Archive for November, 2007

A-Rod Contest Update

This is an update for those of you who participated in the “What Will A-Rod Get?” contest.

I’m nearly certain that A-Rod’s signing with the Yankees is going to happen, but I want to make sure that the deal goes down before I declare a winner. Look for an announcement shortly after the deal becomes official.

Say No To Mo

The most ridiculous contract given out by the Yankees this offseason isn’t going to Alex Rodriguez. Reports indicate that the team has agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with their long-time closer Mariano Rivera. He will not come close to contributing $15 million/year to his team.

Don’t get me wrong, Rivera is a very good pitcher, the only problem is that he doesn’t pitch much. The 75 innings he has averaged the past three years, represent just over five percent of his team’s innings. I have him valued at around $6 million/year for the past three years. Even if we weight the importance of the innings he pitches there is no way he’s worth two-and-half times that amount.

Glavine’s “Hometown Discount”

As expected, the Braves and Tom Glavine agreed to a contract yesterday. This is a one-year, $8 million deal. Supposedly, Glavine was willing to pitch for the Braves for less than what he could have received on the open market. Though Glavine bolsters the Braves rotation, I’m not seeing much generosity on Glavine’s part. Below, I list Glavine’s performances for the past three seasons as I valued them in 2007.

Season	Value
2005	$12.50
2006	$8.81
2007	$7.67
---	---
Avg.	$9.66
WA	$8.86

The numbers indicate that Glavine is getting a salary around his projected worth. His average value over the past three seasons was about $1.5 million more than his contract; however, he’s going to be 42 next year and his performance has been declining. The 3-2-1 weighted average (3*2007 + 2*2006 + 2005) is $8.86 million.

This doesn’t mean that he isn’t giving up something to leave the Mets. He declined a $13 million option with the Mets, which triggered a $3 million buyout; thus, he’s pitching for $2 million less than the Mets would have paid him. I don’t think this is a horrible deal for the Braves, even when you include the first-round draft pick that the Braves must give to the Mets. But, I don’t think this contract is much different from what he would have received in the open market.

Bonds Indicted…Finally

Well, it’s only been four years since this thing started. From the looks of things, there is no new information here to explain why there wasn’t an indictment many years ago. My sense is that this is a “well, we’ve got to do something” move. Unless Greg Anderson talks—and why would he crack now?—I think the perjury case against Bonds is weak. His release is somewhat suspicious, but Anderson’s lawyer says his client hasn’t changed his mind about not testifying.

Here is what the lawyers think about the case.

Todd Zywicki (from July, 2006):

But without Anderson’s testimony, the direct evidence seems thin (assuming that the book reports all the evidence)….

In short, Bonds let Anderson handle everything, from protocol, to purchase, to shots, and to workouts. Clearly Bonds asked no questions about what Anderson was doing and simply trusted him to handle everything. Equally clearly Bonds knew what Anderson was giving him, especially in light of the physical side effects of the drugs. So common sense seems to suggest that he perjured himself, but a close sifting of the evidence that we know about the evidence seems much less clear. But he seems to have created an almost perfect intermediary in Anderson who could protect him. Every chain of evidence in the case seems to end at Anderson. Although common sense then connects Anderson to Bonds, I can’t recall any specific, provable fact that provides that final link….

Without Anderson’s testimony, I have serious doubts about whether the feds will be able to get Bonds on perjury (although tax evasion should be easier).

Michael McCann:

4. Assuming there is a trial, how would the perjury charge play out?

Perjury is to knowingly lie under oath and typically about a matter material to an investigation or case. To prove guilt, the prosecution must establish more than just Bonds lying under oath. It must show that he knowingly lied, meaning his lie must not have been a mistaken belief or a misunderstanding. For that reason, Bonds could argue that he misunderstood the question or the context in which it was asked, which led to an inadvertent lie. He could also argue that he understood the question, but genuinely thought he was telling the truth, such as stating that he believed he was taking a legal performance enhancer, but which in fact was flax seed oil or human growth hormone. All he would need to do is place reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind.

The prosecution, however, would likely use the testimony of witnesses to establish that Bonds knowingly lied. For instance, Bond’s ex-mistress, Kimberly Bell, told the grand jury that Bonds admitted to knowingly used steroids. But in his defense, Bonds could argue that, given his now difficult relationship with her, Bell cannot be trusted and that his admission to her has been exaggerated or mischaracterized, and thus better constitutes hearsay, a statement made outside of the courtroom that is usually deemed inadmissible because of its lack of reliability.

5. What about the obstruction of justice charge?

Obstruction of justice captures different types of misconduct during a legal proceeding. Basically, if a defendant knowingly tries to impair a proceeding in any material and unacceptable way, such as lying about a material matter under oath, the defendant can be found guilty of the charge. Bonds would likely offer similar defenses to those described above for perjury.

Craig Calcaterra

I am not a criminal lawyer by trade, but my criminal law experience suggests to me that this is a face-saving indictment designed to allow the investigators and the US Attorney say they did their job. They got the indictment (note: a U.S. Attorney can get an indictment on anyone for just about anything). If and when Bonds walks, they will blame a Bonds friendly San Francisco jury pool, and it will be done.

Make no mistake: I think Bonds took steroids, and I tend to think that, generally speaking, he has lied about it. This indictment, on these particular questions, however, look very, very weak.

I’m just happy to get the ball rolling on this. Has it really been this long? I’ll be happy when we finally put the criminal part of this case to bed.

How will this harm Bonds? It’s possible his baseball career could be over, but I’m not counting on it. My guess is that Bonds would prefer to play rather than sit at home and think about this. He’s too good for some team not to take a chance on. Sports fans are very forgiving, especially if you are good. Imagine a scenario where David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez both go down in spring training. Do you think Red Sox fans would complain if the team picked up Bonds? I think the only thing that gets in his way is pride. He might not get a contract that he thinks he deserves, and choose to sit out on principle. Thus, he could end up joining a team in mid-season when someone gets desperate.

Valuing Center Field Free Agents

If you hadn’t noticed, David Pinto has started writing a weekly column for Sporting News. Congrats to David on his new gig, and I’m happy that he continues to write at Baseball Musings, one of my favorite blogs.

In this week’s installment, he estimates the market values of the three top center fielder free agents: Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand. Using a weighted-average of VORP over the past three years, he expects the following per year salaries.

Player	Salary
Rowand	$12.9 million
Hunter 	$12.7 million
Jones 	$11.5 million

I wanted to see how my system compares. These projected values are based simply on the weighted and unweighted three-year averages of previous performance. The defensive adjustment I am using is rough and does not reward them for differences in defensive ability. I’m not too concerned about this considering they are all considered to be good defenders.

Player	Weighted 	Unweighted
Jones	$14.13		$15.18
Hunter	$13.10		$12.31
Rowand	$12.82		$11.83

My estimates for Hunter and Rowand are similar to David’s, but I have Jones a bit higher. Even with the weighted average values, Jones comes out as the most valuable of the three. Furthermore, I don’t think there is any strong reason that Jones’s most recent season should be weighted that much more than the other two. I make no attempt to adjust for aging or contract length—both of which will affect the expected annual salary. I will examine that when the contract terms are out.

I think Jones is the best of the three. He has the highest career OPS+ of the group—113 compared to 106 for Rowand and 104 for Hunter—and Plus/Minus rates him as the best center fielder in baseball over the past three seasons. But, we will just have to wait and see what the market tells us.

What Is A-Rod Doing?

The latest event in the A-Rod saga with the Yankees is almost too bizarre to believe. Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract to become a free agent without giving the Yankees the opportunity to negotiate. Supposedly, the Yankees were willing to extend Rodriguez’s deal five years for $150 million in their initial offer. Adding this to the remaining three years and $81 million owed on his current contract, that would guarantee him $231 over the next eight seasons. That translates to $29 million per year, which is about five million less than than I predicted, so I was not surprised that he didn’t think this was enough to keep him. However, I thought it was a bad move to opt out so soon, because the Yankees could up their offer and had the advantage of having the Texas Rangers subsidizing any extension. I assumed that A-Rod was just ready to leave.

Last week, Jeff Gordon argued in the NY Times that A-Rod’s opt out was part of a strategy to make the Yankees respond to competing offers from other team, and that the Yankee’s refusal to negotiate further was not credible. When higher offers came in , the Yankees would cave and match the offer. I disagreed, because of the damage this would do to the Yankees bargaining power in the future. I also felt an actual free agent bidding war wasn’t necessary to determine Rodriguez’s value; the Yankees and Scott Boras could make close approximations and then move on if the numbers didn’t match. But, neither of us anticipated what seems to be transpiring.

Alex Rodriguez is now willing to return to the Yankees for a longer time but for less money per year (ten years and $270 million, according to published reports)—his penance for keeping the Yankees on the hook for $20-30 million dollars that the Texas Rangers would be contributing to his salary had he just extended his deal.

An already wealthy man who has a reputation for being greedy and childish goes through the ordeal of upsetting everyone by opting out to get more, but then returns to get less? Why didn’t he just extend the deal? It’s not like this was a rushed process; it seems like we’ve been discussing the opt-out for years. Going back on a well-planned strategy at this time seems…well, childish and something only A-Rod is capable of doing. It certainly isn’t a move that will endear him to Yankee fans, even if he does make the team better.

There is still the possibility that this is a marketing ploy to up the offers of other free agent suitors. I still think that there is a decent chance that he will sign somewhere else, but the media reports that are coming from all sides make the think that this deal is more likely to go down than not. The end result of this entire process is that a great baseball player who is hard to like is poorer and less-likable than he once was. Nice move, Alex.

ESPN’s Keith Law Interview

Sabernomics readers ought to be familiar with Keith Law, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays front office who is now the lead baseball analyst for ESPN’s Scouts Inc. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet Keith while scouting Josh Smoker in my neck of the woods. I had a few questions for Keith that I thought might be of interest to others, so I asked him if he would be willing to do and interview, and he obliged.

Here are Keith’s thoughts on working in baseball, ESPN, scouting, sabermetrics, the Braves, and the great tiramisu debacle of 2003.

Every few weeks I get a request from a young baseball fan who wants to work in baseball. What is your best advice for landing a job in baseball?

I’m asked that at least once a week in some form or another. There’s no easy answer; if you haven’t played the game and developed contacts within the industry, it’s hard to break in. It helps to have something baseball-related on your resume to set yourself apart from the thousands of other candidates, something like an internship with a minor league team or work with your college’s baseball team/athletics department. Then just start plugging away, contacting front office people, going to the winter meetings, sending out resumes and cover letters.

What was it like to work in a MLB front office? What did you do? What were your hours?

Toronto’s front office was odd, as was my role, since I worked from home and went to Toronto for a lot of home games until the travel got to be too much. I was primarily the statistical analyst, but was fortunate enough to work with Tony Lacava, who took me under his wing and taught me a lot of what I know now about traditional player evaluation, so I started going out to see amateur players on Cape Cod to try to improve my skills there. I ended up able to at least contribute to scouting discussions on players in our draft room and to submit follow lists to area scouts to let them know which players in their areas looked good/not good on the Cape. I ended up doing a little work in some other areas like arbitration cases, negotiating contracts for zero-to-three players, etc.

How stat-savvy are MLB teams? Is there a stats-versus-scouts war in baseball? I get the impression that this is overblown.

Totally overblown. Doesn’t exist. And I’m seeing more people trying to acquire skills in both areas.

What is wrong with sabermetrics?

I think that the arrogance in the field has gotten worse with time, not better. I thought that as sabermetrics moved into the mainstream, its practitioners would soften – and trust me, I’m not painting all sabermetricians and sabermetric writers with one broad brush – but we haven’t seen that. Statistical analysis is critical to the successful operation of any ballclub. It is far from a complete solution. And we all know that you can argue with statistics by cherry-picking which stats to use, which is part of why I try to use stats only as secondary evidence when I’m writing, using first-hand observation before I rely on data.

What is the biggest misconception that outsiders have of what goes on in MLB front offices?

Without a doubt it’s the assumption that a baseball operations department’s primary function is to assemble the roster. Sign some free agents, make some trades, do the draft, boom, you’re done. There’s a hell of a lot more to those jobs, including a lot of less glamorous work that requires organization and skill and diligence. Nothing makes me lose respect for a writer or reader who says that he could do a better job than GM so-and-so – it’s not an easy job, and as I said in an interview on the Lion in Oil blog, most outsiders would be crying for their mommas after a day or two of doing it.

How do you scout a player when you look at his stats? How do you scout a player beyond the stats?

I can’t even explain how I look at stats now, because I’m just looking for patterns in the data – almost a certain shape to a stat line that reminds me of other stat lines from past players. I don’t have time to do any sort of database work like I used to do with Toronto, which is probably for the best because writing about stats isn’t my job.

Beyond the stats, I’m looking at tools and at projection. What can the player do right now? What will he be able to do as his body develops? What are his fixable flaws? What are his unfixable flaws? And I always try to emphasize the tools that matter (hit & power) over those that matter less (run & throw).

What is your job like for ESPN?

It’s great, but it’s demanding. My mandate is to cover, from a scouting perspective, the top amateur players for the upcoming draft, the top prospects in the minors, and just about all the players in the majors. I go to see games and players so that I can write about them at a later date – in draft previews, in prospect rankings, in trade reactions, in playoff advance reports. So given the broad mandate, I get to set my own schedule as long as I’m seeing who I need to see. I really value that flexibility.

I try to write twice a week, but I’m somewhat at the mercy of the news cycle and the baseball editorial calendar, which is set over a week in advance. So I like having the weekly chats to keep in touch with readers and continue to develop that relationship.

I also do at least one TV hit a week, sometimes as many as five or six, and a lot of appearances on our national radio network or local affiliates. The TV stuff can be done from a little studio about 15 minutes from my house, and the radio stuff I do from the house or hotel room or wherever I am. I try to go to Bristol once or twice a month, at which point they’ll put me through the “car wash”

Which organizations have the best and worst farm systems in baseball?

I haven’t looked hard enough at that to answer it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll rank them all again in January. I can say that Tampa Bay and Texas are the clear 1-2 to me right now.

Now let’s talk about the Braves.

What is your overall impression of the Braves farm system? What do they do right/wrong?

The one task they do best, better than any other club, is mine their local area. It helps that Georgia high school baseball is some of the best in the country – maybe second only to California, but certainly in the top five states with Texas, Florida, and Arizona – but it’s also about the Braves having and using the connections to find the players and convince them to sign rather than going to college.

The Braves could improve their player development in terms of how they get some of their tools players, especially hitters, to develop. Jeff Francoeur is a good example. I’d like to see stronger evidence that the Braves can take the tools players they’re so good at finding and drafting and convert them into star-caliber big leaguers. For the last few years, they seem to have fallen a little short in that regard.

Your opinion on Jordan Schafer seems to have changed. You once compared him to Grady Sizemore, but after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League you were a bit more pessimistic. Why did you change your mind and what do you think his development prospects are?

I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and was disappointed at how short he fell of the hype. The ball comes off his bat well, but the part of his swing leading from his set point to contact isn’t consistent, and it gets long because he loads so deep. I like that he uses the opposite field and I think there’s 25-homer power in the bat, but Sizemore is one of those guys who’s just an obvious star, who stands out immediately when you see him take BP or shag flies. Schafer isn’t like that. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good prospect – he is. But he’s not Sizemore and he’s not one of the ten or fifteen best prospects in baseball.

Who are the Braves prospects to watch?

They’re all in Texas! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Jason Heyward is the best prospect in that system for my money, at least for the long term, and he could easily turn out to be the best or second-best player in the 2007 draft class. I liked Brandon Hicks as a little sleeper in this draft – good defensive shortstop with an outside chance to hit a little. Cole Rohrbaugh is interesting, fastball sits plus, has a wicked curveball but it’s a spike, which is very hard to command. Gorkys Hernandez may never have much plate discipline but he’s a plus defensive outfielder who should make a lot of contact. And I like Daniel Elorriaga-Matra as a good defensive catcher with plus makeup who should at least turn into a big league backup.

Do you expect the Braves to change any of their operations with Frank Wren taking over John Schuerholz’s GM duties?

Everything I’ve been told sounds like the answer is no. Status quo.

Jeff Francoeur, what is the deal with this guy? What is he going to become?

I know everyone’s all excited because he upped his walk rate, but seriously, 37 unintentional walks in almost 700 plate appearances is unacceptable for a corner bat. He does have legit 30-homer power, and like a lot of players of this type he’ll have a .300/.335/.550 year somewhere along the line, but the volatility in his average and the ceiling on his OBP will always keep him from becoming a star.

What do you think about when you are not thinking about baseball?

Food, cooking and eating, is my other great passion. I love to cook elaborate meals, and I’ve got an inner pastry chef who likes to come out when there’s company, although after the great tiramisu debacle of 2003 I might have to scale my ambitions down until I get a bigger kitchen. I love to read, especially literature and comic novels. I used to play the guitar pretty regularly, but don’t have as much time with the busier job and with parental responsibilities. I love learning and speaking foreign languages, and that’s probably the one thing I’d like to put time into but can’t right now; I’d say teaching myself Spanish, from Sesame Street level (¿Entrada? ¡Salida!) to the point where I passed a first-level fluency exam, is the achievement of which I’m most proud, because I had to come up with a method and then stick to the plan even when I felt like I wasn’t making progress. I was always the kind of person who gives up when he wasn’t good at something right away, and it was gratifying to know that I didn’t have to be like that after all.

Thanks to Keith for taking the time to share his thoughts. For more of Keith’s opinions, check out his ESPN blog, his website, and his non-ESPN blog: The Dish.

Relievers Getting Paid

Yesterday, Todd Jones signed a one-year $7 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. This is nearly double what I have him valued at for 2007, $3.59 million. This follows J.C. Romero’s deal, which I also think was a bit high. I’m open to the possibility that I am undervaluing relievers—I discuss this briefly in my book—but I don’t think I’m off by this much.

I don’t like giving big contracts to relievers. They pitch very few innings and there is always the possibility of injury. I prefer the shotgun approach: bring in a bunch of relievers for cheap and find a few that are at the top of their games. Use free agents and farmhands who might not be ready to start. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but you diversify your risk and the payoff of having someone blossom who hasn’t become a free agent yet is significant.

Addendum: Tom Verducci at explains Kevin Tower’s philosophy for finding relievers, and I like it.

The risk of sinking $4 million a year over multiple years for a pitcher in his mid-30s (Romero turns 32, 33 and 34 over the contract) who doesn’t start, win or close games, and has high mileage on his odometer is one you won’t find Kevin Towers taking. The San Diego general manager is the industry expert at building a bullpen on the cheap.

Towers’ philosophy is that relief performance tends to be fungible, and buying free agent relievers — who tend to be older and overworked by the time they get to the market — is the definition of buying a stock too high before the regression hits. Think Danys Baez, Arthur Rhodes, Kyle Farnsworth, Tom Gordon and Hector Carrasco.

“Free agent relief shopping is dangerous,” Towers says.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Gainesville

I want to that the Rotary Club of Gainesville for inviting me to be their lunch speaker for yesterday’s meeting. I enjoyed meeting all of the members who approached me. And I had an excellent discussion with the man who introduced me, Gene Anderson of 1240 The Ticket .

J.C. Gets $12 Million Deal

Well, not this J.C.; I am referring to J.C. Romero’s new three-year $12 million contract with the Phillies.

In my opinion, this is a real stinker of a deal. Last year, I have him valued at $2.45 million. If we assume he continues to pitch at this level for the next three years and salaries increase at ten percent a year (generous assumptions), he’ll be worth about $9 million over the course of the contract. And, I’m being quite optimistic. I suspect that there is very little danger of the Phillies wanting to pick up the $4.75 million option for the fourth year.

There are going to be a lot of free agent contracts signed this offseason that seem to be outrageous at first, but upon further inspection appear to be on target. In this case, the second glance only confirms the first.