Archive for January 2016

Weird Stats

January 30, 2016

In the doldrums of late January as we all wait for Spring Training, it feels like a good time for some fun stats foo.  Here goes, focusing on pitching stats.

Wild pitches.  This is a stat that, at least on a single season basis strictly follows the development of catching equipment.  The most wild pitches by a pitcher in a season since 1900 is Red Ames‘ 30 in 1905.  That’s good for only a tie for 105th all-time.

The record since the end of WWII is Tony Cloninger‘s 27 wild ones in 1966, the same year he became the only pitcher in baseball history to hit two grand slams in one game, which by the way was his second two home run game of the season.  Go figure.

K/BB rate.  I was somewhat surprised to learn that most of the single-season and career leaders in strikeouts to walks ratio are modern pitchers, with exception of those who pitched well back in the 19th century when it took more than four balls to issue a walk.  I had remembered that Christy Mathewson and Pete Alexander had some very impressive walk rates, but pitchers in that era didn’t strike out all that many compared to the modern game.

Walks Rate.  In fact, the lowest walks rate by any pitcher since 1884 by a wide margin is Carlos Silva‘s 2005 when he walked only nine in 188.1 IP, the 7th best all-time, and the only season in the top 25 after 1884.

HBP. Hitting batters with the pitched ball was also much more common in the 19th Century game than it is today.  Since 1910, the most plunkings in a season were the 23 exacted by Howard Emke in 1923, good only for a tie for 53rd all-time.  Since the end of WWII, the record is Tom Murphy‘s 21 in 1969, matched by Kerry Wood in 2003.

Pitchers who hit a lot of batters tend to fall into two categories: (1) pitchers with not enough command; and (2) pitchers who hit batters in order to keep them from getting comfortable at the dish.  However, the two categories are not mutually exclusive.  Wood and Murphy in their record-setting seasons seem to fall into the first category; Emke is more of an open question.

HRs Allowed.  In terms of HRs allowed in a season, the records are almost entirely limited to the modern game, i.e., after WWII.  The only season in the top 100 before 1946 was Larry Corcoran‘s 1884 when he allowed 35 home runs pitching for the Chicago White Stockings.  This season was entirely the product of the ground rules used at the Chicago ballpark for that season only, when drives hit over a 190 foot outfield fence were treated as home runs.

The real  pre-WWII record is probably the 32 dingers allowed by the Arkansas Hummingbird Lon Warneke in 1937.


Someday Major League Expansion

January 26, 2016

As I have opined several times since starting this blog back in 2009, I think it is well nigh time for another round of major league expansion.  Since major league expansion began in 1961-1962, the longest period without expansion has been the present 18 seasons since the last round of expansion in 1998.

Commissioner Rob Manfred was recently asked about future expansion.  He said that he strongly supports eventual expansion because MLB is a growth industry and growth industries need to grow (or words to that effect).  However, his statements made clear that expansion is not a front-burner issue, which I understood to mean that there will not be further expansion for at least the next three to six years, in other words during the period of the next negotiated collective bargaining agreement.

As I wrote almost seven years ago now, I think that greater Portland, OR; San Antonio/Austin, TX; and Charlotte, NC/SC are the most promising domestic sites for the next two expansion teams.  As of today, I think any of these locations could support a major league franchise.

Needless to say, MLB’s current owners are in no real rush to expand.  They have a nice little monopoly, and why split the current national TV contracts a couple more ways?  MLB as an institution may also wish to wait until there are a few more prime metro areas, as a result of future population growth, for possible expansion.  More contenders for the expansion teams means MLB will have a greater ability to extort better facilities from the contenders.

My best estimate is that expansion teams could probably command a $600 million franchise fee if expansion were to happen now.  If two expansion teams are added, that’s $40 million for each of the existing 30 teams.  That’s a lot of money in theory, but given current player contracts, it’s not all that much.  Meanwhile, in the short term existing teams would be getting less national TV money.

In the long run, of course, expansion means a bigger national market and more national TV money.  However, I don’t think most owners are all that far-sighted when it comes to running their operations.  Most likely, teams will want to wait until team values for even the least valuable teams are so great, that expansion fees would really have a major impact on the existing teams’ bottom lines.

Yoenis Cespedes Also Betting on Himself

January 23, 2016

It seems really obvious that Yoenis Cespedes really wanted to stay in New York, since he reportedly left at least $25 million on the table in guaranteed money to re-up with the Mets for three years and $75 million.  He also gets a no trade clause and an opt-out after only one year for which he will be paid $27.5 million.

From everything I know about Cespedes, I’m not that surprised that he wanted to stay in New York.  For a player from Cuba, I would think that New York City and Miami would be the top two places to play if you could choose.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Cespedes plans to spend his summers in NYC and his winters in Florida, which is what about 80% of New Yorkers would do if they could afford it.

Cespedes also seems like a guy who won’t shy away from the bright lights of the big city.  What remains to be seen is whether or not he can play a full season like he did the last two months for the Mets in 2015.  The new Shea Stadium isn’t a significantly better place for hitters than the old Shea Stadium, and Old Shea was a strong pitchers’ park.

Still, there is something to be said for playing where you feel at home, and Cespedes surely seems to feel at home in New York.  We will see what happens soon enough.

Whither Tim Lincecum?

January 23, 2016

Finally some news about Tim Lincecum. reported months ago that following Timmy’s hip surgery, he was going to have a show case in January for teams to evaluate what he had left.  Since then, silence.

Today the SF Chronicle said the showcase is going to happen sometime in February.  We shall see.

The Chronicle’s story left me with as many questions as answers.  There were a bunch of quotes from Tim’s agent, but you have to consider the source.  What agent is going to do anything but spin the available information in the best possible light?  “There was never anything wrong with his arm,” except that for a four year period, he lost his command and his fastball mph dropped precipitously.  Maybe it was all his hip, maybe, probably not.

The thing that concerned me most about the article was that on January 22nd it said, he “is expected to begin throwing off a mound within a week.”  That does not inspire a whole lot of confidence here.

Tim wants a major league deal, but it looks like he won’t be ready to prove if he has anything left until almost every team has its 40-man roster packed to the gills.  You can always make room for one more player who can help the team at the right price, but the roster math suggests that Tim probably won’t be able to find a slot until another pitcher hurts himself in Spring Training.  A late start for a guy who hasn’t pitched since last June doesn’t sound like the major league contract Tim is looking for.

That said, if Tim’s showcase is positive, someone should take a chance on him because, if his arm is reasonably right, I can’t believe he wouldn’t be at least a bargain middle relief piece at a $1 million guarantee.

Will the Giants look to re-sign Tim at the right price?  Who knows?  The Chron article at least shows that the Giants recognize how loved Timmy is to the fan base.  After 42 San Francisco seasons of post-season futility, no one who’s been a Giants fan since at least 2000 — and that’s just about everybody who can afford to buy tickets regularly to see the Giants play — will forgot his role in making the team a World Series winner again and again and again.

Love Those Deferred Salary Contracts

January 17, 2016

The Orioles re-signed Chris Davis to a seven year $161 million contract yesterday, of which $42 million will be deferred and paid out between 2023 and 2037.  Since there is no interest on the deferred $42 million, the actual current value of the deal is considerably less than the stated $161 million amount, at least over the seven year playing term, and there will no doubt be claims that the deferrals are in the contract mainly there so that agent Scott Boras can assert he got the maximum dollar value for the contract.

I don’t agree with that line of thinking at all.  To my way of thinking, deferrals into post-career, pre-pension years are an extremely valuable way to guarantee the player the good life for the rest of his life.

Even with salaries as outrageously high as they are in today’s game and the fact that players have ready access to an army of skilled and by and large professional lawyers, accountants and investment advisers to help them invest their monies so that they and their families never suffer from lack of funds again, a surprisingly large number of professional athletes still manage to blow through all or most of their tremendous wealth before they reach what is typically the earliest retirement age of 50.

Athletes’ life-styles during their active years are expensive and a lot of people come to them with their hands out.  Mega-mansions, child support obligations, fleets of cars, boats and other expensive play things, bad investments such as, for examples, unsuccessful restaurants and lawsuits, usually in combination, can be an effective way to piss through tens of millions of dollars in only a few years’ time.

Chris Davis has now insured himself that no matter how badly things go for him in the future, he will be making at least $1.5 million a year through age 50.  Needless to say, the relatively few players who negotiate contracts with significant long-term deferrals are probably the players who would have been least likely to piss through the money if they got it all while their careers were still ongoing.  However, by pushing and spreading the money into many more future years, there will be substantial tax savings, particularly if he continues to maintain his home in Texas, a state with no state income tax, after his career is over.

In some way it is surprising that more players don’t agree to deals with significant deferrals.  In other ways, many human nature being what it is, it is not so surprising.  For example, people who win the lottery usually opt for the smaller up-front lump sum payout, rather than receive the full amount spread out in small annual payments over something like 27 years.  For the reasons set forth above, it seems obvious to me that it is almost always better to accept the 27 years of payouts than the lump sum, but most winners don’t do it.  For many or most people, the idea of getting the much bigger sum immediately is hard to resist.

Opt Out Clauses Are Here to Stay

January 13, 2016

You probably knew that already.  However today’s signing of Wei-Yin Chen by the Marlins for five years and $80 million, with Chen having the ability to opt out after two seasons at a total of $28M into the deal, represents something new.  As far as I am aware, this is the first time that someone who cannot be considered an elite free agent has received an opt-out clause.

No doubt that Chen is a valuable major league starter.  However, ranked him as only the seventh best free agent starter (although his contract is roughly equal to Mike Leake‘s — Leake gets a no-trade clause while Chen gets the opt-out for the same years and guarantee — so it’s fair to call Chen a tie for sixth) means that a broader class of free agents will be getting opt-out clauses in the future.

The deal makes complete sense for the Marlins.  A no-trade clause is worth more to them than an opt-out, because if things go bad for the team, they will dump contracts like Chen’s, while if Chen performs well enough to exercise the opt-out, it’s highly unlikely the Fish will re-sign him going into his age 32 season unless they are threatening to or have already won their division, and the Fish will already have received two years at what is now a bargain price of $28 million for a potential No. 2 starter.

All things being equal, meaning not taking into account everything I have not taken into account, I think I’d rather have Chen, at least for the next two seasons, than Leake.  Chen’s career ratios are definitely better.


St. Louis Cardinals Sign Seung-hwan Oh

January 12, 2016

The Cardinals today announced the signing of 33 year old South Korean reliever Seung-hwan Oh.  The deal reportedly guarantees Oh $5 million for one year, and could be worth $11 million if Oh meets all performance incentives and the Cardinals exercise their option for a second season.

Oh has been on my radar for some time, and I definitely think of him as a major league caliber pitcher.  However, his numbers last year in Japan weren’t nearly as good as in 2014, and at age 33, he’s no spring chicken.

The Cardinals won’t be asking him to close for them unless Trevor Rosenthal gets hurt, which takes some pressure off of Oh.  Also, Oh will have an advantage in 2016 since no one in MLB has much, if any, experience against him.

I tend to think that unfamiliarity benefits the pitcher, particularly if the pitcher has good stuff, good command and knows how to pitch.  In fact, familiarity with Oh by NPB Central League hitters may have had as much to do with his reduced effectiveness in 2015 compared to 2014, his NPB rookie season, as being another year older.

San Francisco Giants Sign Denard Span

January 8, 2016

The Giants signed Denard Span today for three years and $31 million, plus another $5M in incentives.  Span will be 32 in 2016.

I like Span well enough, he’s a good player, but I’m surprised the Giants went in this direction since Span seems to be pretty much the same player as Nori Aoki, who the Giants let go rather than pay less than 20% of the guarantee now committed to Span.

Both Span and Aoki are left-handed hitting get-on-base types who run well but don’t hit with much pop — their career on-base percentages are .001 apart, and their career OPS are .007 apart.  Both are plus defensive left-fielders.  Span can play center, which is an advantage, although Span’s center field defense is minus.

Also in Span’s defense are the facts that he’s two years younger than Aoki and fangraphs values Span as clearly more valuable than Aoki, who fangraphs thinks is a bargain at $5.5 million a year.

Signing Span certainly does not answer the need for more right-handed hitting pop out of the left field position.

Kenta Maeda Betting on Himself

January 8, 2016

The Dodgers made Maeda’s signing official today, but the terms of the deal are still not out.  The latest is that the guarantee is $25 million for eight years with as much as $12 million per year in incentive clauses.

The Dodgers turned up problems with Maeda’s pitching elbow at the physical, but Maeda is convinced he can be a star in MLB.

What I find interesting about that is that a few years ago, the reports from Japan suggested Maeda might be somewhat reticent about coming to MLB, because he might not yet be “ready.”  More recent reports indicate that Maeda asked to be posted two off-seasons ago, but that the Hiroshima Carp turned him down.  The Carp couldn’t turn him down this year because he’ll be an unrestricted NPB free agent after the 2016 season, and they’d lose the $20 million posting fee for one more year of service.

My suspicion is that Maeda’s statements a few years ago were just Japanese politeness for the fact that the Carp weren’t yet ready to let him go.  Hiroshima’s 2014 and 2015 attendance numbers were highest in team history, because the team made the play-offs in 2013 and 2014, in no small part due to Maeda, their best pitcher.

In any event, the Dodgers’ guarantee is considerably better than what Maeda could have made staying in Japan.  He could have made as much as $3.125 million in NPB this year and could then sign a four year deal worth as much as 2.4 billion yen, currently $20.3 million, but which would also require big performance incentives to reach the full value.

The Dodgers’ performance incentives could get him over $100 million, if he meets them.  Signing with the Dodgers is a “risk” you have to take, since it’s no risk at all.

The Dollar Value of Opt-Out Clauses in Player Contracts

January 6, 2016

There was a great article on today in which Matt Swartz attempts to put a present dollar value on the opt-out clauses contained in the free agent contracts signed by David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jason Heyward.   It took a little while for me to get my mind around his methodology, but once I did, it was pretty straightforward.

The up-shot is that Swartz values the opt-outs at $17 million for each of Price and Cueto and $25 million for Heyward’s two possible opt-outs.  Swartz argues that the Red Sox, Cubs and Giants theoretically saved these amounts by granting the opt-outs over the amounts that they would have had to guarantee to get the player to sign an agreement without an opt-out and thus save teams money in the near term.

Since we are not living in a world in which teams have complete knowledge regarding what other teams are offering as contract terms to free agents — this is the result of collective bargaining and the collusion era where teams were sharing information about contract offers and then all bidding the same below-market amounts, so that free agents really only had a choice over where he wanted to play most for the same money; teams aren’t allowed to share this information under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement which has been strongly enforced by the several mid-1980’s arbitration decisions concluding that the teams were colluding — teams can still make offers that are well above market in the sense that they bid well more than the amount necessary to constitute the best offer for the player’s services.

My past complaints about opt-out clauses were mainly due to the fact the teams that initially offered the opt-outs had already submitted the largest cash guarantees by far, such that the opt-outs became wild over-payments for the players in question.  Once one or two teams offered these deals, then they quickly became the new norm, forcing other teams to offer opt-outs to most of the most elite free agents or prospective free agents.

However, if Swartz is relatively on the mark with his estimates, then teams can, and some probably already are, calculating the values of the opt-outs they are offering.  At the end of the day, the owners really deserve no sympathy over the fact that teams sometimes make free agent contract offers well in excess of what is actually needed to make the best offer, because the teams are responsible for the current system which denies them perfect knowledge of other teams’ offers.

If the owners had not colluded to hold down free agent contracts 30+ years ago, they would likely have a greater ability today to confirm whether free agents have actually received the salary offers and contract terms player agents claim.  On the other hand, competitors in other industries usually do not share information directly about their contracting offers, particularly when competing over the same pool of materials, land or prospective employees.

The difference in baseball is that MLB is a rare legal monopoly where rational behavior dictates that team owners would collude to hold down player salaries if it were possible for them to do so without adverse consequences.  Under the collective bargaining agreement enforced by binding arbitration, the owners can’t.