Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Vanimal

I must admit that just the other day when I saw on MLB Trade Rumors that Vance Worley had been released by the Twins, I thought to myself I feel bad for whoever picks him up. My first reaction to seeing Worley being picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates was annoyance. Then I realized the Pirates bought him with cash and he was most likely organization depth, but I see no reason he can't be the next Francisco Liriano, or more accurately the next John Axford, but more on that later.

From 2010-2012 Worley provided the Phillies with 277.2 quality innings putting up a 3.50 ERA that was supported by terrific ratio stats. His 3.1 BB/9 was just about average as was his 7.7 K/9 and Worley looked like a solid mid to back end starter on a stellar Phillies staff.

The Phillies decided to trade Worley following 2012 to the Minnesota Twins for speedy Centerfielder Ben Revere. Revere was really a good reward to flip Worley for, despite not having a single HR through his first 1,400 PAs Revere is fast on the bases and plays a premium defensive position without really hurting your lineup. Even though Revere is a decent player I still thought the Twins got the better of Ruben Amaro Jr and Friends because Worley was worth 113 ERA+, was a young cheap arm, and well because it's Ruben Amaro Jr and Friends.

In 2013 Worley was rocked in Minnesota posting a 7.21 ERA in a meer 48.2 IP. His strikeouts were way down to a meager 4.6 K/9, however his 2.8 BB/9 was a career best.

I thought the guy only pitched 48.2 Innings, there is a good chance he had some weird statistical phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to repeat itself so I immediately started digging deeper into some of the more advanced stats. What I found was that for whatever reason not only was he getting hit at a ridiculously higher rate, he was getting hit a lot harder than ever before. He wasn't riding the zone too much as his 63.7 Str% was right on par with career norm and the league average was 63.6%. He had always been above the league average in XBH% but it hadn't shown as bad before because he had always managed a low HR/FB Ratio until his ugly 10.6% last year.

The  Twins Assistant GM has come out and said that Worley was inconsistent with his mechanics and that his velocity was way down which were the reasons the Twins released him. If it is something with mechanics hopefully Ray Searage can work his magic on him and return him to a decent back-end starting pitcher. If it is however that he simply doesn't throw as hard this may be a lost cause. Of course he has less than 250 career IP in the majors and even in the minors the most he threw was 153.1 innings in AA 2009.

Moving to PNC park will definitely bring down his HR/FB and McCutchen and Marte will probably track down a few more doubles and triples in the gaps than the Twins outfield. But the real thing is he needs to start striking out batters at a league average rate again to become useful.

I wonder if he could be doing something wrong that is allowing batters to see his pitches better. This could be a case similar to John Axford where the Cardinals showed him he was tipping his pitches and he regained form almost immediately. Becaue I am holding on to that hope I see him closer to the Liriano experiment than the Jonathon Sanchez fiasco. Remember of course that Fangraphs has his xFIP last year at 5.53, so still not particularly kind so I wouldn't say he is close to a sure thing to bounce back. This year Steamer projects him to have a 4.60 ERA and ZiPS projects a 4.33 (Oliver projects 4.05 but Oliver is the least reliable in my opinion so I rarely cite it).

I'm going to predict a sub 4.50 ERA in less than 5 starts in 2014, the walks will stay down and the strikeouts won't go above 6.5 K/9 but he will be serviceable. With the Liriano injury, the Taillon arm troubles, and the general lack of usefulness out of Volquez made this an understandable move. I don't think we'll see a lot of him as a starter in Pittsburgh in 2014, but maybe a spot starter/ Long reliever.

A quick look at Vance Worley's career stats:

2010 22 PHI NL 1.38 5 2 2 0 13.0 0 302 0.923 5.5 0.7 2.8 8.3 3.00
2011 23 PHI NL 3.01 25 21 0 1 131.2 3 127 1.230 7.9 0.7 3.1 8.1 2.59
2012 24 PHI NL 4.20 23 23 0 0 133.0 6 96 1.511 10.4 0.8 3.2 7.2 2.28
2013 25 MIN AL 7.21 10 10 0 0 48.2 3 56 1.993 15.2 1.7 2.8 4.6 1.67
4 Yrs 4.05 63 56 2 1 326.1 12 98 1.446 9.9 0.9 3.1 7.3 2.35
162 Game Avg. 4.05 36 32 1 1 186 7 98 1.446 9.9 0.9 3.1 7.3 2.35
PHI (3 yrs) 3.50 53 46 2 1 277.2 9 113 1.351 9.0 0.7 3.1 7.7 2.45
MIN (1 yr) 7.21 10 10 0 0 48.2 3 56 1.993 15.2 1.7 2.8 4.6 1.67
NL (3 yrs) 3.50 53 46 2 1 277.2 9 113 1.351 9.0 0.7 3.1 7.7 2.45
AL (1 yr) 7.21 10 10 0 0 48.2 3 56 1.993 15.2 1.7 2.8 4.6 1.67
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2014.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The recent state of Catchers

The 2013 Pirates deployed newly signed Russell Martin behind the plate most of the time. In 2013 Martin put up 226/327/377 with 21 doubles and 15 homeruns, good for a bland 100 OPS+ which is on par with his career average of an OPS+ of 99. Though his OPS+ would lead you to believe he was a tick better than normal, his career slash is 255/349/396. Because OPS+ is factored by how well others performed the average catcher has gotten a tick worse. Of course 1 point difference is quite possibly erroneous and certainly inconsequential.
28 year old Catcher Michael McKenry was the primary backup since he arrived from Boston in exchange for cash in mid 2011. McKenry had a breakout campaign in 2012 hitting 233/320/442 and slugging 14 doubles and 12 dingers good for an OPS+ of 109.
In 2013 he regressed back to 217/262/348 73 OPS+ 6 doubles and 3 homers.
McKenry was released this summer,  but I asked myself was 2012 real? So I did a little investigating (all stats as usual per Baseball Reference) in the batting ratios:
McKenry 2012-
SO% 26.6%
BB% 4.1%
AB/HR 20
McKenry 2013-
SO% 19.7%
BB% 4.1%
AB/HR 38.3
MLB averages-
SO% 19.2%
BB% 8.1%
AB/HR 35.3
So the short answer is no. Even in his breakout campaign he didn't hit for anything but power. It should be said he had 275 plate appearances in 88 games in 2012 compared to 122 PAs in 41 games. McKenry had the most to gain from the pitiful play of Rod Barajas in 2012. He did more than double his BB% and while 10.6% is pretty good it isn't noteworthy. He only drew 5 walks in 2013 and I doubt his percentage goes above the MLB average of 8.1% again. But his .278BAbip does suggest he will not regress in his triple slash line. The power may go up a bit in 2014 especially since he signed with Colorado he could realistically play 35-40 games in the homerun haven that is Coors field. But even in 2012 he only hit 14 doubles and 6 in 2013. I would say his power is more legit if he hit 18-20 in 2012 and at least 10 in 2013.
In August the front office brought in the similarly uninspiring John Buck. To be fair I think the front office had to take him as a salary dump to land Marlon Byrd in the same trade that sent Vic Black to the Mets.
In April 2013 Buck launched 6 homeruns and hit over .300 in his first 50ABs before cooling down significantly to 15 HRs 11 doubles in 431 PAs with a 219/285/362 making him good for a meager 84 OPS+. That was as a Met, as a Pirate he only had 24PAs with 7 hits, none of them for extra bases and 0 walks.
The last catcher in the fold was top prospect Tony Sanchez. Sanchez was okay in 2013, but I think most fans already believe he is a bust because of how long his development took. But it's important to remember he is a catcher and he suffered to jaw injuries from pitches. Between A+ and AA Sanchez was hit buy 30 pitches,  he cut that to 9 in AAA. He only received 66PAs in the bigs so far and hit 233/288/400 with a pair of longballs. But that is such a small sample size let's look at his 532 career PAs at AAA-Indianapolis. Sanchez hit 18 HRs, 38 Doubles, with a 264/345/461 slash. His pedestrian 19.9SO% is accompanied with a slightly above average 9.5BB% and 25.88 AB/HR. Predicting his 2014 playing time is nearly impossible since he is definitely behind Martin and possibly newly acquired Chris Stewart. Stewart has proved he can't hit with his career 59OPS+ but he has a good glove and that has kept him in an out of the majors the past 7 years. Entering his age 32 season, he will be arbitration eligible following 2014 so I can't imagine him being on the roster in 2015. I think in spite the Stewart trade the backup job is Sanchez's to lose. With Martin in his walk year and if he has a big one he could be expensive, the pirates will turn to Sanchez to take the bulk of time behind the dish.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Estimating a Russell Martin Extension

Russell Martin is entering the last of his 2 year $15M deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the first year of the contract Martin slashed a 226/327/377 good for a split 100 OPS+ meaning he was pretty much exactly league average for a Catcher. Martin went to the plate 506 times in 2013, the most since he had 588 PAs with the Dodgers in 2009. Martin provided solid pop with 15 dingers accompanied by a healthy 21 doubles.

Martin doesn't pay the bills with his bat, he has earned very high praise for his defense behind the plate, particularly his excellent pitch framing abilities. Defense has been undervalued in both arbitration and free agency for years, but as more teams turn to defense oriented players I think that will all change.

There were 3 major Catcher signings in the 2013-2014 offseason; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Carlos Ruiz, and Brian McCann. Let's compare Martin next to these 3 catchers to get a better idea of where the market has been.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
Age: 29
2013 Stats: 470 PAs 14HR 40 Doubles 273/338/466
Contract: 3 Years $21M with Miami Marlins

Salty is coming off a World Series winning season with the Red Sox where he put up a very healthy stat line and clearly taking advantage of Fenway's unique dimensions (40 Doubles won't happen in Marlins Stadium) But Salty got on base at a higher clip than Martin and put up similar power numbers in fewer PAs. But like I said Martin's value is locked up in his defense so we really have to compare their defensive metrics. 

Salty caught only 21% of base stealers and allowed 7 passed balls in 2013, while Martin through out an astonishing 40% of possible base stealers and 4 passed balls. 

Carlos Ruiz
Age: 35
2013 Stats: 341 PAs 5HR 16 Doubles 268/320/368
Contract: 3 years $26M with 4th year option that could make it 4 years $30M with Philadelphia Phillies

Ruiz is an interesting case and I don't particularly like him as a comp simply because I think he was overpaid because of his help with the 2008 World Serie. He only allowed 4 passed balls and caught 25% stealing, but in a limited 745 innings. (Martin had 1,051.1 in 2013)  I think that Martin is clearly the better of the two players, but I don't think Martin will land $26M guaranteed.

Brian McCann
2013 stats: 402 PAs 20HRs 13 Doubles 256/336/461
Contract 5 years $85M with New York Yankees

McCann offers relatively elite power from behind the plate, (He was one of only 3 Catchers to hit 20+ HRs in 2013, the others being Wilin Rosario and McCann's backup Evan Gattis) and is very likely to end up at 1B/DH for the majority of his PAs at the end of his contract. McCann is not particularly known for his defensive ability, catching a pedestrian 24% of base stealers. He did manage to only allow 3 passed balls, albeit in 806 Innings because the Braves had the enviable problem of 2 big bats behind the plate; his innings were limited. Offense is still, and probably always will be, paid much better than defense and so I think Martin can only dream of signing a lofty $85M contract.

On top of that Martin is on the wrong side of 30 while McCann is still only 29, just another reason why I don't predict Martin anywhere near comparable contract to McCann.

At the end of it all, I believe Martin could land a 2 year $18M contract with either a club or vesting option third year, or if he has a big season he could see a guaranteed 3rd year for 3 years $25M. A 4th year option isn't entirely out of the picture, but it would have a low buyout and is a bit of a stretch I certainly don't see him getting 4 guaranteed years.