Cubs Ink DeJesus.

Theo Epstein made his first move as the Cubs president of baseball operations today. He went out and signed free agent outfielder David DeJesus to a two year, $10 million dollar deal and a team option for 2014. Needless to say this was a very good signing.

Since 2005 DeJesus has been very productive, posting roughly 3 WAR per season. His triple slash for his career is .284/.356/.421. His .339 wOBA is slightly above average for his career. He won’t bring the Cubs a ton of power, his ISO is ,137 for his career but he will bring some other solid abilities with him. DeJesus has a really good eye at the plate, he only strikes out 13.4% for his career and walks 8.3% of the time. His 17 K% last year can be considered an outlier becaue his 24 O-Swing% was 3.5% higher than his career average. There’s also reason to expect that he hasn’t fallen off much either.

Last year he was worth -3.8 against the fastball but that was the first year that he was worth negative runs against the fastball so it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back. This leads us right to the next thing. His .274 BABIP was .042 points beneath his career BABIP so a bounce back year is almost certain. He’s also a solid defender, the last 3 years he’s had a UZR of 16, 2.5 and 7.5.

DeJesus will also gives the Cubs a good left handed bat in a line-up where most of their production comes from the right side. Chicago could still get another lefty bat or two but DeJesus helps the problem a little at least.

At $4.25 million per season ($1.5 million dollar buyout for 2014) DeJesus should easily outperform his salary. He needs to produce roughly 2 WAR per season, something that shouldn’t be overly difficult for him. Theo Epstein has always gotten good players with good deals but he’s also gotten some bad deals (Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka) but as it stands right now Epstein got a good deal.

Texas Rangers Take a Gamble on Joe Nathan.

Yesterday it was announced that the Texas Rangers came to terms with former Twins closer Joe Nathan. The deal was for 2 years with $7 million annually. There also was a team option for 2014.

$7 million dollars is a lot of money to pay a closer, it’s especially a lot for a closer who’s 37 years old and who had a down year after coming off of Tommy John Surgery. In 44 games last year Joe Nathan was worthe a wopping 0 WAR. That’s right, 0 WAR. His ERA, FIP and xFIP were 4.84, 4.28 and 3.96. Not exactly good numbers. His 22.5 K% was 4.1% below career average but his BB% wasn’t affected as a result. One thing that is concerning though was the spike in HR/9 that he gave up. For his career he gave up .86 HR/9 but this past year he gave up 1.41, not a number you want to see. Next season Bill James sees Nathan having a bounce back year, posting a 2.35 ERA and 2.97 FIP. While Nathan could do that I think it’s more more reasonable to see an ERA north of 3.

Relievers are never a sure thing though. In 2011 the top 5 relievers were as follows:

Craig Kimbrel: 2.10 ERA, 1.52 FIP, 1.94 xFIP

Jonathan Papelbon: 2.94 ERA, 1.53 FIP, 2.16 xFIP

Sean Marshall: 2.26 ERA, 1.86 FIP, 2.50 xFIP

David Robertson: 1.08 ERA, 1.84 FIP, 2.46 xFIP

Mariano Rivera: 1.91 ERA, 2.19 FIP, 2.64 xFIP

2010:

Carlos Marmol: 2.55 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 2.83 xFIP

Brian Wilson: 1.81 ERA, 2.19 FIP, 2.85 xFIP

Heath Bell: 1.93 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 2.98 xFIP

Matt Belisle: 2.93 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 2.78 xFIP

Sean Marshall: 2.68 ERA, 2.28 FIP, 2.50 xFIP

2009:

Jonathan Broxton: 2.61 ERA, 1.97 FIP, 2.02 xFIP

Matt Thornton: 2.74 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 2.74 xFIP

Michael Wuertz: 2.63 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 2.57 xFIP

Andrew Bailey: 1.84 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 3.20 xFIP

Brian Wilson: 2.74 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 3.18 xFIP

I could keep going but as you can see the top 5 relief pitchers vary year by year for the most part. There are some pitchers that did repeat, in this 3 year span it was Brian Wilson and Sean Marshall. Nathan didn’t even crack the top 5 in 2009 in 2011. I’ll give him see leeway for 2011 but in 2009 he was totally healthy and didn’t crack the top 10.

If the Rangers were that desperate for a closer they should have looked at other options. Some think Jonathan Broxton may be burnt out but on an incentive laden deal he probably would have been a much better option.

$14 million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money for a relief pitcher, especially a pitcher who performed as poorly as Nathan did last year. The Rangers pretty much expect Nathan to return to his early days as a Twin and I just don’t think that’s possible at this point. The one good thing that comes out of this situation is that Neftali Feliz will finally join the rotation.

Justin Verlander didn’t Deserve the MVP

Today it was announced that Justin Verlander is the American League MVP. Many people that aren’t in the sabermetric community pegged Verlander as their MVP based on statistics that don’t tell us as much as sabermetrics. His 24 wins and 2.40 ERA are nice but he might not have even been the best pitcher in the American League. More on that later though. The other two main competitors for the award were Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.

Both Bautista and Ellsbury had great years. Bautista continued right where he left off from last seasona and Ellsbury was out to prove that he wasn’t an injury prone outfielder.

Offensively Ellsbury had his best season to date. His WAR was 9.4 but there are other factors that should be taken into account besides WAR. He was never regarded as someone with a lot of power, his previous career highs in home runs and ISO were 9 and .114 which was in 2008. He did have a .155 ISO in 2007 but that was in 33 games. This year, out of nowhere, he had a .230 ISO to go along with 32 home runs. There a few statistics that could be a contributing factor to the increasing power. First is his GB%. In 2008 his GB% was 51.7%, then in 2009 it was 50.1%. This year it dropped by roughly 7%, dropping to 43%. He also saw an increase in his LD%. In 2008 he had a 20.3% and in 2009 it was 17.7%. Fast forward to this year and it was 22.9%. His BB% and K% didn’t change much but his OBP was 14 points better than his career average. For the year he had a .376 OBP compared to a .362 for his career. His wOBA was also a career high, .402, .033 better than career average. One thing that really sets Ellsbury apart from everyone else is his defense. This past season Ellsbury had a 15.6 UZR, only behind his 2008 season where he had a 21.2 UZR. The point is Ellsbury is a really good defender.

The other player who had a great season was Jose Bautista. Check out my article I did earlier in the season about why I believe he’s the best player in baseball. It may not seem possible but Jose Bautista had an even better season then 2010. He posted an 8.3 WAR and developed into a well rounded offensive player. He saw a sharp spike in his BB% percentage, something to be expected after his crazy power outburst the year before. His BB% jumped from 14.6% to 20.2%. Due to the spike in his walks he saw a sharp increase in his OBP, going from .378 to .447. His ISO went from .357 to .306 but that doesn’t take away anything, .306 is ridiculous in it’s own right. An observation on why he saw a power drop could be contributed to the increase in GB% that he saw. His GB% went from 31.1% to 36.9%. Despite all of that he actually created runs 15% better then last year. In 2010 his wRC+ was 166 and this past season it was 181. Unlike Ellsbury, Bautista isn’t known as a defender. He played the majority of the year in RF where his UZR was -8.6.

Based on the information I have provided Ellsbury is the better MVP candidate, a big advantage Ellsbury that Ellsbury has is his defense.

We’re not done though, we still have to look at Justin Verlander. Verlander had an amazing season, I won’t take that away from him but he still didn’t deserve the MVP. Some would argue that he wasn’t even the best pitcher in the American League. At seasons end Verlander had compiled a 7 WAR and 2.99 FIP. One pitcher who was arguably better was Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Besides ERA C.C. Sabathia had a better FIP- as well as xFIP-. Sabathia’s FIP – was 69 and his xFIP- was 75. Verlander on the other hand had a FIP- of 73 and an xFIP- of 77. Besides the FIP and xFIP differentials Sabathia and Verlander were close in a bunch of other stats. Verlander struck out batters 2.4% more of the time. 25.8% to 23.4%. Their walk rates as well as HR/9 were similar as well. One thing that Verlander did have was an extremely low BABIP. Verlander’s was .236 compared to Sabathia’s .318 BABIP. Verlander was defientely more luck then Sabathia this season. Verlander also has the luxury of pitching in the must easier division.

The AL Central is much, much more easier to pitch in than the AL East. The AL East had three teams that would have been in the playoffs in any other division and a fourth team that could’ve won a division like the AL Central. Out of 24 of Verlander’s wins only 4 came against teams with above .500 records. Verlander also only played in roughly 22% of his teams games, not nearly enough to be considered the MVP. Based on how good the AL East is it should be even more impressive what Sabathia did during the course of the season. If that weren’t enough Sabathia had .1 more WAR than Verlander. Sabathia was at 7.1 and Verlander had 7. WAR shouldn’t be the only stat you use but it shows how good Sabathia was.

Based on all the information I presented you I would have to say Jacoby Ellsbury should have been MVP. He had an amazing offensive season as well as an amazing defensive season. The most valuable player is the player who gave his team the most value, and this year that was Boston Red Sox center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury

Andrew McCutchen: Extension Candidate

In 2009 Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen made his major league debut. Since then he’s been one of the game’s better outfielders. Last year he began taking the steps towards being one of the games elite.

In 2009 McCutchen gave the league a glimpse of what his potential is. Right off the bat he showed plate disapline, power, the ability to get on base and speed. In the minors McCutchen had what would be a league average BB% for the majority of the time he spent down there. Only once did he have a BB% greater than 10%, most of the time it was in the 8% range. In 493 plate appearances McCutchen walked 11% of the time, a nice surprise for the Pirates. He displayed power throughout the minors but in over 120 games per minor league level he never had an ISO higher than .155. He had a 189 ISO over 49 triple A games in 2009 but that’s a pretty small sample size. In his rookie season he posted a .189 ISO and has continued to post ISO numbers over .160. He did and still does do a good job at getting on base. When he came into the league he posted a .365 OBP, right around what he did in the minors. Finally, speed. McCutchen has brought some much-needed speed to a poor Pirates line-up, something he’s always had. To top it all off he produced 3.5 WAR that year, for a rookie I’ll take that any day of the week.

Looking at this past season McCutchen has kept improving. He posted career highs in BB%, ISO, WAR and wRC+. His BB% was up to 13.1%, his K% did increase to 18.6 % though. Previously he’s posted K%’s of 16.8% and 13.6%, but sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. His ISO was at .198 this year, his previous best was his rookie season. He also saw a 4% increase in his wRC+ from his 2009 and 2010 seasons. His .360 wOBA is generally around the 75th percentile, if he could improve that number he’d be even better. He also had a wRC+ of 125, this past season he had a 129. If that wasn’t a testament to how good he was he had 5.7 WAR, a 2.2 WAR increase over the last two seasons. Each season he had a 3.5 WAR.

I couldn’t find a great comparison for McCutchen but I did take a look at how he compared to free agent shortstop Jose Reyes. If we look at Jose Reyes and Andrew McCuthen from 2008-2011 you’ll realize they’re hardly different. I choose 2008 because Reyes was hurt in ’09.

During that span McCutchen has the better BB%, ISO, OBP, OPS, wOBA and wRC+. While the differences aren’t huge they are still differences. Both are quite similar players and if Reyes is rumored to want over $100 million and he gets that $100 million that could be a baseline of what McCutchen may be worth in the next year or so.

Now the question is do the Pirates give him that money or do they trade him. This past season the Pirates had a nice run and they were leading the division at one point. In the end they finished 24 games back from first place. In the draft though they got future ace Garrett Cole in the draft last year along with Josh Bell, a really good outfield prospect. They also have pitcher Jameson Tallion from last years draft. The Pirates have their share of prospects but will they pan out in time to show the McCutchen that the Pirates are about winning?

If I’m Pittsburg I sign him in a heart beat. He’s 25 years old and still hasn’t entered his prime. If they can lock him up for a 5-6 year deal at $14 million a year or so then they have to do it. McCutchen will only improve and as he gets better he’ll just keep getting more expensive and as Pittsburg as showed recently, they don’t like spending money on their players.

Josh Willingham, not Cuddyer Should be Teams Focus

This off-season the outfield free agents aren’t that great. There are some solid ones though like Carlos Beltran, Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham. While the two players are nearly identical Willingham is the better player. They both hit from the right side of the plate. Both are in their lower 30s, they both can hit for power. For the most part Willingham has been the more successful player, posting WARs between 2-3 for 5 seasons. Cuddyer has posted WARs between 2 and 3 himself but between those years he’s had a ,8 WAR season and 0 WAR season. The 0 WAR season was due to injury but he still played 70+ games that year.

Since 2006 both players have been nearly identical.

Name   G PA H       SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA       WAR
Josh Willingham   771 3109 696       29 11.3 % 21.0 % .216 .298 .262 .361 .478 .365       14.8
Michael Cuddyer   814 3446 848       40 9.0 % 16.9 % .184 .307 .275 .347 .459 .351       12.3

Cuddyer has been the slightly more durable player but during the 2004 and 2005 seasons Willingham only played a combined 28 games. Willingham has shown better power, the ISO differential is .032. Willingham also has a higher OBP and BB%. Cuddyer’s plate discapline is much better then Willingham’s, he struck out 4.1% during that span. The BABIP results aren’t that signifacant at all, Cuddyer’s .307 BABIP is a sustainable number so nothing can be taken from that. Willingham has also produced more WAR over that time span. Besides Cuddyer’s SB, K% and PA Willingham has proven to be the better player.

Why are teams more interested in Cuddyer then? Cuddyer is a much more versatile player then Willingham. Since 2009 Cuddyer has played 1,370 innings at first base, he played 140 innings at second base last season and 107 innings at third base in 2010. He did play 1,154 innings at third baseb between 2004 and 2005 but I doubt he’d play third unless needed. His normal position is right field so he’s gotten a ton of innings in the outfield. Besides the offensive production that right there is a big reason why teams may be more interested in Cuddyer.

Willingham will probably prove to be the cheaper option though. In 2011 Willingham made $6 million dollars, Cuddyer made $10.5 million. Cuddyer is rumored to be looking for a 3 year deal worth more than $30 million dollars. Willingham should be able to be had for a 2-3 year deal at $8 million annually. Neither player will transfrom whatever team they go to but both will be solid players who should be able to produce between 2 and 3 WAR a season. Teams that are looking to get a solid outfield option should defiantly take a look at Willingham.

Twins Sign Ryan Doumit

Today it was announced that the Minnesota Twins and free agent Ryan Doumit came to terms to a one year, three million dollar deal. Doumit can play a variety of positions. He can catch, play first, play the outfield and DH. Doumit will be able to give Morneau and Mauer days off during the the season or fill be able to fill in for someone if an injury occurs.

Doumit is known more for his offense rather then his defense. The Twins didn’t sign him for his defense but going to the AL which has the DH should help give him a little boost in the offensive category. The Twins will take all of the offensive help they can get. Besides Joe Mauer the Twins got awful production from their catchers last year.

Doumit out produced Drew Butera and Rene Rivera in K%, BB/K, OBP, SLG, OPS, ISO, BABIP, wRAA, wOBA and wRC+. If you look at this table you’ll be able to see that Doumit destroyed those categories. Rivera and Butera were really pathetic.

Name Team PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO   BABIP   wRAA wOBA wRC+
Ryan Doumit Pirates 236 6.8 % 14.8 % 0.46 .303 .353 .477 .830 .174   .331   8.3 .360 129
Drew Butera Twins 254 4.3 % 16.5 % 0.26 .167 .210 .239 .449 .073   .194   -23.0 .202 20
Rene Rivera Twins 114 7.0 % 28.1 % 0.25 .144 .211 .202 .412 .058   .194   -11.2 .192 13 

For his career Doumit has been a solid player when healthy. He has decent power, posting a .174 ISO. He does a good job at getting on base, his career OBP is .334. His 104 wRC+ is slightly above league average but Doumit is a slightly above league average player. Like I stated earlier he isn’t a good defensive player but makes up for it offensively. Doumit should be able to put up at least 2 WAR this season giving the Twins $10 million dollars of value. If Doumit can come into Minnesota and do what he’s good at which is getting on base, hitting for some power and being a versatile player then Minnesota got a good deal.

So far I’ve liked what the Twins have done this off-season. They got a quality shortstop in Jamey Carroll and a solid versatile offensive player in Ryan Doumit. With about $20 million dollars left to spend they should be able to at least get an outfielder and a decent pitcher.

Did Nick Markakis Peak too Early?

3 seasons ago Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis was regarded as one of the games best players. Since then he’s been a little bit better then average. Did he hit his peak early and is now declining or is there something else going on?

In 2008 Markakis had his best season in the majors. He had 6.3 WAR and a .389 wOBA. He also showed that he had solid power, putting up a .185 wOBA. He showed that he also has a good eye at the plate, walking 14.2% of the time. Thanks to his good eye at the plate, among other factors Markakis had a slash line of .306/.406/.491. In 2008 his .350 BABIP was unusually high so there’s evidence to suggest that he just wasn’t that good. He was seeing the fastball really well, he was worth 25 runs against it. If Markakis was doing so good what caused the decline?


 

The first thing that jumps out at you is the declining ISO numbers that Marakis experiences. One of the main factors that can indicate a player is on the decline is if a player’s power numbers are down. For Markakis that’s been the outcome the last three seasons. In 2008 Markakis’ .350 BABIP was highly unsustainable. The second highest BABIP Markakis posted was .331. He did that two times. In 2007 he had a 4.3 WAR and .185 ISO. In 2010 he did it again but only posted a .138 ISO and 2.6 WAR.

If you look even closer you’ll notice two stats that could point directly to Markakis’ struggles. Those stats are O-Swing% and O-Contact%. These stats tell us how often a batter swings at pitches outside the strike zone and how often he makes contact with pitches outside the zone. Markakis’ O-Contact is the disturbing one. For 2010 league average for O-Contact% was 66.5%. The 2011 average shouldn’t be too far off. As you can tell Markakis has steadily increased his O-Contact% the last three years. As a result statistics like ISO, OBP and wOBA have declined. I haven’t done any tests but I imagine there must be some sort of correlation there. If Markakis can stop making contact with bad pitches he might be able to be back to being a productive hitter.

xBABIP projects Markakis to have a .320 BABIP next season which is right at his .323 career norm. xH (Expected hits) says he’ll get 193 hits next season. His xAVG, xOBP and xSLG are .301/.366/.423. Besides the SLG that’s right around career average. If he keeps swinging at bad pitches and never gets his power back Markakis will never be a 4 WAR player again. While he could be a servicable player it would be a shame if he peaked too early, he could have been one of the games better outfielders.