Archive for September, 2013

Mission ’13: Isn’t a Dickey a Fake Turtle Neck?

RA Dickey has occupied my thoughts lately and Scott MacArthur did a nice piece about him at tsn.ca. It didn’t satisfy me, so I went to the usual sites for my fix. I know that I’ve voiced my fair share of complaints and exasperation about Robert Allen, and you’ve been very patient. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the interviews and opinions as being invaluable tools to help us assess a player. I just wanted to dig a little deeper than Mr. MacArthur did.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ #1 starter in what has been arguably the most disappointing season in franchise history has led the parade. It’s been disappointing because this isn’t the parade many of us anticipated. We all know the story: Roy Halladay (the ace of the past) was dealt to Philadelphia; the Jays received a package centered around Travis d’Arnaud (the catcher of the future) in return; and finally, 3 years later, d’Arnaud was re-packaged in the RA Dickey deal (the ace of the present). We didn’t need to get hyped up by the press: we could understand the value that the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner offered.

However, there was a disconnect between expectation and delivery. Overall, his numbers were up in a bad way (BB/9, HR/9, HR/FB, FIP, xFIP, ERA) and down in a bad way (SO/9, LOB%, GB%, WAR). But looking at his overall numbers is sort of like picking up a murder mystery and reading the chapter headings: the overview only tells part of the story.

Fair enough. Is it as consistently bad over the course of the season as the overview makes it seem? Not really. It’s not great, ace-style stuff, but the improvement is there, it’s noticeable, and it should be encouraging.

We all know that he pitched like a poor fifth starter in the early going, but he was also terrible in July. I decided to split the season into 2 chunks. Since normal seasons aren’t necessarily grouped into the bad months vs. all the good months, I separated it chronologically on the basis of when the good stuff began to happen with greater regularity. So what we’re left with is April-May and June-to-September. There, that ought to keep the Arbitrary Police off my back. That’s right, ALEastbound is stickin’ it to the man in its own little way.

Here’s what RA Dickey’s line looked like in April-May:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

HBP

BAbip

12

74.2

43

59

32

73

17

2

12

4

0

1

.281

But wait, there’s more. I took some of these numbers and altered their DNA just for you: Abraca-pocus!!

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

5.18

7.11

3.86

8.80

3.74

1.45

Okay I did it for me, too. Altruism is a lost motive anymore.

So, let’s summarize:

  • he wasn’t getting hit a lot but he was getting hit hard (I included a new-to-me stat, xbh/9, because I wanted a better idea about the quality of hits RA was yielding);
  • more than 2 of every 5 hits he gave up, on average, were for extra bases;
  • his K-rate wasn’t bad, but his walk rate was terrible: the ratio was 1.84:1;
  • GDP was included for 2 reasons: he put a lot of runners on base, and the defense was, um, substandard;
  • he averaged slightly more than six innings per start;

Perhaps you, like me, have bandied around the idea that they could have called up Noah Syndergaard for 12 starts and his performance would have been similar. The Jays were 4-8 in his 12 starts.

Okay, that’s the ‘bad stuff’ but we don’t want to dwell on it too much because it’s acid-forming. Here’s the rest of the season (June-September) cast into relief:

G

IP

ER

SO

BB

H

2B

3B

HR

GDP

ROE

BAbip

22

150

62

118

39

134

25

1

23

11

6

.258

And just in case you thought I’d forgotten, here are his rates for the last few months:

ERA

K/9

BB/9

H/9

xbh/9

HR/9

3.72

7.08

2.34

8.04

2.94

1.38

It’s not very close, is it? His K/9 is almost identical (which surprised me) but he excelled in almost everything else. In some cases, his performance is much better. The other thing that surprised me was how batters are still tattooing the ball. I was aware of the HR, since it’s mentioned every broadcast, but the doubles are a little disconcerting: 37% of the hits he gives up are for extra bases, and this is when he pitches well. At least it’s down from the >42% rate from the first 2 months of the season.

This man adapted. He was in a new league with a new team, and pitching in a new homer-friendly park. His early numbers showed that he struggled with the transition. What the numbers don’t show is that he was injured. A torn rhomboid muscle affected him adversely, ensuring that he wasn’t able to change speeds on his knuckler with his usual effectiveness.

The Blue Jays didn’t open the vault to extend the contract of a 2 WAR pitcher. They didn’t give up Wuilmer Becerra, Noah Syndergaard, and Travis d’Arnaud for a 4.21 ERA (4.33 in 104 IP against the AL East). A 13-9 team W-L record, 3.72 ERA and about 7 IP/start in the final two-thirds of 2013 is moving in the right direction, though.

There’s an additional consideration. RA Dickey’s contract extension doesn’t kick in until 2014-15, when he’ll make $12.5M AAV with an option year for 2016. This year, fans saw RA pitch to a 2.0 fWAR level for $5M. Given a rate of about $5.5-5.7MM/WAR, there was plenty of surplus value in his contract. At the risk of sounding hopelessly idealistic, it was a good year to learn the ropes.

He’s not Joe Blanton but I don’t think that RA Dickey is ace material. That said, he has the potential to be better than this, even though he’ll be 39 in a month. The Jays need to improve the rotation substantially—acquiring a top flight starter, and a healthy, effective Brandon Morrow would be 2 steps in the right direction—and several other upgrades need to be made in order to contend. No one will hand them the division crown or the World Series in 2014: this time they’ll have to earn it. And a healthy RA Dickey on the upswing of a steep learning curve is another step in the right direction.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Why I Would Choose Eddie Collins over Rogers Hornsby

ALEastbound and Wes Kepstro have started a discussion about some of the great second basemen in MLB history.  I wanted to expand the format so as to include anyone else who has an opinion on the matter.   The opening salvos can be found in the comments section of our Ryan Goins piece.

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most interesting ‘Best Ever’ discussions.  It involves two of the all-time greats who were contemporaries and whose careers spanned the transition from the Dead Ball era to the Live Ball eras of MLB history.  There are also very few, if any, eyewitnesses remaining, meaning we rely almost exclusively on the stats pages for our understanding and subsequent opinions.

This is one of baseball’s versions of the Wilt Chamberlain/Bill Russell debate.  Wilt had the incredible numbers (100 points and 50.4 ppg in 1961-62?!?), played on 2 of the greatest teams ever, and won a couple of rings.  Russell just kept winning MVPs (5) and titles.  Russell won 2 straight NCAA titles, then an Olympic gold medal, then 11 NBA titles in a 16-year career.  I always seem to favour team players over individual accomplishments.  The other significant debate from MLB history that parallels Collins vs. Hornsby is Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays, the 2 supernova CFs of the 1950s New York baseball scene.  It’s hard to believe that Duke Snider went relatively unnoticed playing in Flatbush for the Dodgers.

Rajah’s offensive brilliance is undisputed (by me), but it’s overall impact is questionable.  Rajah’s peak was extremely high, perhaps second only to Ruth.  As a result, he did well in the MVP vote, winning 2 and finishing 2nd and 3rd on 2 other occasions but by age 33, his career was pretty much finished.

Collins won 1, and finished top 6 on 6 other occasions.  Some of these came in the days when (1) only 1 award (the Chalmers) was given for both leagues, (2) during the tumultuous days of a rival league (the Federal league), and (3) when players could only win the award once.

Then there are the 3 times he finished top 5 in the AL MVP voting from 1922-1924, when he was 35, 36, and 37.  In 1922, George Sisler hit .422; in 1923, he was sandwiched between Babe Ruth’s 14 bWAR and Harry Heilmann (who hit .403); and in 1924 he was edged out by Walter Johnson, a 7+ bWAR pitcher and maybe the best pitcher ever.  His defense and base running made a significant impression on his contemporaries.

The next argument is post season appearances and success, and the gap is significant.  Hornsby made the postseason twice, winning once.  His performance in the WS was less-than-ordinary (3 xbh in 53 PA; .245/.288/.327).  Collins made the postseason 6 times, winning four times.  In 3 of those WS appearances Collins was brilliant, batting over .400.  In one of those appearances, the Chicago White Sox were probably the best team in baseball but his teammates conspired to throw the WS, so he didn’t have much of a chance.

Offensively, he’s still: 13th in bWAR (10th among position players); 11th in offensive bWAR; 3rd in singles; 12th in triples; 8th in SB; 12th in OBP; 10th in hits; 17th in runs; and 16th in MVP shares.  He had two discernible peaks in his career, during which times observers believed he was one of the top 6 players in the game.  The game included such players as: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, George Sisler, Harry Heilmann, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Sam Crawford, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Home Run Baker, Smokey Joe Wood, and Big Ed Walsh.

This was his competition for baseball (WS) and individual (MVP) supremacy: Collins acquitted himself extremely well, without the stats that came because of the helium-inflated balls.  Certainly Hornsby’s stats page is a sea of bold black ink, but Collins got on base an awful lot, stole an awful lot of bases, scored a lot of runs, and played good defense in a time when few others did.  This made an impression in the MVP award voting and in the run for the postseason, and Collins ran away from Hornsby in both areas.  I also think that Collins’ skillset translates very well to any era in baseball history.  Collins was a dead ball era superstar, then a live ball era superstar.  In spite of gaudy stats Hornsby didn’t receive a single MVP vote during the dead ball era which, I believe, is significant.

As far as I’m concerned, Eddie ‘Cocky’ Collins did more to help his team win and the other team lose than any 2B in baseball history.  Many similar things can be said about Joe Morgan, too.  This is why I consider them to be the 2 top all-round 2B in MLB history.

Wes Kepstro

Screw Yu Too Koji – How Another Japanese Hurler Got Away

Blue Jays fans will certainly remember the winter and offseason of 2011 when it was announced that Yu Darvish would in fact not be joining the Toronto Blue Jays.  Despite weeks of speculation and the death of one Jays “insider” on Twitter the Texas Rangers came away with Yu Darvish.

The rest as they say is history.

In 378 career MLB innings Darvish has a 3.38 ERA, 3.16 xFIP, 11.1 K/9, 1.16 WHIP and a .204 BAA.  He has been worth 9.4 wins over that same period and to quote the great Homer Simpson on the general feelings of losing out on him “DOHHH”.  Well fast forward to the winter and offseason of 2012 and another Japanese star pitcher slipped through our hands, though this time at the request of the player.

I was excited when I learned the Toronto Blue Jays had landed Japanese reliever Koji Uehara from the Texas Rangers.  I was consequently very disappointed when it was learned Koji would use his no-trade protection to block the move.

The Blue Jays bullpen in 2013 has been very solid and it is doubtful that Koji would’ve made any difference to our playoff chances (unless we landed both he and Darvish) but he is also having one of the greatest seasons a reliever has ever had.

His WHIP currently sits at a ridiculous 0.57 and ERA is 1.08.  Read that again, it is not a typo.  I ran a search at Fangraphs to see who has the best single-season WHIP for a relief pitcher since 1950 (50.0 minimum innings).

Season Player                 WHIP   ERA   FIP   ERA- 
2013 Koji Uehara 0.57 1.08 1.68 26
1989 Dennis Eckersley 0.61 1.56 2.19 43
1990 Dennis Eckersley 0.61 0.61 1.34 16
2012 Craig Kimbrel 0.65 1.01 0.78 26
2008 Mariano Rivera 0.67 1.40 2.03 32
2003 Eric Gagne 0.69 1.20 0.86 30

I know WHIP isn’t a trendy statistic but I really like it as a down and dirty number to see who is effective at keeping runners off base.  Koji Uehara is in some pretty insane company and his overall statistical line is just as impressive.

2013 ERA   WHIP   BAA   K/9   BB/9 K/BB  HR/9  xFIP  WAR 
Koji Uehara 1.08 0.57 .127 12.5 1.2 10.3 0.68 2.05 3.0

Given those insane strikeout numbers coupled with an eye-popping 18% swinging strike rate one would assume that Uehara is a flame-thrower however you would be mistaken.  His average fastball velocity in 2013 is 89.2 MPH and in fact he only throws the heater 46.3% of the time.  The major equalizer and perhaps one of the best pitches in baseball is his splitter, thrown 81.1 MPH and 47.7%.

I wanted to search again on that same list of top WHIP seasons to see if the lack of big time velocity for Koji was indeed an outlier among the top relievers.

Here are the results as per Fangraphs data:

Season Player WHIP FB% (Velo) K% SwStrk%
2013 Koji Uehara 0.57 46.3 (89.2) 39.1% 18.2%
2012 Craig Kimbrel 0.65 67.6 (96.8) 50.2% 19.2%
2008 Mariano Rivera 0.67 82.0 (92.8) 29.7% 12.0%
2010 Joaquin Benoit 0.68 65.0 (94.0) 34.6% 14.8%
2003 Eric Gagne 0.69 55.8 (95.2) 44.8% 22.3%
2007 JJ Putz 0.70 77.6 (94.7) 31.5% 13.3%

First off, I guess steroids can help pitching as much as hitting – look at those Eric Gagne numbers in the absolute prime steroid era.  That 22.3% swinging strike rate is crazy (only Brad Lidge in 2004 – 25.0% is better).

This list does not encompass the hundreds of amazing relief seasons but among the very best WHIP seasons of all-time it is clear that Uehara attacks hitters in a completely different manner.  Koji Uehara trails some of these flame throwers by 5-6 MPH on fastball velocity making his current 2013 campaign that much more special (for me anyway).

While he might not have helped the woeful Blue Jays in 2013 at the very least it would have been fun to see this relief samurai work day in and day out.  I think I can safely say that Koji Uehara would’ve been beloved by Blue Jays nation if only he would’ve given us a chance.

Oh well, at least some of our prospects are working out.   Check out Andrew Stoeten’s latest piece highlighting the Jays system might not be quite as bad as many believe.

Mission ’13: Toronto, Ryan Goins and a Culture of Desperation

The Jays have found a new player to love. Earlier this season, Jose Reyes was hurt sliding into second base. That in itself isn’t surprising. What was surprising was how well Munenori Kawasaki played for an extended period of time. He didn’t provide the value that a healthy Jose Reyes provides, but he did provide positive value. Aside from that, Munenori is really, really likable. Jays’ fans needed his likability: it was a shot in the arm. So, it was win-win with Munenori. Then, of course, mini-Mune was born in Toronto…

When he was sent down in a series of roster-related moves, we were apoplectic. How could you send down Mune when he was better than at least 2 other players on the 25-man roster? Easy, said Alex Anthopoulos: he has options. Now that injuries are a factor, he’s back. But he’s not playing, and people aren’t saying much. Why? There’s a new kid in town, that’s why.

Ryan Goins was playing shortstop down in Buffalo when the call came; after more than 500 games in the minors since 2009 Goins was getting a shot. Emilio Bonifacio, bad and then traded, and Maicer Izturis, bad and then hurt, didn’t play inspiring ball. Mark DeRosa wasn’t really signed to play 2B. Then the Jays, for good or for ill, tried moving Brett Lawrie to 2B. Munenori also played 2B after Reyes came back and Mune was re-called from AAA. Some played well, some played poorly, but the overall result of the revolving door was a defensive weak spot. Goins had the opportunity to grab it by the neck and throttle it.

That’s exactly what Goins did. What’s been especially impressive during his brief call-up has been his defense: in 16 games his 5.5 Fld jumps off that stat sheet at us. Offensively he’s done well with 16 hits (3 2B) in 60 PA, as he rides the crest of a modest BABIP wave (.327). In a manner reminiscent of goaltender James Reimer’s first taste of the big time, Toronto has embraced Ryan Goins. And why not, I ask? A young player (Goins will turn 26 in February) who wasn’t really even on the radar has burst on the scene and turned a negative into a positive and, coincidentally or not, the team has played better. We liked Mune, but he’s 32 so his potential contributions are sort of cloudy. We love this kid if for no other reason than the (much) greater potential he offers.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. We love our stars in Toronto and we’ve had our fair share of them, but we LOVE the ‘little guy’, the ‘underdog’, the ‘overachiever’ out of proportion to their contribution and impact. Years of being treated to John McDonald has contributed to this attitude, I think, and Ryan Goins fits the mold.

Goins has come to Toronto and played well: his 0.4 fWAR ranks 9th on the team, behind Mune’s 0.7 fWAR. His triple slash is .271/.283/.322: a quick interpretation tells us that he’s hitting the ball okay, but not for power and he’s not getting on base by other means. That tells us pretty much all we need to know at this point, as he has 3 2B and 1 BB. It’s a small sample size and it’s now fallen below what he’s done in the minors so far.

But there are 2 things that nag at me about Ryan Goins, 2 things that give me a slightly-irrational impression that he might be better than merely ‘okay’ in the big leagues. The first thing is his defense. As mentioned, he’s a transplanted shortstop playing second base and he’s playing it very well (5.5 Fld). His range and arm have been terrific, as he’s made plays not made since before Orlando Hudson used ‘JP Ricciardi’ and ‘pimp’ in the same sentence.

The 2 most important contributions that a player can make are offense and defense, in that order. Defense is, of course, a more important consideration up the middle so we need to take that into account. In the middle infield, I don’t need the second coming of Joe Morgan or, more appropriately, Roberto Alomar. What I want is for a 2B to do at least one of those things—offense or defense—very well, to the point of excelling. Goins is unlikely to contribute much offensively but if he can continue to play defense at this level, or somewhere close to it, then he might be a keeper.

The second irrational thing is his minor league record. Much has been made of his minor league record. And when I say ‘much has been made’, what I mean is that his career minor league triple slash line has been offered. That’s it. Goins wasn’t a well-known prospect and we lack anything substantial upon which to form opinions that help us to make sense of this kid who’s burst onto the scene. I’m not sure offering his triple slash will cut it so when I looked at his MiLB career, I thought I noticed a trend or two. Here’s a brief summary:

  • There’s nothing spectacular about his MiLB career (except, perhaps, a full season K-rate of 12.6% at AA in 2012);
  • Several things are notable:
    • he’s had modestly high K totals on occasion (rising to 20.9% in a full season); and
    • he’s a slasher with line drive power (consistently 20+ doubles in full seasons);
  • disregarding rehab stints, he’s progressed steadily through the minors:
    • 46 games at 3 levels in ’09 (R, A-, A);
    • 124 games at 2 levels in ’10 (A, A+);
    • 101 games at 1 level in ’11 (A+);
    • 136 games at 1 level in ’12 (AA); and
    • 128 games and counting at 2 levels in ’13 (AAA; MLB).

Here we are at the major league level, watching a player that arrived with little or no fanfare, but it’s the adjustments he made to each level that give me pause. When he was sent up to the next level mid-season, he regressed a little: his strikeouts increased, his walks decreased, there was a slight power outage, etc. None of these regressions were dramatic, but they’re noticeable.

However, if he stayed at that level until the next season, his output surged beyond the previous lower level almost across the board. This happened in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 before he was promoted to AA in 2012 and AAA in 2013. His numbers in AA New Hampshire were career bests, while his numbers this year in AAA Buffalo were consistent with the rest of his career. There is a tentative conclusion that we can draw from this: Ryan Goins adjusts well and quickly to new challenges. Will that continue in MLB? It remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: his defense plays at the major league level.

Toronto fans are starved for a winner, but when you’re starving even McDonald’s food will do. Unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves. We’ve latched onto Munenori Kawasaki and Ryan Goins this season, a season that’s been very disappointing. Kawasaki and Goins aren’t the answer. Can they contribute meaningfully in the future? Yes, but it’s likely to come in a smaller role. You can’t have holes in the offensive line up and hope to succeed in the AL East. If Goins plays well enough defensively to earn a starting role, then (serious) upgrades are needed elsewhere. Goins’ play at 2B can solidify the defense up the middle, and if he adjusts and hits well it’s a bonus. Otherwise, this has just been a very good and very welcome cup of coffee sort of like Munenori Kawasaki was when Reyes was injured.

Wes Kepstro

Should Blue Jays Qualify Josh Johnson?

Sorry for the lack of pieces by yours truly.  Things have been busier than normal but hope to get back into the swing of things even though the Blue Jays are embarking on an all-time awful campaign.  Thanks to Wes for writing some of the best pieces you will read at any blog over the past few weeks.

I was perusing Fangraphs today when I saw a piece on pitchers that Dave Cameron believes will get qualifying offers from their respective teams this off-season.  He wrote this about Josh Johnson:

Josh Johnson, RHP, Toronto

Nearly everything written above about Lincecum is also true of Josh Johnson. His results in Toronto this year were terrible, but his 3.60 xFIP is actually better than the mark he posted last year in Miami, even though he switched from a pitcher’s park in the NL to a hitter’s park in the AL. And he was good in Miami last year, so his struggles cover just 80 innings pitched, a minimal sample with which to judge a pitcher harshly based on inflated HR/FB and BABIP rates.

But, with Johnson, there’s a significant health question. He hasn’t pitched since August 6th, and he won’t pitch again this season due to soreness in his forearm. This isn’t exactly a new thing for Johnson either, as he’s already had Tommy Johnsurgery, and has missed significant time in his career due to back and shoulder problems, so this forearm soreness seems like part of a bigger trend. This was Johnson’s eighth season on a big league roster, and he’s made 30 starts in just two of those eight years. He’s thrown 200 innings once. Even in the best case scenario, Johnson is probably not worth counting on for a full season, and there’s significant risk that he just gives you nothing at all.

Teams have made big bets on similar health question marks before, and even last winter, there appeared to be some appetite for high base contracts for questionable health guys; Scott Baker got $6 million from the Cubs despite not even pitching last year, and Scott Baker doesn’t have Josh Johnson’s pedigree. However, it’s hard to see another team forfeiting a valuable draft pick for the right to hope that Josh Johnson stays healthy and his 2013 performance wasn’t a warning sign that a total breakdown is on the way.

If the Blue Jays make the qualifying offer, they have to plan on Johnson accepting it. He’s not going to do better than a $14 million guarantee in free agency, not with his health issues and coming off the season he just had. If the Blue Jays don’t believe his forearm soreness is a precursor to eventual surgery, making him the offer and bringing him back for a redemption year on a one year contract probably is a risk worth taking.

However, they know more about his current health than anyone else, and so it would be hard to take them to task for declining to make Johnson the offer. This one is about as close to a toss-up as it gets, and it’s basically impossible to know whether they should make the offer without the medical information, which we don’t have. If the medicals are okay, I’d say make the offer, but there’s a strong argument to just letting him walk and spending the $14 million on healthier pitchers instead.

Conclusion: Make the offer, unless they know that his arm is about to fall off.

I wrote a piece about the dilemma facing the Blue Jays with respect to Josh Johnson in July/2013 and wrote:

What should the Blue Jays do with Josh Johnson?

At this point barring an extremely solid second half I doubt Johnson has warranted a lengthy or expensive contract extension and one has to wonder if Alex Anthopoulos will be fielding offers on him prior to the MLB trade deadline.  While his traditional stats look awful, ERA (4.62), WHIP (1.51) and BAA (.272) Johnson hasn’t actually pitched as poorly as those numbers suggest.

He is striking out more batters this season (21.7%) than last (20.7%) and walking roughly the same (7.9%).  His xFIP is 3.63 which is actually lower than last year as well and the long ball has really hurt Johnson thus far.  His career HR/9 is an absurdly low 0.62 and this season currently sits at 1.19 hindered by a career worst 13.1% HR/FB rate.

This isn’t to excuse his 2013 performance or say it has been nothing but a product of rotten luck.  He didn’t look ready to start the season and got off to an absolutely horrendous start but we also shouldn’t completely write him off as washed up either.

I have to agree with Mr. Cameron here, if the medical checks out I don’t see how you don’t extend an offer for one year here.  The Jays need as many arms as they can muster and in reality Johnson offers an intriguing risk/reward heading into 2014.  While nothing with JJ is guaranteed one would think he is a good bet to improve upon a horrendous 2013 if healthy.  Always a big if of course.

What do you guys think?

Mission ’13: Sure But is He Worth $7 Million? Adam Lind, the Blue Jays, and Options

Adam Lind stroked a pair of 3-run homers against the hapless Minnesota Twins in game 2 of their series. The Jays won 11-2; it was their second win of the series, their 4th straight series win, and their 9th win in 12 games.  They swept Minny with a 2-0 shutout today, meaning that since their low point–7 straight losses, including a series loss to HOU–they’ve played very well.  One can’t even mitigate their success by saying that they’re beating September call-ups: 3 of the 4 series they’ve won have been against teams still in the hunt (NYY; KCR; ARI).  It’s their hottest streak since they won 11 in a row, and Adam Lind has contributed.

Dollars and Sense

It was great to see him do it and it was great to see them win, but what is the long-term value of that game? According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/al-east/toronto-blue-jays/), the Toronto Blue Jays have 3 options on Adam Lind’s services, running from 2014 through to 2016: his salary will increase ($7MM–$7.5MM–$8MM) but his buyout is cut in half each year ($2MM–$1MM–$0.5MM). Okay, that’s great, but baseball is a game with a business angle. This is the business angle, what about the other stuff? I’m glad you asked.

The big game (2 HR, 6 RBI) put his traditional stats at 19 HR (respectable) and 54 RBI (lame), but RBI are a team stat so let’s look elsewhere for meaning. Fangraphs tells me that his 1.6 fWAR is 4th on the Jays (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=&ind=0&team=14&players=0), 15th among 35 MLB 1B with at least 300 PA, and it’s the 2nd best mark of his career. I don’t know which one of those three statements is saddest.

Seriously though, is it as bad as all that? We all know that he’s no Chris Davis or Joey Votto: we didn’t expect it of him and he hasn’t delivered. Fair enough. But did you know that Prince Fielder has accumulated 1.6 fWAR, ranking him even with Adam Lind? Did you also know that Adam Lind is (comfortably) ahead of such high-paid 1B as Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Adam LaRoche, and Justin Morneau? If you don’t believe me, click here: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=1b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=300&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0. See, I wasn’t pulling your leg.

Traditionally the corner infield positions, and especially first base, are for players who produce offensively. First base is a position with limited defensive responsibility, but mammoth offensive responsibility. A similar thing can be said about Designated Hitters, except a DH has no defensive responsibility. Adam Lind fits best in one of these two positions. That said, he’s neither the best 1B nor the best DH on the team. Currently, Edwin Encarnacion ranks 4th in MLB among 1B with at least 300 PA. As we mentioned above, Lind ranks 15th in MLB. Lind ranks 6th in MLB among DH (300 PA); Edwin ranks 2nd in MLB.

Adam Lind’s defense (-2.8) is slightly below the league average at 1B, as is his base running (-1.3). Not only are these categories less significant than offensive production (given the position he plays), but, at slightly below average, he’s not a boat anchor at 1B either. Comparing these figures to someone like Prince Fielder (-6.5 Fld and -3.8 BsR, respectively) is illuminating, but needs interpretation. Adam Lind’s limited offense (Fielder’s triple crown stats are presently 22/97/.274, and his triple slash is .274/.360/.448) requires that he play better at 1B and run the bases better in order to narrow the gap between himself and the upper echelon of first basemen.

But does that gap really need to be narrowed? Probably not. Adam Lind is a serviceable 1B/DH with decent power who puts the bat on the ball with decent consistency (.318 BABIP), who doesn’t embarrass himself or the team at 1B. If we assume about $5.5MM/WAR, Adam Lind is right on target to be worth it for the Jays to pick up the $7MM option on his contract for 2014. There’s even a little surplus value on that contract, since a 1.3 WAR player is worth $7MM. Lind is on pace to produce 1.7 fWAR this season. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s his best year since his career year in 2009.

On the One Hand…

Let’s consider some other factors in order to get a more complete picture. First, Lind has a troubling history of back problems. He’s missed a dozen-and-a-half games this year, partly because of these back issues. Back issues affect everything, including swinging a bat. You can forget swinging a bat with authority.

Second, he’s 30. According to the generally-held belief, he’s on the downside of his prime years (27-31). He hasn’t done much to this point in his career except one season when he was 26, which looks more and more like an outlier (2009). He spent most of 2009 as a DH.

Third, his peak value in 7 seasons of 88 games or more has been 3.4 fWAR (2009). 2013 represents his second highest value (1.6 fWAR), while the cumulative value of the other 5 seasons is -0.5 fWAR, based on totals of 0.4, 0.0, -1.0, 0.1, and 0.0. (His 4.9 career total is achieved by including the 18-game/+0.4 sample in his first call-up).

That level of consistent non-production is truly astonishing. The Jays have been loyal and patient with him as he’s tried to carve a niche for himself in MLB. Patience and loyalty have there limits though. His play was so miserable that the Jays outrighted him to AAA Las Vegas on May 31, 2012 and no one else claimed him. Everybody knew that he wasn’t worth $5MM. After all, why would you claim a player who makes it easier for your own team to win when he’s an opponent?

But On the Other Hand…

This isn’t Fred McGriff, the All Star 1B who was included in one of the most important trades in Blue Jay history. If Adam Lind was to be traded, the return wouldn’t likely be an All Star. That means that even though they’re producing a similar level of value for their teams, DET isn’t trading Prince Fielder for Adam Lind straight up. That said, there’s slight surplus value in Adam Lind’s contract, while Prince Fielder’s $23MM behemoth is an enormous overpay. He should be producing about 4.2 WAR—Edwin Encarnacion levels—to make that contract a decent value. Then there are the next 7 seasons to consider as Prince declines…

The free agent market for 1B isn’t very inspiring either (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/02/2014-mlb-free-agents.html). There are some well-known players available, but some are likely to re-sign with their present team (e.g. Kendrys Morales), some have significant injury issues of their own (e.g. Mike Napoli), or don’t represent an upgrade over Adam Lind (most of the rest). All-in-all, the Jays might be better off picking up Lind’s option than going and spending more on someone who probably won’t deliver any more but will cost more.

That said, the Jays have a significant trend in the recent past that needs to be considered. Two players, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, have turned into All Star calibre players on the down side of 30. They’ve also maintained a high level of production after their initial breakout season.

Will Adam Lind enjoy this type, if not this level, of success? You’ll have to excuse me: my crystal ball is in my other jacket. The indication is that he’s improved marginally to the point where a repeat of this year’s production makes his option a decent one. Is that enough to help propel the Jays to greater things?

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Edwin Encarnacion, Slugger

The Jays beat Arizona 4-1 in game one of their series at Chase Field, and Edwin Encarnacion contributed a 2-run home run in the 9th inning as insurance. Sure, starters Esmil Rogers (his best game as a pro) and Brandon McCarthy (his best game of the season, until the 9th inning HR) pitched extremely well, but it was EE who caught my attention.

Unfortunately too much time has been spent on those who haven’t played to their abilities this season. It’s not unusual: we’re all groping for answers to help us cope with the negative variation that’s been almost epidemic. But there are some players playing really well this year, and Edwin is one of them.

We all know that he experienced a power surge last year. His breakout season in 2012 (66 xbh, 99 R, 83 BB, 151 wRC+) has been duplicated in 2013. Some things are better (R, xbh, BB, etc.) while others (wRC+, wOBA) remain comparable, if slightly lower.

What has commanded attention though is the very good—not great—power and the low strikeout totals. Edwin has a good eye, as his 13% BB rate attests but what’s so astonishing is how rarely he strikes out. Presently EE sports a 9.7% K-rate, which is 9th best in all of Major League Baseball. He’s the only player in the majors who combines near-elite power (35 HR after today’s game) with a top-30 K-rate.

Edwin’s 25.8% o-swing rate is almost identical to his career average of 25.6%, but his z-swing and swing rates are near the lower end of his career spectrum. The main difference is that he’s making more contact: his contact rates outside the strike zone, inside the strike zone, and overall are all at career best levels, albeit marginally in the case of contact outside the zone and his overall contact rate. When he makes contact, he drives the ball (.258 ISO).

Edwin drove the ball well (.277 ISO) in 2012, his breakout season, hitting 42 HR and 24 2B. It was the first time in his career that he had more than 30 HR, and it was also his first time clearing the 150-game barrier. Injuries and inconsistency made that impossible previously. This season he’s only missed 3 games, playing 135 of the Jays’ 138 games. He’s projected to clear his career high of 66 xbh, set in 2012, but only marginally (70 or so, according to ZIPS and Steamer). His walk totals are also projected to be in line with last year’s total of 84: ZIPS projects 87, while Steamer projects 88. His BABIP is down for the 3rd straight season, though, as it’s hovering around the .250 mark.

Then there’s his obscene strikeout rate: at 9.7%, he strikes out like a light-hitting middle infielder known for making good contact. Do we know anyone like that? Sure, former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro fits the bill. Marco had some extra base hits during his stopovers in Toronto and Boston, but was better known as a contact hitter. His tendency in that regard has improved over the last few seasons. His power has remained consistent but his K-rate, which ranged from 10.2% to 15.6% in his first 7 full seasons, has dropped from 8.1% to 7.2% to 6.5% over the last 3 seasons. Edwin’s K-rate is slightly higher (9.7%), but wouldn’t look out of place in Scutaro’s stat line. A key difference is that Edwin has near-elite power.

Scutaro’s a good contemporary example, but let’s dig into some historical stats. I chose a cut-off point of 1961, because it was an expansion year with a lot of home runs. I then chose players who hit at least 30 HR in a season. I whittled the number down further from that point to give me an idea of how Edwin Encarnacion’s present performance stacks up against players from the last 52 seasons. Here are the results:

  • Since 1961, there have been 1,585 occasions when a player with at least 500 plate appearances had a K-rate of 10% or lower;
  • Of those 1,585 instances, the overwhelming majority were ‘Punch-and-Judy’ hitters with fewer than 10 home runs;
  • there were 1,450 occasions when a player had 500 PA and a K-rate of 9.7% or lower;
  • in 53 of those 1,450 instances, a player hit 30 or more home runs with a K-rate of 9.7% or lower;
  • in 28 of those 53 instances, a player hit 35 or more home runs:

Year

Player

HR Total

K%

1985

D. Mattingly

35

5.6

2004

B. Bonds

45

6.6

1979

D. Baylor

36

7.1

1969

H. Aaron

44

7.4

2004

A. Pujols

46

7.5

2002

B. Bonds

46

7.7

2006

A. Pujols

49

7.8

1993

F. Thomas

41

8.0

2003

G. Sheffield

39

8.1

2008

A. Pujols

37

8.4

2000

T. Helton

42

8.8

1962

F. Robinson

39

8.8

2011

A. Pujols

37

8.9

1972

B. Williams

37

9.1

1970

B. Williams

42

9.1

2009

A. Pujols

47

9.1

1999

V. Guerrero

42

9.2

2005

A. Pujols

41

9.3

2000

C. Jones

36

9.3

2006

C. Lee

37

9.4

1970

C. Yastrzemski

40

9.5

2003

A. Pujols

43

9.5

1998

N. Garciaparra

35

9.5

2006

A. Ramirez

38

9.5

1961

R. Maris

61

9.6

1962

R. Colavito

37

9.6

2013

E. Encarnacion

35

9.7

1996

G. Sheffield

42

9.7

We should note the frequency with which some players got on this list: Pujols did it often (7); Bonds (2), Sheffield (2) and Billy Williams (2) also had great stretches. Don Mattingly narrowly missed doing it 3 straight years, but my favourite is the entry 4th from the bottom.

The upshot is that 19 different players have reached 500 PA and hit 35 or more home runs while striking out less than 9.7% of the time over the last 52 seasons, and Edwin is one of them. It’s an impressive feat and he’s keeping good company. Edwin is doing something that very few players have done in the last half-century. Enjoy.

Wes Kepstro


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