Archive | December 2012

Mentoring Troubled GMs: Josh Byrnes

I recently volunteered some time to a very important cause. MLB has set up a network of mentors for at-risk GMs in inner-city neighborhoods. I drew the tough task of mentoring a troubled but talented young fellow named Josh Byrnes. It should be noted that I think the chap has potential, and has pulled off some killer trades. But some of the peripheral stuff that got him fired in Arizona may be resurfacing. In our first meeting I bought him a Happy Meal and made sure to give him some good advice.

1. Closers Are Easy to Find

If your team doesn’t have much money, don’t sign an injury-prone closer with middling stuff to a long term deal. Did you know that anyone can close? It’s true! Any league average reliever can be installed as closer and achieve success at the position. Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson are great examples of shitty pitchers who get lots of those “Saves” everyone still thinks are so neat. $7MM a year for Huston Street? Brad Brach, Miles Mikolas, Dale Thayer; just stick one of ’em in there. It’s all about opportunity.

Here’s a related tip: It’s best to have your top setup guy be the best reliever in your pen. That way you can deploy him when you need to prevent runs most, rather than just when leading in the ninth inning. The Giants kept Sergio Romo as their 8th inning guy even after Wilson went down, instead turning to Santiago Casilla in the 9th, because Romo is more dependable.

2. Short on Cash? Save For What’s Important.

If your team doesn’t have much money, then don’t sign an injury-prone (geez this sounds familiar) leftfielder who is 20 runs below average on defense. Carlos Quentin’s WAR was worse than Jamey Carroll’s last year. Oh, did you just barf in your mouth? Me too. Yes, $30MM over three seasons for Quentin is a bargain to the market in general, but sort of irresponsible when you have a franchise player you need to re-sign.

3. It’s okay to non-tender bad players.

Why tender a bad defender (lousy at 1B and horrific in the outfield), with a terrible track record of health at a position of organizational depth? Matt Clark is already rotting at AAA. If you would have just protected Nate Frieman instead of Jaff Decker in the rule 5, you’d have had another younger, healthy option within the organization, for less money. Freiman and Clark also both carry the added benefit of having had success at baseball recently. Something neither Decker nor Blanks can claim.

4. In the Rule 5: Protect Players Other Teams Might Actually Select

Decker will never have any value at the MLB level. Did you really think another team would be so desperate for a bad bodied corner outfielder who produced an ISO of .109 last year that they would put him on their Opening Day roster? Having more than a one-step plan at any given time would help with these kinds of moves.

5. Have more than a one-step plan.

Two or even three-step plans are much more complicated, but trust me, it’s worth the extra work. Don’t just do stuff so it seems like you’re working.

6. Get the Most Out of Trading Prospects

Don’t trade a top of the line hitting prospect (Anthony Rizzo) for a fireballer (Andrew Cashner) and then not turn him into a starter. Just make sure that when Cashner comes back you put him in that rotation, Byrnes-y.

7. Don’t Overreact.

The kind of disaster that you faced last year with pitching depth is probably never going to happen again. You don’t need starting pitching depth, you need a right-fielder. Will Venable is a platoon player whose platoon partner, Chris Denorfia, is a horrible defender.

Here are your internal candidates for the rotation: Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Anthony Bass, Casey Kelly, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross and Jason Marquis. Plus, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Andrew Cashner will be coming back from injury before the All-Star break to add depth as the season goes, should a string of injuries unfold.

I’m not counting Robbie Erlin becuase you don’t want to start his service-time clock just yet. But since you already had to start Casey Kelly’s I’m expecting him to be in the rotation in 2013.

8. No More Brother-Brother Shit

You’re not writing scripts for Disney movies. I know that Joe/Tyson Ross are your first set of brothers, but the organization has been doing this for years and nobody thinks it’s cute anymore. (Chris/Tony Gwynn, Edgar/Adrian Gonzalez, Marcus/Brian Giles, Scott/Jerry Hairston.) Come to think of it, the sons of former big leaguers thing needs to be shut down, too. Unless the player is actually good, this is just a sad cry for attention.

9. Don’t Extend 36 Year-Old, Replacement Level Players

Are you kidding me!? Mark Kotsay!? You have Venable, Denorfia and Guzman on this team. You could have kept Tekotte (he hits left-handed). Kotsay has been at or below replacement level for five out of the last seven seasons. You couldn’t just let him walk? Don’t say it’s because of leadership intangibles, that’s what coaches are for. Players need to contribute value on the field.

10. Get Bats

If you had non-tendered Venable and Blanks, and not extended Street ($7MM), then not signed Jason Marquis, you could have signed Brandon McCarthy or Dan Haren, and then packaged a surplus young SP for a rightfielder. For some inspiration, call up Billy Beane a call and ask him to tell you about how he stole Josh Reddick. I’m not sure what the Pirates wanted for Starling Marte last season, but it might have been worth it.

For an organization that struggles dearly to lure FA hitters, you have to develop and trade for offense. Let the pitchers flock to their paradise as they will naturally want to do.

Conclusion

All in all Josh-y, you have done a very good job at coming out ahead in trades. But the rest of the decisions need work. See, there’s a reason your job title is not “Trade Master.” You have to learn how to manage the team in general. See what I did there? Let’s talk again soon huh, Red?

[RA ROWE]

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Dodgers: $240MM of Uncertainty

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Over the past six months, the Los Angeles Dodgers have sent a clear message to their fans and their competition, as to how they will be conducting business moving forward. The approach is simple: “Spend Huge.” It is as un-nuanced a plan as can be devised, but even still, there are many question marks twisting behind the classic, rigid serifs of the linking “L” and “A,” and not just for this year.

The Rotation

The Dodgers have a 1-2 punch that will rival that of the Giants, after adding Zack Greinke. But after the new righty, the drop-off is steep. Chad Billingsley strained his UCL in the middle of last season. And fact that this injury has healed without surgery should not entirely settle concerns about the stout right-hander. UCL strains are a warning sign that the ligament is compromised.

Speaking of compromise, Josh Beckett will almost certainy be in the rotation to start the season, and I find it interesting that even among the most optimistic Dodger fans, there is little delusion about how mediocre a pitcher Josh Beckett is. He has been sliding for some time and depending on how that trend continues in 2013, the Dodgers may be forced to slide him out of the rotation.

The Dodger’s also signed Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin to a six year deal worth $36MM. But it remains to be seen whether he will actually be capable of starting in the big leauges. And given the fact that his fastball sits at about 91 mph, it will be interesting to find out if he can do anything more than stick as a left-handed specialist. The deal looks like a steal for a 25 year-old starter, but $36MM is a lot to spend for a LOOGY.

As far as any question marks with Greinke go, do not pay them any heed. The righty is one of the most consistent and competent pitchers of the last five years. He is a fierce competitor and has a clean, athletic delivery, which has helped him maintain ace stuff. Those members of the media that still point to his history of anxiety issues are simply ignoring the fact that this young man has excelled amid the constant pressure of the Major Leagues, without significant incident, since 2006.

The other thing the rotation has going for it is that Los Angeles still has Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang on their roster. So, even if Beckett and Ryu fail, the floor for the rotation remains high. If nothing else, this should make for one of the more fascinating position battles when spring rolls around.

Declining Stars

IHowever if you want to talk about stars with issues, Los Angeles has plenty of conversation starters. After signing Andre Ethier to a decent, but questionable deal, Ned Coletti stole Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez from limping Goliaths in exchange for major salary relief. In 2013, the Dodgers will pay Carl Crawford enough money to make Mitt Romney blush, and they will hope that 2011 was an aberration. Crawford is the biggest question mark, but that’s okay. At worst he should be a league average left-fielder with some speed. What the Dodgers can’t afford is for Adrian Gonzalez’s power to continue to fade, while Hanley Ramirez continues to swing more and more recklessly.

A-Gon’s isolated power (ISO) has been consistently sinking from a lofty .270 in 2009, to .164 in 2012, finishing just ahead of Mariners 3B Kyle Seager.  A whole season of the .145 figure from his time with the Dodgers last year would have placed Gonzalez between Norichika Aoki and Neil Walker. Meanwhile, at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez saw his production rebound nicely from a disastrous 2011 campaign, but swung at pitches out of the zone 30.5% of the time, his first season breaching 30%. It’s easy to pitch around a batter who swings at pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile Hanley’s defense was 10 runs below average for the third straight season at shortstop, and was nearly as poor at third base.

The Money

You knew it was coming. Last month it was widely reported the Dodgers were close to completing a $6B dollar TV-deal with Fox. What has been less widely reported is that the Dodger ownership group may have misunderstood the language in their deal with MLB, regarding what income is put into the shared revenue pool. The Dodgers believed that their ownership stake in the network would have protected all but $1 billion of the TV deal from revenue sharing. The actual figure is twice as large, according to Forbes. This has the Dodgers scrambling to figure out how to maximize television revenues, perhaps abandoning the deal with Fox entirely. This should send Dodgers fans into a bit of a panic, and has already sent me rolling on the floor laughing.

Dodger fans can be as proud as they want that their team is now seemingly flush with cash, and they can be as proud as they want about what this team may accomplish on the field. But I hope that Dodger fans realize that they is not much to be proud of regarding the way this team was put together. It was not built with cunning and patience, but with blunt force. This is why L.A. has to gamble on stars with problems. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez could just as easily crush this team as carry it. Aside from the Zack Greinke signing and Matt Kemp’s extension (both total no-brainers), there are no reasons to dispense “Coletti for Mayor” bumper stickers. The bright side is that the gunslinging mentality that has changed the Dodgers completely, may not have any effect on competitive balance in the NL West.

Know Your Trade Candidate: Ubaldo Jimenez

weak front side = no ground balls

Picture of Ubaldo Jimenez’ super weak front side courtesy of the Associated Press.

Even with this season’s weak free agent class, there were deals to be found for the rotation in need of an excellent arm. Brandon McCarthy, Dan Haren and Shawn Marcum were probably the best high-upside bargains. While Marcum is still out there, Washington was able to snag Haren on a one-year “prove-it” deal worth $13MM, and McCarthy signed a back-loaded two year pact worth $15.5MM, heading to Arizona. With options dwindling it seems increasingly likely that teams looking to improve for less dough will have to part with more than money by exploring upgrades via trade.

The Candidate

One of the worst players on the block market is Ubaldo Jimenez. Many fans may remember him from his electric first half in 2010. But he is no longer that pitcher. Though just 28 years old, the right-hander’s skills are fading rapidly. In 2012 he was one of just three starters to throw 175 innings or more, and still produce less than .5 WAR.

Click to nerd out on numbers. Stats from Fangraphs.

Click to nerd out on numbers. Stats from Fangraphs.

Heater in Trouble

Ubaldo Jimenez’s average fastaball velocity was the highest among starting pitchers from 2008-2010, peaking at 96 mph. That was in 2009. Last season, his heater clocked a tic below Jeremy Guthrie’s at 92.5 mph. The Major League average was 91.8 mph. In terms of pitch values, Ubaldo’s fastball was 18 runs worse than average last year. What happens when a fireballer loses his fireball?

For Jimenez, it has meant doubling the use of his change-up (18% of the time), and adding a splitter in 2010. He has also relied more heavily on a two seam fastball (its slower avg velocity does not count against that of the four seamers). But the effort to shift away from his most troubled offering has not paid off.

The Deeper Problem

Felix Hernandez was tops with an average fastball velocity of 96 mph in 2007. Last season, his heater averaged 92.4 mph. But Felix hasn’t struggled through his velocity dip. What is different about Jimenez?

Hernandez has great control and terrific secondary stuff. Over time, Ubaldo’s slider has lost depth, and hitters have become more selective against him, while he has become more erratic. In 2008, Jimenez’ slowest pitch was 20 mph behind his fastball. That differential shrunk to 15 mph in 2012. The real setback has been an inability to keep the ball on the ground.

To have your splitter produce groundballs just 35.6% of the time, which Ubaldo accomplished last season, is a special feat on its own. But his fastball and slider each produced ground balls at a rate below 30%, something none of his pitches had done before 2012. The collapse of his GB%, and rising BB/9, along with the fact that hitters no longer have to worry about the steep differential between his pitch velocities, have combined to destroy a pitcher who seemed headed for stardom.

If your team trades for Ubaldo, hope the Indians pay that salary and that you only have to give up a fringe prospect or a spare part to get him. While certainly not disastrous (because of the low projected cost of completing a swap), any deal for Jimenez will be a waste of time.

The Bright Side

Maybe time travel will become commercially available at some point during the 2013 season, and a lucky GM can go grab 25-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, passing him off as the late model for long enough to make a push for the post season. Personally, I’ll be going back for a 19 year old Satchel Paige, but I’m a little old fashioned.

[RA Rowe]

*All amazing stats by amazing Fangraphs

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