Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jason Bay to the Mets

Yesterday, Jason Bay reportedly agreed to a four year deal with the New York Mets that could be worth anywhere between $66 million and $80 million, this according to the New York Post.  It won't have too much of an impact on the projection we had already published when we didn't know where he would end up.  The Mets' new Citi Field was pretty good for right handed home run hitters last year (+10% on home runs) but we're talking about 81 games worth of data and like the new Yankee Stadium, having that few games of data makes us far less confident about those park effect numbers than other parks for which we have at least several years of results.

Our Bay projection, where we expect him to hit in the .260s with 25-30 home runs, 80-85 R and 80+ RBI and close to 10 steals, might look like we're pretty down on his chances to maintain the even better seasons he put up the past two years.  It's not so much that we doubt his ability, particularly in the power category, as that players his age (31) typically do see an increased risk of injury and we have to account for that in our forecast.  So, his projected playing time is lower than the past couple of years.  For most players, once they get into their thirties, regardless of what they are getting paid, the greater the chances of not staying healthy for a full season.

There is one area Bay has demonstrated a recent decline in ability and that is at making contact.  Here's the percentage of times he made contact per at bat over his big league career, excluding his 2003 debut season where he had just 87 at bats:

2004 - 69%
2005 - 76%
2006 - 73%
2007 - 74%
2008 - 76%
2009 - 69%

I don't believe that his 2009 contact rate was a complete negative fluke.  He's probably a little better than we saw last year at making contact but the decline still has to get our attention and looks like the beginning of reaching the downward slope of the age curve on making contact.  Considering that his combined batting average is .267 the past three years, we won't be too far out on a limb projecting a similar such average for 2010.

Regardless of any negatives, if he manages to play as much as he did last year, he's still capable of hitting 30 home runs and achieving double digits in steals again and that will be about what everyone expects from him, including his new team.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Giants 3b/1b, Morrow, Gardner

The San Francisco Giants are apparently on the verge of signing free agent Mark DeRosa to a two year deal.  If it happens, the most interesting impact of this transaction won't be so much what happens to DeRosa's projected performance (AT&T Park has averaged a -7% park effect on home runs for right handed hitters the past few years) but how it affects Pablo Sandoval's long-term future at third base.

If DeRosa signs with the Giants, it looks like the 23-year-old Sandoval and his .330 average of a year ago will move over to first base to make room for DeRosa at third, a move that is often permanent once a player of any age makes it.  So, those who care about positional qualifications for a fantasy league, for example, may be looking at Sandoval losing that third base qualification by 2011, depending on how this all plays out in the coming days.

On a related note, I should mention that our latest edition of the forecasts listed Ryan Garko as being with San Francisco but actually this is no longer the case and will be changed in the next update.  Garko was non-tendered by the Giants earlier this month, making him a free agent.  I believe he'll be challenged to get as much playing time elsewhere as he would have had with San Francisco and we will be downgrading him appropriately, to just under 300 at bats unless he finds a team who needs a full-time first baseman.

In other news, Brandon Morrow's move to Toronto should really help him as he moves from a team that heads into 2010 with a locked-in closer and a relatively strong rotation to a team that is starving for pitching of any sort.  It doesn't look like Morrow's going to unseat the still uncertain combination of Jason Frasor / Scott Downs as the two-headed closer.  Rather, he'll likely be asked to stablizing an otherwise entirely unproven starting rotation.  It's not impossible that Morrow even ends up as Toronto's Opening Day starter.  As a full-time member of the rotation, I'd be forecasting an ERA around 4.00 with around 10 wins here and maybe 26-27 starts, accounting for the risk associated with a young pitcher who's never exceeded 70 innings in a big league season.

One other item of interest the past couple of days has been that Brett Gardner is rumored to be getting increased consideration as a full-time player for the Yankees, this if nothing new on the free agent or trade market pans out to replace Melky Cabrera.  I mentioned it last week in this space but if this proves to be the case, Gardner will end up forecasted to be a 40-50 stolen base type and to be more specific on the other details, think around a .260 average, 90+ runs scored and very few RBI opportunities, maybe 40 or so.  Working against Brett Gardner ever becoming the Yankees' complete answer to Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury is that he's actually almost precisely the same age and strikes out much more than Ellsbury.  Still, it's pretty hard to overlook a player who has already stolen 39 bases in the majors while being caught a grand total of 6 times (an 87% success rate so far), this in less than about two thirds of a full season's worth of playing time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Glaus, Rodney, Capps

The Braves are playing the market that includes players who would have been considered extremely high injury risks.  We have to trust, to some degree, that their medical people are doing everything possible to verify that a player is ready to go and that they are better qualified than we are to know just how healthy a player currently is.  It's the reason why we upgraded Billy Wagner's projected innings in our second edition of the forecasts compared to what we had in the first.  There's no way Atlanta gives out big dollars for Wagner and calls him their closer if they're not sure he's currently healthy and a much lower injury risk than his past couple of years would lead us to believe.

So, we can apply that to their next rumored deal that's coming soon and that is signing free agent Troy Glaus to become their first baseman.  In our first couple of sets, we rated the free agent Glaus as a huge injury risk and we weren't even sure he'd find a team.  Assuming the Braves confirm that his shoulder isn't a problem, we're still not going to be forecasting a Troy Glaus anywhere close to the one who used to put up those huge power numbers.  If this deal pans out and he ends up with the Braves, passes a physical and officially signs and gets the nod at first base, we'll likely upgrade him to about 350-400 at bats, this a reflection of the risk of new or recurring injury regardless of a physical.  Over that span, think around 15 home runs, 50-55 RBI and an average just below .250.

That would still make him interesting as many fantasy games will qualify him at third base.  It will not be automatic, though, even though that's the position we all think of when we think of Troy Glaus' name.  He played 8 games at third last year and appeared as a pinch hitter the same number of times with 2 games at first.  Technically, given how little he played in the majors in 2009, it would be appropriate to look at last year's minor league stats and in that case, Glaus did play third base more than any other position.

Most online sources are now reporting that Fernando Rodney just signed with the Angels.  Once it's confirmed, his projected fantasy value will take a huge hit as he'll now have to compete with last year's saves leader in Brian Fuentes.  It will be popular to look at Fuentes' ERA last year (3.93) and presume that Rodney should get a chance to replace him but consider that Rodney himself picked up 37 saves while posting a 4.40 ERA and Rodney's career ERA is 4.28 vs. Fuentes' 3.47.  In fact, Rodney hasn't had an ERA as low as Fuentes did last year since 2006 and in his entire career, he's had a grand total of one season with an ERA as low as Fuentes' career ERA is, a career Fuentes has spent mostly in hitter-friendly Colorado.  For these and other reasons, I believe that the Angels will stick with Fuentes as their closer and Rodney's fantasy value goes way down.

The possible signing of Matt Capps we talked about in the previous issue looks official as Capps has agreed to join the Nationals.  I like this deal for both Washington and for what it does to Capps' projected value.  Though he hasn't officially been introduced as the new closer, at least not as of press time, he does seem to be a much better fit than Brian Bruney and I fully expect to downgrade Bruney to no better than setup man status in the next edition.  A healthy Capps who is given the closer's role from day one here would be projected for around 25 saves with an ERA in the mid to high 3's.  As I said before, he's a better pitcher than he appeared last year.

At the risk of doing the politically incorrect, to those who happen to celebrate this occasion, let me extend a very Merry Christmas to all from the entire Baseball Notebook team.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Capps About to Sign, Vazquez Traded for Cabrera

All reports are that Matt Capps, who was surprisingly non-tendered by the Pirates, is about to sign with either Washington or the Chicago Cubs.  If you happen to be a fantasy leaguer with the rights to Capps, you should be hoping he ends up with the Nationals as his chances of getting saves there are so much better. Brian Bruney, who has 13 career big league saves, would be his primary competition whereas in Chicago, he'd have to not only impress early but also count on an injury to Carlos Marmol to even have a remote chance at even a handful of saves in 2010.

If he does end up in Washington, Capps is actually a tricky one when deciding on keepers.  I expect that in most fantasy leagues, his 2007 and 2008 seasons were so promising that he's likely at a salary too high to retain for 2010, this when one considers that his 5.80 ERA last year (which actually should have been even higher given the way he pitched at times) will scare off at a lot of the competition.  My suspicion is that no matter where he ends up, he can be reacquired at a discount over his keeper price but that depends on the nature of your league and particularly how highly closers are valued and how many will be in the pool.  If he ends up with the Cubs, the decision will be an easy one to drop him back into the draft pool.  He is a better pitcher than he looked last year and is good enough to be a bad team's closer but he will have to show it in spring training no matter where he lands.

Just a few hours ago, we heard the news that Javier Vazquez is headed back to the Yankees in a deal that sends Melky Cabrera to the Braves.  This surprised me quite a bit as I had just upgraded Cabrera a little bit in this past weekend's second projection set of the pre-2010 season.  The upgrade was because it appeared that talks with Johnny Damon were going nowhere and the outfield was shaping up with Cabrera in left and Curtis Granderson in center field.  Of course, the deal of Cabrera doesn't guarantee or even necessarily imply that Damon will be back but it does mean the Yankees likely have their eye on someone despite their open insistence that they will not exceed their budget.  If Brett Gardner somehow ended up with full-time at bats here, he would be an instant threat for 45+ steals but I'm just not convinced it's going to happen.  Still, even a part-time version of Gardner, such as we saw last year, can still be a source of some relatively cheap speed.

In terms of how the forecasts for these two in the big trade of the day get impacted, I'm likely going to bump up Vazquez's projected ERA by about 0.10-0.20 and drop his strikeouts slightly.  The good news for his forecast, even with these changes to the primary pitching numbers, is that he moves to a team that has a much better chance to get him wins and so I expect his win forecast will rise from 14.8 in the past edition to around 16 or so, which will put him behind only CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay in our forecasts if all else holds up in our third set.  Vazquez may not be as good as he appeared to be last year but he's also not as bad as he looked in 2008 either and he goes deep into games.  As long as he's been around, it's easy to forget he's still only thirty-three years old.

As for Cabrera, he should fit in nicely with Atlanta and should maintain a projection as a full-time player.  His projected average and power will drop slightly with the move but on that note, I want to take this opportunity to clarify something about the new Yankee Stadium.

Understandably because of how much of a hitter's park it was to start the 2009 season, a lot of people have the impression that it's a hitter's paradise.  That just isn't the case.  It may have looked that way early but when the final tally was in for 2009 park effects, the new Yankee Stadium did boost home runs quite a bit (a +26% effect, tops in the majors last year) but when you look beyond home runs, it actually was a negative park for run scoring (a -4% effect), hits (a -1% effect), doubles (-19%) and batting average (-1%).  This is important to understand because it means that the boost power hitters see there is offset in terms of the effect on overall run scoring by the overall more common events in baseball such as doubles and of course, singles.

I mention this because I suspect there are fantasy leaguers out there who may be trying to exploit the perception of the park as being the new version of what Colorado was pre-humidor and it just isn't true.  While home runs are an important part of the game and certainly one of the more interesting fantasy categories, the new Yankee Stadium, at least based on the limited data collected so far, is actually a fairly neutral park for every one of the main hitting categories other than home runs.  Keep that in mind when evaluating player moves in or out of New York.

Oh, and if you haven't spotted it, check out today's article at the site about Jose Valverde.  In short, the writer argues that Valverde may have incorrectly estimated his position in the free agent marketplace and I don't think it's possible to come away from this article with at least some doubt about whether he'll actually end up as someone's closer to start the season.  There are very few teams left searching for a closer who can afford to give Valverde more than he would have been likely to get in arbitration and I wonder for his sake if he'd be smarter to go to a bigger budget team which already has a closer and get more money to be a setup man.  In that case, his fantasy value would drop significantly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Halladay Trade

When we announced several weeks ago that our blog would return for the pre-2010 season, we had no idea that the timing would offer us such an interesting topic as the Roy Halladay trade.  As has been discussed widely, it's the first time in baseball history that two former Cy Young winners have been involved in the same deal.  Today, I want to make a few remarks about each of the players involved and explore how each is affected by the deal, at least as it applies to the 2010 season.

Before we get to that, I also want to briefly explain what will be different this year about this space.  In previous years, I tended to write lengthy essays, sometimes saving up questions for our "Ask BN" inbox and answering the best 10-15 or so in a mailbag format.  Back in 2007, we experimented with a more frequent but shorter blog and compared the interest in that to the more common format we used the past two years, which had occasional but lengthier essays.  We discovered there was more interest in having me post frequently, even if the entries were shorter and the approach admittedly more casual.  This enabled more timely remarks on trades, changes in player roles and so on.  So, this will be the approach I now take, at least for the next several months leading into the 2010 season and we will continue to track interest in the new format.

Another key difference is that you won't have to go to the site to find out if there's been a new blog post.  Rather, if you're an advanced user, you will be able to subscribe to our RSS feed and it will notify you when there's a new post along with a link to the latest one.  If you're such an advanced user, our RSS feed is being broadcast through the link at and some email programs like newer versions of Microsoft Outlook, for example, even have RSS readers built in.  Though we cannot possibly provide support for RSS, most email programs and RSS readers make it a snap to set up a subscription and there is plenty of info online about how to add a feed, step by step.

If you're not already a subscriber to our optional free mailing list, there are advantages to being on it.  Key special essays such as our annual multi-part "If Sleepers Existed" series, usually published in January, and some of our prospect discussions and other pieces will always go to our mailing list subscribers at least a day or two before they appear here.  Thus, if you want to have them as early as anyone else does, then please do join our free mailing list.  It doesn't cost anything and every email comes with an easy unsubscribe link at the bottom.  Not only do you get early access to these special essays but you'll also get occasional promotional announcements about sales and discounts that are sometimes made available only to those on the free mailing list.

This is an extraordinarily busy time around here, even as many readers will be preparing for the holidays.  This weekend, we will be publishing our first skill ratings for most players along with our second projection set of the pre-2010 season.  Then, by mid-January, we will publish risk ratings for all of the projections.  Starting later that month and into and throughout the February sets, we will be creating player comments for at least a few hundred players, as we have the past couple of years.  Also by that time, the rosters begin to take shape and certain players see big boosts and drops in projected playing time as roles become clearer. 

On that note, while I am not fond of "best of" approaches, we have compiled some of our favorite player comments from last year's set for those who like to look back at such things.  Most of them were published in January and February of 2009 and you can check our favorites from last year here if you're interested.  They are sorted in alphabetical order with hitters and pitchers separated and each comment dated for when it was first published at the site.  By no means should you take these as representative of the entire set - To the best of my knowledge, no one at Baseball Notebook is psychic and we've simply picked out some of the ones that are most enjoyable to look back at now more for fun than anything else.

So, without further ado and to kick off the blog for this publishing season, let's go through this week's megadeal to look at how each player's 2010 season might be impacted:

Roy Halladay to the Phillies

Here's a trivia challenge for those who know a lot about park effects:  Using information published by our primary stats provider, Baseball Info Solutions, which active current park in the majors has had the highest effect of boosting pitcher strikeouts over the past three years?  The same park is the answer to this second question: Other than San Diego, which park in the majors tied with Oakland as being the second-toughest park in the majors over that period in terms of its effect on batting average?

That I posed these questions in the context of a section about Roy Halladay might have correctly led the reader to speculate that the answer is Rogers Centre in Toronto.  Yes, surprisingly, Rogers Centre has not only become one of the toughest parks for hitters to get hits in but, related to this, it has become the best park in the majors for a pitcher to pick up strikeouts in the past few years and by a long way too.  The park effect there has been 112% or, if all else is equal, a pitcher when he pitches at this stadium should be expected to strike out hitters at a rate about 12% more often than if he were playing in a perfectly neutral stadium.  Of course, the typical pitcher still pitches half of his games on the road but even pitching half of your games in Toronto boosts strikeouts.

I'm not positive of the reason why it's become tougher to put the ball in play compared to, say, five years ago when the park effects were much more neutral.  I've been to this stadium more often than any other current park in the majors and while this is just a guess, I can tell you that when they added the bright outfield LED displays on the outfield walls several years back, when the park was renamed from SkyDome to Rogers Centre, it became harder on the eyes.  When a hitter is up, the stadium controllers do seem to tone the brightness and blinking down but they still do remain distracting.

Regardless of the reason, it's important to understand that because of the park effects and even considering that he gets to face a pitcher in the #9 slot at least a couple of times a game, as Halladay now moves to Philadelphia, I will not be forecasting Halladay to see a big boost in strikeouts.  Had he moved from a neutral AL park to a neutral NL park, yes, he would have gotten an upgrade, both in ERA and strikeouts.  But in this case, the change in league will be more than offset by the change in the park effect, in terms of the impact on runs allowed, hits allowed and strikeouts.

Also, and we said the same here a couple of years ago when Johan Santana moved from Minnesota to the Mets, the difference in the average NL hitter and AL hitter is not as wide as it was ten or fifteen years ago.  In fact, the gap in ERA last year, even with those pitchers coming to the plate so often in the NL, was just 0.26 earned runs per nine innings and a year earlier, it was just 0.06 earned runs per nine inning.

There are a couple of areas I expect to hold up and/or improve for Halladay.  First, I do believe the Phillies will allow Halladay to continue being the workhorse he has been, even as he now has to bat for himself.  Second, his projected win total will increase, though when one looks at the rounded total (16), it will look the same.  I'm prepared to boost his projected wins by about a half a win or from 15.7 in our first set to about 16.2 or so in the second set.  We have explained in our FAQ section why we don't typically forecast pitchers to win close to 20 games and with this boost, it will likely move Halladay to second in projected wins in our set behind only C.C. Sabathia.  By the way, projecting team wins, especially as it benefits the quality of individual player forecasts and particularly starting pitcher forecasts, has proven to be an art that requires more of a regression to the mean than some other categories.  I will discuss this in a future blog entry.  If the Phillies go out and win 100 games, something that just isn't a high percentage projection even if it could happen, I'll be surprised if a healthy Halladay doesn't win more than 16 games.

In short, Halladay's forecast with the Phillies, save for the slight boost in wins, will actually look pretty much the same as the one we published in our first set.  That should still be good enough to put him near the top of most NL pitcher rankings when the next edition of the ranking sheets are published but the move will not cause his projection to resemble Tim Lincecum's forecast, for example.

Cliff Lee to the Mariners

Just as Halladay's numbers don't benefit from the move to the NL as much as you might expect, this because of the offset caused by the change in parks, the reverse happens to Cliff Lee.  His move back to the AL and facing the DH would have otherwise raised some of his primary numbers but the change in park will really benefit him, more than enough to offset the move to the more difficult league for pitchers.

He goes from a park in Philadelphia which has boosted run-scoring by about 3% the past few years to Safeco Field in Seattle, which has had about a -6% effect the past three years and a park that is much tougher for right-handed hitters to homer in.  Thus, I believe Lee's ERA projection will hold up rather nicely with the move.  His strikeouts will fall and his win projection will go down a little.  Still, in this weekend's set, I'm likely to upgrade the Mariner win totals across the board for pitchers, including the number of saves I'm forecasting for David Aardsma, which I'm likely to bump up by a few saves from 28 in the first set to maybe 31 or 32 in this next set.  This isn't just because of the Lee trade but because we're now getting a clearer sense of the quality of each team, even more than we did in our late November set, and I think even without their December moves, I previously underestimated the quality of Seattle's 2010 team.

Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud, Brett Wallace to Toronto

In the actual deal involving Halladay, top outfield prospect Michael Taylor was briefly a Blue Jay but he was then immediately shipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace.  We'll talk about Taylor here a bit later.

Though the Blue Jays did pick up a couple of good prospects here, Drabek is the key to the deal.  What you have to realize is that new Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous openly said this week that his plan is not to bring any of the players up until they are ready to stay in the majors.  That means that all three are almost certainly headed for the minor leagues to start the season and it would be surprising to see Drabek in the majors before September and d'Arnaud in the majors before 2011.

Wallace is a bit more of an uncertainty in that respect as he's the only one of the three who has even played at Triple-A and if the Blue Jays were to trade Lyle Overbay, as had been rumored a month or two ago, Wallace would at least get a shot to replace him in spring training.  Should that happen, Wallace's skills at least look adequate already if he somehow cracks the roster.  Think along the lines of immediate .250-.260, 15+ home run power if he surprised and actually won a full-time job with the club in 2010.  In that unlikely event, he would qualify at third base in some fantasy leagues, though his future is as a first baseman, most say.

Drabek is on a lot of top prospect lists out there but he still hasn't pitched above Double-A and, as good as his stuff looks, his ERA at that level in 2009 was 3.64.  He allowed almost a hit per inning (92 hits in 96.1 innings) and he'll need to build on that if he's to move up rapidly.  A reasonable target for him would be to reach and perform well at Triple-A by the end of 2010 with an eye toward trying to earn a September invite later this year and/or be a rotation candidate by the spring of 2011.  In the event he makes it to the majors this year, I won't be forecasting instant success and would be forecasting an ERA around 5.00 for 2010.

As for d'Arnaud, he's another former first round pick, taken 37th overall in the 2007 draft in the supplemental first round.  He's coming off a decent season at Single-A Lakewood, where he hit .255 with 13 home runs and 71 RBI in 126 games.  He's likely two or three years from the majors, at least, and we won't be creating any sort of forecast for him for 2010.  Assuming J.P. Arencibia gets back on track after a disappointing 2009 campaign, Arencibia likely remains ahead of d'Arnaud on the depth chart for the Blue Jays if we're forecasting five years into the future.

Phillipe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies to Philadelphia

You have to hand it to the Phillies in that they basically traded Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, traded three top prospects for three good prospects and got $6 million from the Blue Jays thrown in for good measure.

Though the combination of Aumont, Ramirez and Gillies doesn't likely replace the future expected from Drabek and Michael Taylor, Aumont is considered by some to be a steal here.  Despite how good he looked in moments of last year's World Baseball Classic, he got knocked around some in his brief stop at Double-A last year(5.09 ERA in 17.2 innings) and he'll work to conquer that level this upcoming season.  He's unlikely to reach the majors before 2011.

Ramirez also struggled last year and wasn't spectacular in 2008 either whereas Gillies had the best minor league season of the three.  At High-A Clearwater, Gillies hit .341 with 9 home runs, 42 RBI, 104 runs scored, 44 stolen bases and 60 walks in 124 games.  He could move up quickly, though still not likely this year.

We'll be very surprised if any of these three make it to the majors this year and even if they do, none would be forecasted to have any sort of meaningful impact, at least not right now.

Michael Taylor to Oakland

Oakland was sort of late coming to this party but the Blue Jays wanted Brett Wallace more than they wanted Taylor.  This may surprise readers but I think Taylor is going to turn out to be one of the best prospects in this entire deal and I would not have traded Taylor straight up for Wallace.  They both are coming off strong minor league seasons and are almost the same age - Taylor turns twenty-four this weekend where Wallace will turn twenty-four in August.  However, you expect more from a first baseman and the two had arguably similar seasons in the minors last year with Taylor also showing speed that Wallace clearly will never have.

Taylor hit .320 with 20 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 48 walks in 116 games, most of which came in the Eastern League.  Wallace hit .293 with 20 home runs, 1 stolen base and 47 walks in 138 games, the majority of which came at Triple-A.  A key difference between the two, though, is Wallace's strikeouts.  Wallace struck out 116 times in 532 at bats for a rate of contact of about 78%.  Taylor struck out 70 times in 428 at bats for an 84% contact rate.

Moreover, of all of the prospects in this deal, even including consideration of Kyle Drabek, Taylor is definitely the closest to being offered an opportunity at a regular major league position.  If Taylor somehow won a full-time position with Oakland, I believe he's ready to immediately hit in the high .270s with 15-20 home run power and 15+ stolen base speed, all of which would translate to an 80 R/ 75-80 RBI type over a full season, depending on where he bats in the order.  Of course, he would have to have an excellent spring training for this to happen but if you told me I could have my pick of any prospect that changed teams in this mega-deal, at least for my 2010 fantasy team, Taylor would actually be the one I would choose by a long way.