Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bullpen Thoughts

In honour of the Blue Jays signing Frank Francisco and Jason Frasor yesterday, I thought it would be worth taking a look at exactly what the re-vamped bullpen means for the 2011 Jays.

Last season, the Blue Jays ranked 20th in terms of WAR from relivers (Via Fangraphs) with 2.2 WAR. for perspective, no playoff team in either league finished the regular season with lower than 2.7 WAR (Phillies). For further reference, here are the RP WARs from all playoff teams: Twins (3.0), Yankees (3.6), Reds (3.7), Rays (4.0), Rangers (4.5), Giants (6.2) and the Braves (6.7).

Clearly, the Jays required a significant upgrade to compete with these clubs. The Bullpen WAR leaders were the Padres, who amassed a whopping 7.8 WAR from their relievers. That's 5.6 Wins more over the course of a season. If the Jays added 5 wins to their 2010 total, they would have sat at 89 wins, and would have been knocking on the door for the playoffs right up to the final weeks.

Here's where it gets even more complicated: Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg accounted for exactly 2.0 WAR, and both of those pitchers are now with other clubs. Clearly, the Jays needed to add quality and quantity in order to be more competitive. (Aside from their desire to protect their young pitchers, a side benefit that can not be discounted.)

Keeping in mind that WAR overvalues saves for relievers, let's look at what can be expected of the 2011 Jays Relievers:

First, the returnees:

Jason Frasor: Had his best season in terms of WAR in 2009 (when he had 11 saves) and posted a 1.4, his final 2010 number was 0.9, which is in-line with his career average of 0.8 WAR/season. The 0.8 is dragged down by some injury seasons, so expecting at least 1 WAR from Frasor is not at all unreasonable.

Shawn Camp: A man who is loved by fans and broadcasters, yet his SABR numbers are terrible. After what many considered a good season, he only managed to add 0.3 WAR. His FIP was 4.16, and he pitched 72.1 innings. In '08 and '09 he added 0.7 WAR per season, so it's not unreasonable to expect similar numbers going forward.

David Purcey: Only logged 34 innings last season, so unsurprisingly he only amassed 0.2 WAR. His numbers are additionally repressed by his high walk totals. Hard to know what to expect, but pro-rated over a fuller workload (almost double?) he could be up to 0.5

New additions:

Octavio Dotel: Dotel only managed to accumulate 0.1 WAR in 2010, but his 0.8 in Chicago in 2009 was respectable for a set-up man. Dotel hasn't been the same pitcher he was prior to 2004, when he regularly posted WARs above 1.5. If he is limited to use as a ROOGY, he should post somewhere between 0.5 and 0.8 WAR.

Jon Rauch: Rauch was actually quite impressive for the 2010 Twins. He accumulated 1.1 WAR, and an FIP of 2.94. He spent most of the year closing games due to the Joe Nathan injury, and then was a set-up man for Matt Capps. Rauch has consistently been a 0.7-1.0 WAR contributor, and will again provide good value at the back of the Bullpen.

Carlos Villanueva: He has options, and I could see him spending some time on a plane, along with Casey Janssen. He could also be a useful swingman if he makes the team. Never posted higher than 0.4 WAR as a reliever. I'm less excited about him now than when the trade was made. Still, a good depth guy.

Frank Francisco: Likely the favourite to emerge as closer. 1.5, 1.1 and 1.0 are his last three season's WAR totals. If he can stay healthy (a not insignificant IF) and remain at closer, he should easily post similar, if not better numbers.

Those are the 7 players I expect to break camp in the 'pen. They should be worth 4.5-5.5 WAR over a season, assuming health. If Purcey and/or Villanueva can take a step forward, this group would be fearsome. Even assuming that some players don't match career norms, this is a group that will still be useful, deep and a good fall-back for a young and inexperienced starting group.

Further to that, I believe that relief pitching was 2010's market inefficiency, and some of the saavyer GMs are moving quickly to correct their prior stance. The Padres used their 'pen to almost get into the post-season, despite pre-season projections having them in the basement of the entire NL. Aside from the Padres, Boston, Florida, Arizona and LAA have all made moves to shore up their relief corps.

Clearly Anthopoulos realized both a team weakness, and a market inefficiency. I look forward to the improved depth in the 'Pen. In fact, after this exercise, I have a newfound respect for the effects that a bullpen can have on a team. I used to be of the belief that the only important pitchers were the 5 starters and the closer. As it turns out, it takes a lot more than that to make any kind of run at the playoffs.

Friday, January 28, 2011

State of the Franchise: Blue Jays

So, at last night's state of the FrenchFries event for season ticket holders, Shi Davidi reported that Paul Beeston is boasting that the Blue Jays can potentially support a future payroll of $150 Million!

This is one of my primary arguments as a blogger. I consider it my best argument to date, For reference:

-Starting here (Part 1) I looked at how the big spenders generate money for payroll.
-I followed up with some Forbes data here (part 2) but this was the most underwhelming post in the series.
-I concluded here (Part 3) with a deeply in depth look at where the Blue Jays can, and do, generate revenue. I had compared it to some of the other big spending clubs (most notably the Yankees and Red Sox) and concluded that the team could easily afford to spend $150-$160 Million in payroll, and still be a profitable contributor to the Rogers Media Empire.

The other thing that I've noticed is the ever-increasing attention that the Rogers Media division is paying to the Baseball Club. Rogers Sportsnet hired Buck Martinez to do weekday play-by-play. He has been excellent. Buck brings a dramatically increased level of credibility to the Jays broadcasts. Hopefully, in time, this will draw more local fans.

Something else has happened on a local level. (Sportsnet Radio) The Fan 590 have hired Jeff Blair to handle the Mid-Morning airwaves. He continuously brings on high-quality baseball guests (Alex Anthopoulos, John Farrell, Paul Beeston in the last week. Jon-Paul Morosi and Jonah Keri and Jon Rauch the week prior) This continues to increase the level of sophistication of the average Toronto baseball fan, and again, adds credibility to the Franchise.

When people talk about the buzz that this team has been generating, I think that little moves like those get far too overlooked. Considering that it is the same company that owns all three entities (The Team, The TV Network and the Radio Station) it's nice to see that they are maximizing their (probably) most profitable asset. By building the brand in this manner, the Jays will continue to see ratings growth on TV and Radio. Ratings growth translates directly to better advertising revenue. More revenue can be used to fund bigger payroll. All of this has a further spill off, increased live attendance.

Make no mistake. This is a team that is on the rise, and is about to become a dominant player in the Toronto Sports scene. The state of the franchise is: Excellent and getting better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Offense Scmoffense...


It's been a roller-coaster couple of days for our local Major League Baseball team, and now that the dust is settling, I thought I could (finally/hopefully) take a look at the projected roster and see what to expect from the 2011 Jays.

The pitching has an opportunity to be stellar. Here is my projected rotation, along with reasonable WAR projections.

Romero (4-5)
Morrow (4-5)
Cecil (3-4)
Drabek (2-3)
Rzepczinski/Litsch/Mills/Richmond/Stewart etc. (1?)

There are enough quality starters in the system to form a formidable rotation, that will be capable of eating major innings at well above replacement level. Not that they will be required to, as the bullpen will now be almost equally deep, despite lacking a "dominant closer"

Reyes (Out of options, likely serves as long man/swing man)

Projecting individual reliever WAR is a total crap shoot, as their performance varies too widely. Both on an outing-to-outing basis, and on a year-to-year basis. The top 7 RPs from the 2010 jays accumulated less than 4 WAR combined. The San Diego Padres, who lived on their 'pen in 2010 managed to get nearly 6 WAR from their top 3 alone. I am confident that this year's Jays Bullpen will contribute 5-6 WAR.

Here's where things get interesting: The Offensive side of the ball:

R Davis- In 2009, he was worth 3.3 WAR. In 2010, only 1.2. Which player shows up will go a long way to determining the 2011 Blue Jays team success. His defense will ensure that he is a positive WAR contributor. I have him listed here as lead off assuming he can re-create his 2009 numbers.

Y Escobar-His worst full-season WAR was last year's 2.2. He had his career best 4.3 in 2009. Another player whose defense assures him positive WAR status, his bat will be critical in setting the table for the Jays.

J Bautista- He is average-above average at 3B, but he prefers playing RF, where his arm is great, but his range is not. He is an enormous question mark for the Jays, as his WAR swung from 1.9 to 6.9 over the last 2 years. Splitting the difference leaves a 4.5 WAR, which I think is a safe projection.

A Lind- Another player who needs to rebound. Even if Lind plays a below-average or even bad level of defense, his value gets a huge boost thanks to a positional adjustment (about a full win in fact...) I feel like he can be decent, though he was the only Jays regular to post a negative WAR in 2010. His 3.5 WAR from 2009 would be great. Who knows what to expect from him.

A Hill- I am 100% certain that he will rebound in a big way. He set a record for lowest Batting-Average-On-Balls-In-Play last year, and if he takes some loft out of his swing, I can't see his average dipping below .280. To keep things consistent, his 2010 WAR: 1.1 2009: 3.9

E Encarnacion- In every season but 2009, Encarnacion has managed to overcome his defensive inadequacies to post about 2 WAR. I'm using that as my projection, assuming he gets 600 plate appearances.

T Snider- Another question mark. Travis could post WAR totals in the 7s if he translated his minor league success to the Majors. As it stands, his career high is the 1.5 WAR from 2010. I'm going to use that as the low-side projection, and estimate that he could get to 5 on the high side. This is the most speculative I'm going to be here, but it would be unfair to use such a small sample of historical data against Travis.

J Rivera- Will start in Right or Left field, depending on how John Farrell likes his arm. At his best, he's about a 3 WAR player. At his worst, about 0.5. I'd expect somewhere in the middle, which makes him more than useful.

JP Arencibia- Another wild card. His AAA stats, if duplicated at the MLB level would yield 6+ WAR. Scouting reports don't believe in his ability to hit for average however. He also has a lot of learning to do. Despite his terrific debut, he struggled the rest of the season, and finished with a -.01 WAR (basically, he was replacement level) I'll give him an upside of 2 WAR, which is also blind speculation.

If you're still with me, we can now project some of this into useful numbers. Smarter people than me have calculated that a team of Replacement Level players will, on average, win about 45 games. It's an inexact science, but you can then add the total WAR projections to see where the 2011 Jays should end up:

Best case- Everyone performs to their career/last few season's highs:

Pitcher WAR: 26
Batter WAR: 33

Total Expected Wins: 104. This is really a Utopian scenario, which requires every player to perform at their absolute peak. Nice to know it's possible, but completely unlikely.

Worst Case- Everyone regresses:

Pitcher WAR: 19
BatterWAR: 10.4 (Round to 10)

Least expected win total: 74. Because the team has such strong pitching and defense, they will be able to overcome regression by many of the regulars.

What astonishes me, however, is the wide swing when trying to project this team. On paper, they should be competitive. The mid-point between my 2 projections is 89 wins, which would likely put them in contention for a wild card.

Since this is bad math, and bad science, I'm sure that it's overly optimistic. The 2011 Jays have a lot of learning to do, and if they learn quickly, they could be very good, very soon.

Spring training is only 3 weeks away. We won't have to wait long to find out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

3 of top 50!

Jonathan Mayo and the MLB network provided a review of their top 50 prospects tonight (Tues. Jan 25/11) and the Jays had some representation:

J.P. Arencibia: ranked at #48, and got favorable reviews as an offensive minded catcher. All reviews were positive, although doubtful that he could provide much average. considering he hit .302 in AAA last year, I think he will surprise some scouts based on his improved vision (Post laser-eye surgery) I feel like he'll be a .270-.280 hitter and contribute 25-30 Home runs. Get excited, as last year he was almost written off...

Brett Lawrie ranked at #28. All the analysts raved about his batting ability. They feel like his bat will play anywhere on the field, and Jonathan Mayo feels that he has the athleticism to play any position defensively. He even went so far as to say that he could stick at 2B, but that the Jays had a need at 3B, so he will be moved there.

Kyle Drabek was ranked # 12, with Mayo stating that his curve was the best in the minor leagues. Neither Hart nor Mayo was willing to commit to Drabek as a #1 pitcher, but called him an excellent #2 on a serious contender. Raved about the development of his cutter and change. If cutter and change develop fully, he could be a legitimate ace.

Fantastic for the Jays to have 3 of the top 50 prospects. With the strength of the Jays drafting last year, and the number of picks in next year's draft, the minor league system will continue to improve. The Jays are set up to be a great team for many years to come.

80 Jillion Right Handed Relievers

Well, If last year's bullpen gave you indigestion, this year... Well, it will probably still give you indigestion. But the Blue Jays will have lots of fall back options.

Let me start by saying: I DO NOT LIKE this move. I had made it clear, long before he even got here, that Napoli was a perfect insurance policy for a young team with question marks at C and 1B defensively. I finally thought someone was listening to me (Especially since the Jays fron office took my advice and brought Encarnacion back.) I was starting a post about this, when Anthopoulos must have realized I was onto him. He quickly made a sideways move to throw me off, and cut the safety net out from some of the team's higher-risk positions.

We now have 4 former Closers (Frasor, Rauch, Dotel and Francisco) in a 'pen that will likely have 7 pitchers. Purcey is the only for sure lefty, and there are at least a half-dozen options for the last 2 spots (Not the least of which is Shawn Camp.)

Why? This surplus of Righty Relievers add's ammo to my thought that a Jason Frasor trade will happen almost immediately after his arbitration settlement. The Dodgers were interested before he accepted arbitration, I would assume that they would still like to get him on a 1-year deal. Especially with the way the Relief market played out over the offseason. I could probably come up with at least 4 or 5 more teams that could use a player like Frasor, so I'm certain something is brewing.

As for Francisco, I see the logic in protecting a young group of starters with veteran relievers. He's low-risk, and may even qualify as a type-A if he closes for any amount of time this season. So there's that. A useful arm to have, but I'm underwhelmed.

Further to that, I'm concerned about where the offense will come from to support this entire cast of pitchers. Bautista is due for regression. Hill and Lind are wild cards at this point. Rajai Davis has ONE good season. Snider needs to re-create his minor league success. I'm worried that an over-emphasis on defense and pitching will turn this Jays team into the 2010 Mariners, who also ignored offense.

There needs to be another move here. Frasor+Rivera to the Dodgers for Casey Blake and Jon Broxton? That's my fantasy-league proposal. Dodgers need a RP and corner OF, Jays need a 3B. Any other teams need relievers and Corner OF? I'll look around and speculate on Twitter tonight (@5thStarter)

Until then.

Friday, January 21, 2011

He Saved $70 Million!

Alex Anthopoulos traded Vernon Wells tonight. In return he received Mike Napoli (Who I advocated for earlier in the offseason!) and Juan Rivera (Who despite a miserable 2010 season is a former All-Star)

In the process, and perhaps the biggest part of the deal, is the savings of at least $70 Million Dollars over the next 4 years. $70. Million. Dollars. SEVENTY!

I was doing this on Twitter earlier, so I thought I'd re-post here. What does $70 Million buy these days?

-3200 Pounds of Gold
-280 Lamborghini Gallardos,  or about 46 Ferrari Enzos
-29 Mint Condition Honus Wagner Baseball cars
-10 M1 Abrams Tanks
-The Phoenix Coyotes (or at least a controlling stake)
-1.9 Million Shares of Rogers (Hat tip to Rob Bland)
-The CN Tower cost $63 Million to build
-Several small Carribean Islands

Just somethings to consider as the Jays move forward. They have a LOT of money to spend. Whether that is on free agents, or the draft. $70 Million is a LOT of money.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reading between the Lines: Blue Jays Arbitration Decisions

I searched Google Images for "Arbitration" and how awesome is it that this was the image? I think it captures the baseball as a business angle nicely.

At any rate, the Jays made some business moves today, regarding arbitration filings. I think that there is some real unspoken information that can be gleaned from this:

-Jose Bautista is going to be a free agent after the 2011 season. The Jays are going to go to arbitration with him, and an arbitrator will award a 1-year guaranteed contract. There may be a small chance that the two parties can work out an extension during the season, but I'd wager that if Bautista is willing to go through the arbitration process, he'll likely want to try free agency. If the Jays stumble early, he'll be a big trade chip. I am assuming that he doesn't turn back into a pumpkin.

-The Blue Jays don't seem to want Jason Frasor very much. I feel bad saying it, but there was likely room to make a deal for both sides, and plenty of time to do so. Frasor is a solid-but-unspectacular reliever, and I felt like a deal could have been reached in the $3-4 Million range. There has been much written by my Jays-Blogging compatriots in the wake of the Jon Rauch (Rou-sh) signing, that the Jays Bullpen is overfull. Combined with the signing of Rauch, I'm hypothesizing that Frasor will be moved before the team comes north at the end of March. The Jays gambled on an extra pick by offering him arbitration, and had their bluff called. It may work out for them in the end, assuming they get a decent prospect in return.

-On Jon Rauch signing: Awesome. He is a big, bad man. If he can command his stuff, he will be a terrific addition. Caveat: He's mostly been an NL guy.

-The Jays moved quickly and decisively to agree to terms with 7 (Yes 7!) other players that were arbitration eligible. The list included: Janssen, Litsch, Camp, Morrow, Escobar and Davis. Impressive last minute negotiating. I haven't looked at all the agreements yet, but I like all of those players, and am excited to have them all back. (Several of my fantasy baseball team's fortunes are tied closely to Brandon Morrow's future success, so I have a geeky-rooting interest...)

EDIT: After the salary arbitration filinigs were made public, my suspicions are given even more credence regarding Frasor. They two sides are only $500,000 apart (That's a lot to you and I, but a pittance to an MLB Club) the fact that neither side was interested in a compromise makes me believe even more that The Jays aren't that interested in Frasor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

30 Days till Pitchers and Catchers report.

Into the dog days of winter, there is precious little to write about. The Jays continue to be linked to every free agent with a pulse, so I guess I should weigh in on that:

Eric Chavez is a great buy-low candidate. I would expect him to accept a minor-league deal for one year, and he would have a great chance to rebuild some value here. LAA could use him more, and may be willing to give him a major league deal, so I'm not getting too excited yet.

Brian Fuentes is not someone that I care to discuss. The Jays have enought quality arms at this point, and signing more veteran relievers, just to have veteran relivers, seems like a waste of money to me.

There are more reports (from Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes) that the Jays are still talking to Manny Ramirez. Where would he play? I'm committed to Encarnacion as the primary DH, and bringing in Manny pushes him to 3B, and we've all seen how that story unfolds. Pass (Unless the price tag is under $3M, and then, Why not? he'd at least bring a draft pick...)

Somehow I missed the Jays' signing of Chad Cordero. 2008 me is exstatic. 2011 me thinks he could still have something left, and there is no risk. Shrewd move? You never know with relievers.

1 Blue Jays Way caught wind of a list of 13 Blue Jays Minor Leaguers that got invitations to big-league camp (Here) I was surprised to see Deck McGuire on the list, maybe he makes a strong case and ends up as this years' Mike Leake? I was curious to see that AJ Jimenez (Catching prospect) got invited, but Carlos Perez (A more highly-touted Catching Prospect) did not. I wonder what the motive behind that was? I will be cheering for Eric Thames to earn a roster spot, and to prove that last year was no fluke. If he ends up in Vegas, I am predicting that he will win the PCL MVP. Keep up that Yoga Eric!

Also, it turns out that Tom Verducci, of Sports Illustrated doesn't like Brett Cecil's chances for the 2011 season. (Full Article Here) Brett increased his innings total by over 40 innings from the previous season, and Verducci says that almost always leads to injury or regression. I tried twitting Cecil, but he has been unavailable for comment to this point. (Or he doesn't want to get into it with Tom Verducci, who is a credible analyst...)

As the title indicates, there is only 30 days left until the unofficial start of Spring Training. There is still a plethora of unsigned free agents, so there should be more rumors to comment on. Until then!

Monday, January 10, 2011

So, I'm Back. Here's What I've learned:

Since I'm sure you all missed me so much, I thought I would re-announce my presence. The Dominican Republic is fantastic this time of year, for those of you who are curious. I thought I'd just do one big post to cover all of my baseball-related thoughts from the last week and a bit:

-Watching baseball in January is GREAT. The Dominican Winter League tournament was on TV every day while I was away. I have irrationally commited myself to becoming a fan of the Escogido Leones. I am putting it out there now: I WILL SUBSCRIBE TO ANY NETWORK THAT AIRS WINTER LEAGUE GAMES. (Just in case the team over at Rogers are following me.)

-On that note: Eury Perez is FAST. Like scary fast. If you have a chance, draft him in your fantasy pool.

-I also learnt something fun: In Spanish, the Texas Rangers are "Los Vigilates de Texas." This is a way cooler nickname.

- I know this because I saw the spanish news update for Los Vigilantes' signing of Adrian Beltre. I assume that the entire front office has come to hate Michael Young. Although they have informed him that he will not be traded, I can't imagine him finishing that contract in Arlington.

-Whatever happened to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Californa's pursuit of every available free agent? What a bad offseason for them.

-Matt Garza joined the AL Pitching migration West. I can't really figure this trade out. The Cubs have too many starters, who are mostly overpaid. The Rays have too many prospects, and added more. I feel like there must be another shoe left to drop here. Or not. The Rays do love to hoarde talent.

-In other AL East news, Baltimore continues to overpay relievers. Kevin Gregg needs to send Alex Anthopoulos a thank you card for declining his options. He managed to get more money and more years as a result. I never, ever thought I would write that after the options were declined.

-The Jays are looking at Brian Fuentes? a $5 Million/Year LOOGY? maybe he and Octavio can form a closer platoon? I get the feeling that this year's bullpen is going to be a "Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" kind of thing all year.

- Of no real consequence, a bartender on the catamaran tour we took claimed to have once played for a Blue Jays DSL affiliate, and mentioned that he still followed the team. Considering that the only name he gave me was "Casanova" I can not verify this in any way.

-As it turns out, reports of the Jays popularity in the D.R. appear to be fairly accurate. Several of the staff at our resort went out of their way to talk about the Blue Jays with me upon seeing my hat. At first I assumed that they were just being frinedly/looking for tips, but even a groundskeeper gave me a thumbs-up and a "Yea, Blooo-Yays," So I am going to make a great leap-of-logic and assume that there is still a fanbase there.

- If anyone knows where I can buy a fitted Escogido Leones Hat (Size 7 3/8"- Don't judge me, it's in proportion to my body...) please let me know ASAP. I will consider offering a finders fee.

-Hopefully now that I'm back, I can get back into the habit of posting regularly. I'm waiting for inspiration for another feature post. I also have a lot of catching up to do on news, so I'll probably have more thoughts as things happen.