Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Rays’ category

Catcher Defense

April 16, 2019

One of the biggest breakthroughs of the recent analytics revolution of the last generation is the degree to which catcher defense can now be analyzed and quantified.  Specifically, pitch framing has turned out to be far more valuable than teams realized only two decades ago.  Teams, of course, knew that pitch framing was important, but until complete filming, saving and replay of every pitch thrown in MLB was accomplished it wasn’t really possible to quantify which catchers were good at and which ones weren’t and just how many runs are saved or lost as a result.

I was looking at fangraphs.com’s defensive leaders for 2018 today and the importance of catcher defense completely jumped out at me.  18 of the top 30 players in terms of runs saved over replacement were catchers.  Six of these 18 catchers caught fewer than 540 innings in 2018, meaning they played less than 60 full games at the position but were still among the most valuable defensive players in MLB.  The only other defenders of roughly or nearly equal value were the seven best everyday shortstops.

Three 2Bman, 3Bman Matt Chapman and CF Kevin Kiermaier round out the top 30.  Aside from being the only center fielder, Kiermaier played only 747.1 innings there in 2018, which gives you a pretty good idea of just how good his center field defense is.

MLB teams have known just about forever how importance catching defense is.  How else to explain the fact that Bill Bergen played 11 major league seasons more than 100 years ago in which he compiled an astounding .395 career OPS (even worse than today’s best hitting pitchers and a lot worse than the best hitting pitchers of his own era)?  Bergen played in the deadball era when catchers had to be good defensively, at least insofar as controlling the running game and fielding bunts.

What we have now is a better idea of which good-field, no-hit catchers are worth keeping around solely for their gloves and which ones aren’t.  By the same token, there are still intangibles like pitch-calling (particularly because on many teams the manager or coaches call the pitches and clubhouse/on-field presence which are hard to quantify.  Obviously, we can now quantify whether catchers of the same team have higher or lower ERAs when they are behind the dish, but it’s hard to quantify the value of pitch-calling or the ability to keep a pitcher calm and focused.

I definitely think that some catchers — at least based on fangraphs’ evaluations — are still seen as major league catchers simply because they have been major league catchers.  For example, Drew Butera just got the call to come up with Rockies in spite of the fact that he is now 35 years old and has been worth $21.4M less to his major league teams than a replacement level catcher would have been across his nine year major league career.

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Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Oakland A’s Trade for Jurickson Profar

December 21, 2018

The Oakland A’s were part of a three-team trade with the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Rays, the most significant piece of which is the A’s acquisition of middle infielder Jurickson Profar.  The deal makes clear that the A’s are trying to compete again in 2019.

Profar will presumably play 2B for the A’s replacing Jed Lowrie, who had two extremely productive seasons for the A’s in 2017 and 2018, but is soon to be 35 years old and is looking at a substantial annual pay increase as a free agent.  My guess is that Lowrie will get a contract similar to the two-year $24M deal that Daniel Murphy just signed with the Rockies, which would nearly double what the A’s paid Lowrie the last two seasons.

Profar will be much cheaper.  mlbtraderumors.com projects him to get $3.4M in 2019.  Profar broke through in a big way in 2018, and the A’s will be receiving his age 26 and 27 seasons before he becomes a free agent.

To get Profar, the A’s gave up righted-handed reliever Emilio Pagan, minor league middle infielder Eli White and, most significantly, the 38th pick in the 2019 Draft.  Pagan is a decent middle reliever with five more seasons of control, but it’s the draft pick that has the most value.  The odds are pretty good of drafting a star or at least six seasons of a useful major league player with a selection that high.

The trade for Profar interferes with the incipient major league career of Franklin Barreto.  The soon to be 23 year old Barreto had an .872 OPS in the Pacific Coast League and is currently slashing .356/.425/.550 in the Venezuelan Winter League.  In short, Barreto looks ready to get a chance to be an every-day major league player.

However, Barreto is young enough that sending him back to AAA for as long as it takes for him to prove he’s too good to stay there, won’t impact his major league career.  In the meantime, one of the A’s infielders could get hurt, or Barreto could simply be called up to be the first infielder off the bench.  The A’s have two more years of control over both Profar and also SS Marcus Semien.  However, if Barreto proves he’s ready and the A’s fall out of contention, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A’s trade either Profar or Semien at the 2019 trade deadline or after the 2019 season.

The Rangers received three pitching prospects, the best of whom is 22 year lefty starter Brock Burke, middle infield prospect White, and some international bonus slot money.   The Rays received reliever Pagan, the 38th overall draft pick, and a pitching prospect.  The trade of Burke for the draft pick looks like kind of a wash, so arguably for the Rays this was about getting a proven major league reliever for a pitching prospect.

Seattle Mariners Dump More Salary (with Help from the Rays and Indians)

December 14, 2018

Yesterday’s three-way trade between the Mariners, Rays and Indians was wonderfully complex.  The Mariners continued their rebuild, trading away Carlos Santana‘s age 33 and 34 seasons for Edwin Encarnacion‘s age 36 season and the 77th pick in the 2019 Draft (the Indians’ Round B Competitive Balance pick), while saving a total of $10 million of future salary commitments.

The Indians got Santana and also also 23 year old 1B/LF Jake Bauers from the Rays.  Bauers got a lot of playing time with the Rays in 2018, but he was pretty awful, and he looks like he’ll need a full year in AAA in 2019.  Still, he’s young and he’s got some talent.  Although the Indians took on salary in the trade, it actually frees up salary space for them in 2019, because Santana will cost the Tribe about $10 million less this coming season than Encarnacion would have.

The Rays got 3B Yandy Diaz and right-handed reliever Cole Sulser in the exchange and sent $5 million to the Mariners to almost balance out the $6 million the M’s sent to the Indians to defray part of the $35 million still owed to Santana.  Got all of that?

Yandy Diaz looks like the most interesting player in the trade.  Although he is already 27 and hasn’t played much in the majors, a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s Cuban defector who lost a couple of seasons in the immigration process.  He looks like he can play adequate defense at third, and his career AAA slash line is .319/.415/.432 in more than 1,200 plate appearances.  If he can add some power, he could still potentially be a dark horse All-Star candidate at the hot corner.

It’s anticipated that the Mariners will soon trade away Encarnacion, possibly to the Rays in a future transaction.  If so, I’d guess the Mariners will have to include about $10M to get much of value in return.

We already knew that the M’s were firmly committed to rebuilding and dumping salary, but the trade is also a clear sign that both the Rays and the Indians intend to compete in 2019 within the limits of their small revenues.

The Seattle Mariners’ Flurry of Moves

December 4, 2018

The Mariners look determined to be as bad in 2019 as the Baltimore Orioles were in 2018.  Not only are the M’s dumping their best veterans, they are also taking on a number of over-30 players who have contracts that won’t be easy to move after coming off of down years.

The Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (and $20 million) for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, former first round draft picks Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn and RHP prospect Gerson Bautista trade is certainly a bold, exciting move by the Mets.  Robinson Cano hit well after coming back from his 80-game PEDs suspension, but he’ll be 36 next year and still has five years and $120M left on his contract.

Clearly, the Mets intend to compete in 2019 and 2020; and if they don’t make the NLCS in either of these seasons, the move is almost certain to be a bust.  Diaz is an exciting closer, but a closer can’t make a team that much better by himself.  The Mets are obviously hoping Cano can rise to the occasion of being on the big New York stage again.

The trade is surely a risk for the Mets, but playing in NY, they need to try to win most years.  The revenue streams available require the Mets to take bold moves to get better fast, even if that means spending some money.

The Mariners get three prospects and escape $100M of the remaining salary commitment to Cano, but took on a total of $36.5M to Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak over the next two seasons, in order to balance out the deal.  Both Bruce and Swarzak were pretty awful in 2018, but their remaining salary commitments are such that it’s hard to see the Mariners eating all or most of their remaining obligations. In short, both players will get every opportunity in early 2019 to show what they’ve got left.

The Jean Segura, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio for Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford trade presumably means the M’s like Crawford a lot, and are, on balance, looking to dump as much salary as possible as they rebuild.  Santana is coming off a down year going into his age 33 season, and he’s still owed $41.7M for 2018-2019.  However, the M’s dump the $60M+ Jean Segura is still owed through 2022 and the $9M+ that Nicasio is owed for 2019.

It sure looks like the Mariners are going to be bad in 2019 in the hopes of securing top draft picks in 2020.  I feel sorry for the guys and gals in the M’s marketing department — it’s going to be a tough sell, although Carlos Santana gives them a name to pitch, and the M’s picked up a good and cheap youngish catcher to replace Mike Zunino in Omar Narvaez from the White Sox in exchange for the much more expensive Alex Colome.

What will be most interesting for M’s fans is what the team decides to do with its newly acquired, nearly major league ready prospects.  Bring them up at or near the start of the 2019 season, so they can learn their lessons at the major league level, or hold them down on the farm to build up their confidence, prove they are ready, and keep the service-time clock from running?  Nowadays, the biggest single consideration for the expecting-to-be-bad 2019 Mariners is probably to keep the service-time clocks from running.

Let outstanding AAA performance dictate when the prospects come up, unless the major league squad is so bad (and the gate is so poor) that you really do have to call the youngsters up to at least give the fans and the organization some hope for the future.

Will Tyler Rogers Be Selected in This Year’s Rule-5 Draft?

November 24, 2018

The San Francisco Giants have not placed Tyler Rogers on their 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, so one would think the team might actually lose him this year.  Rogers has now had consecutive seasons at AAA Sacramento in which he’s posted ERAs of 2.37 in 2017 and 2.13 in 2018 over a total of 143.2 innings pitched.

Rogers is pretty much the poster boy for the purpose of the Rule 5 Draft: to allow teams a crack at highly productive high minor league players whom have not been promoted to the major leagues by their current organization.  In practice, teams often select higher upside, low minor league players whom they then waste a roster spot on for the next season, but players like Rogers are really the ones whom the rule is designed to benefit.

It’s clear that the Giants don’t consider Rogers to be any kind of a prospect.  He hasn’t received even a cup of coffee at the major league level despite his excellent AAA numbers, and the Giants are content to keep the even older and proven major league mediocrity Josh Osich on their 40-man roster.

MLB.com ran a list of the best Rule-5 candidates from each of MLB’s 30 major league teams, and they picked soon to be 21 year old RF Sandro Fabian as the Giants’ best Rule-5 candidate.  Fabian had a .585 OPS in 450 plate appearances at Class A+ San Jose last season, so it’s clear that he’s not going to be a major league caliber player for at least two full seasons.  A team like the Orioles that has no chance of being good in 2019 can afford to waste a roster space for a full season on a player like Fabian, but there aren’t many other major league teams that can.

There are a lot more teams that might benefit by selecting a player like Rogers, who might actually contribute at the major league level in 2019.

I understand that MLB doesn’t consider Rogers a legitimate prospect, but you would have to think there are at least a couple of major league teams like the A’s and the Rays, that would look at Rogers’ AAA performance in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League and figure what have we got to loose by selecting him and giving him a real shot except $50,000, which is peanuts in today’s major league game.

Rogers’ progress through the minors suggests that it can take him as much as half a season to adjust to the higher level of play once he reached the AA level.  Still, even if Rogers doesn’t initially play well enough to hold a major league roster spot, I have little doubt a trade couldn’t be swung to hold onto his rights, because obviously the Giants think very little of his major league prospects.