans (49)6381642827.50%21.00%0.2100.3080.2780.3340.4880.352116
Aaron Hill
Bill James5721382237.20%15.10%0.1860.2700.260.3190.4460.332107
Fans (84)6161532557.10%16.80%0.1890.2820.2670.3250.4560.339107
Yunel Escobar
Bill James6231598610.40%12.20%0.0970.3130.2850.3660.3820.333108
Fans (46)6321631169.80%12.30%0.1110.3100.2860.3630.3960.340108
Edwin Encarnacion
Bill James4741112229.30%19.10%0.2190.2730.2580.3350.4770.350121
Fans (27)4541042039.00%19.90%0.1940.2670.2520.3240.4460.335104
Rajai Davis
Bill James4301164396.00%14.40%0.0940.3270.2870.3360.3810.324102
Fans (24)5871594445.50%16.90%0.0850.3360.2860.3310.3710.32295
Juan Rivera
Bill James4091031516.80%13.10%0.1740.2780.2700.3240.4440.334109
Fans (25)4961241717.10%13.70%0.1560.2790.2690.3230.4250.32597

I'm not quite sure what to make of these Rotochamp people. Quite bullish in most instances but very conservative in others. Witchcraft is tricky, y'all. Let's go one at a time.
  • I cannot say I have a good grasp on the expectations for Jose Bautista in 2011. Just about anything halfway decent is good enough, right? Even the most conservative projection noted here is still a fistful of house money, so let's just say 28-30 home runs is plenty and move on quietly.
  • All systems agree: Travis Snider is the Jays second best hitter! I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Decent power numbers across the board but home run fluctuations due to playing time. Now let's all close our eyes and pretend his health record is somewhat awful as we cheer him into a meat coma.
  • In spite of projecting Lind to play 8 days a week in order to amass more than 700 plate appearances, the Rotochamps are very conservative with Lind. 25 home runs? Sure, whatever. Just don't make so many bloody outs.
  • If I told your three years ago that Aaron Hill would emerge as a 20-25 home run threat but no better than league average overall, no way you believe me. No. Way. But that is pretty much all he projects as. Scary. Miss u, line drives.
  • League average offense from Yunel is more than enough. His glove makes the rest okay. I hope new manager John Farrell can get his walk rate out of the Canadian Customs lockup.
  • Edwin Encarnacion is the EEnigma! As Ian the Blue Jay Hunter astutely points out, this is a man in need of a full time job. Ian has a money quote from Alex Anthopoulos regarding The EEnigma's breakout chances. The math nerds all agree: the power is not in doubt.
  • That sure is a lot of stolen bases. No matter how many he swipes, too many Blue Jays fans (like me) are going to have a really hard time adjusting to seeing someone caught stealing over and over. Not that Davis is inefficient, but you can't steal tonnes of bases without going with some regularity. Science!
  • Juan Rivera is a poor fielding Aaron Hill. Vernon Wells, in other words.
I'm interested to hear the opinions you nerds who congregate in this corner of the blogosphere. Does this method give you hope or bum you out? Interested in seeing the results for the pitching staff? Later this week I will make that happen, not before I compare the results above with the vaunted PECOTA system released today. Nerd chills all around!

Thanks to Fangraphs for all the projection goodness.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick Blast of Perspective on a Friday

It is exciting to learn1 Anthony Gose is coming to spring training with the big club, just as it is exciting that Darin Mastroianni is on the 40 man roster. News that the Jays minor league system is on the rise is super duper exciting.

The man in the video above attests to baseball's steadfast refusal to abide your hopes and dreams. Five tool studs stall in their ascent; they break down and get wacky diseases. A shame? Of course. But it happens. When it does, one can only hope everyone involved maintains the same level of class and well-adjusted humility Rocco himself displayed to the St Pete Times.
"But I don't live angrily; I live kind of happy. Why would I look at the negative aspects of everything that I've been through and live the rest of my life talking about those things that aren't the important things to me? The important things to me were all the wonderful things I got to do."
Tough to argue. For some reason I thought of Vernon Wells when I read this quote. The humility and genuine sadness Wells conveyed in press conferences & media calls contrasts starkly with the general view of his exit from Toronto.

We increasingly view players as assets, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It does get sticky from time to time when the lines cross and real life sticks its nose into our make believe General Managing.

Like Anthopoulos' quotes on guaranteeing John Buck playing time, it is hard to grasp for those of us so fixated on the ultimate goal. Sometimes we all need to check ourselves and remember it is far from a straight line to reach that destination.

1 - late pass.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inevitable Heat Maps Post

Heat maps! As I am not talented enough to create them using R or any such graphing software, I'll take advantage of Fangraphs latest attempt to get you fired - heat maps.

Heat maps are great way to visualize the relative effectiveness of pitches by location. The awesome dudes at The Process Report use heat maps to show how the Danks Theory worked to foil Shaun Marcum's dastardly change up.

Might clever meddlers like Joe Maddon apply similar witchcraft to neutralize this year's Opening Day starter1 Ricky Romero? Let's look at the usage of Ricky's change up in 2010. The maps are from the perspective of the catcher, with the colours ranging from blue to red. Blue being less frequent, the stronger the colour the more frequent a pitch went to that location. Got it? Got it.

Hrrm. Don't be too surprised if you see Manny get a day off against Romero should the Jays new ace come up against the Rays in 2011. Romero does not show extreme splits between left and right but eliminating his best pitch is a good way to tip the scales.

The transformation of Brandon Morrow upon arrival was more than adjusting his arm angle and attempting to set his head straight. The Jays also expanded Morrow's arsenal by demanding the hard-throwing right-hander use his change up against lefties and increase the use of his curveballs from "none" to "some."

Wow, what a weapon! If Brandon Morrow — he of the high 90s fastball and moderately unfair slider — can work a decent change up over the outside corner to left-handed pitching?? Well, you might just have something there.

Finally and most predictably, here's a look at Marc Rzepczynski from deep inside the tank currently serving as my full time residence.

Based on Rzepczynski's unsightly splits in 2010, I say do less of that. Whatever it is. Please head over to Fangraphs yourself and fart around with this excellent new tool.
1 - Book it. I'm way out there the limb with this bold prediction, I know.