Archive for Pitching

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.

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 SI.com 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.

Cleveland Picks Up Its Pitchers

Yesterday, the Cleveland Indians picked up one-year options on three of their pitchers: Paul Byrd, Joe Borowski, and Aaron Fultz. Here is a list of their option prices and my estimates of their 2007 performances.

Pitcher		Option		2007 Value
Paul Byrd 	$7.5 million	$8.9 million
Joe Borowski 	$4.0 million	$3.4 million
Aaron Fultz 	$1.5 million	$2.0 million

It is no surprise that the Indians picked them up. Will the HGH issues be a problem with Byrd? I doubt there is much risk since anything he did—no matter what is true motives—was not against league rules. If he is suspended, the Indians would not have to pay his salary for the missed time; however, they might miss out on signing a substitute starting pitcher.

Addendum: Also, Indians GM Mark Shapiro was named baseball Executive of the Year. I’ve been a big fan of what the Indians are doing, and I found them to be the best-managed organization in the American League in my book.

Valuing Maddux

ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that the San Diego Padres and Greg Maddux have agreed to a one-year $10 million deal. This is a good signing for the Padres, so good in fact that I believe Maddux is giving the Pads a small discount. It sounds like Muddux really likes pitching in San Diego.

“From my talks with Greg this year, he had as much fun this year as any other time in his career,” Padres manager Bud Black said Monday night. “It’s no surprise to us that he wants to continue. He loves to compete.”

Maddux’s ERA wasn’t up to his usual standards (4.14) especially considering his home park (ERA+ 98). Basically, he looked to be a league-average pitcher. However, Maddux pitched in a way that is more consistent with a lower ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio greater than four and 0.64 HR/9IP for 198 innings.

I’ve finished my dollar valuations for 2007 and I have Greg Maddux’s performance valued at about $12 million. And for the the amount of innings he pitched he provided $4 million more than an average pitcher would have generated. Mad Dog still has it.

Now compare this to Curt Schilling, who is rumored to be signing a one-year extension with the Boston Red Sox for around $13 million (we’ll see). In 2007, I estimate Schilling’s performance was worth $8.3 million. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was similar to Maddux’s, but he gave up more home runs (1.25/9IP). His value is that much lower than Maddux’s mainly due to the fact that he pitched nearly 25% fewer innings.

This is going to be another fun offseason.

UPDATE: Schilling has apparently reached a deal with the Red Sox for $8 million guaranteed, with $2 million in physical conditioning incentives, and $3 million in performance incentives. So, the $13 million numbers occurs only if pitches well and stays healthy, but he gets $8 million if he repeats his 2007.

Cards Sign Joel Pineiro

The St. Louis Cardinals interim GM John Mozeliak has wasted no time in signing talent for next year—which makes me think he’s going to lose the “interim” tag soon—signing pitcher Joel Pineiro to a two-year, $13 million deal. Most of the chatter I have read thinks this is a little high.

I have not calculated the 2007 player values yet—I am just about to do so—but looking at 2005 and 2006, this doesn’t look to be a bad signing. I have him valued at $9.08 million in 2005 and $7.28 million in 2006. Pineiro may not be flashy, but he’s better than a lot of other alternatives.

Remember, Jason Marquis signed a three-year, $21 million deal last year. …And will you look at that: Joel Pineiro is Marquis’s most comparable pitcher according to similarity scores. (I promise that I didn’t look before I brought up Marquis.)

Baseball revenues are growing, and players are going to reap some of the windfall. This is just the first of many contracts that are going to drop some jaws this offseason.

O’s Dump Mazzone

The first baseball game I ever attended was a Double-A Charlotte O’s game when I was five. I actually threw out the first pitch at Crockett Park and Cal Ripken, Jr. was on the team. When the Orioles hired Mazzone, I thought it would be fun to follow the Orioles again.

Today the Orioles fired Mazzone as their scapegoat. What an awful, AWFUL, organization. The firing of Sam Perlozzo, then courting of the flavor-of-the-month Joe Girardi, only to lose out and hire Dave Trembley. Now, the O’s are blaming their woes on Mazzone? Give me a break!

How quickly people forget that Orioles pitching was good for most of the season…that is until Mazzone’s good friend Perlozzo was fired. On June 17, the last game Perlozzo managed, the O’s pitching staff had an ERA of 4.27–that would have put them second in the American League at the end of the season. Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie were having fantastic seasons. After Dave Trembley took over on an interim basis–you know, he didn’t know if he was going to be the long-term boss—the O’s continued on with an ERA of 4.61. Once Trembley got the permanent job, things went south fast. After giving up 39 runs in a double-header on August 18, the Orioles produced an ERA of 7.61 for the remainder of the season.

Now, I’m not saying Mazzone is blameless in all of this, but it is pretty clear that pitching wasn’t the real problem with the O’s until the guys up top decided the guy calling games on Fox was really smart. Instead they ended up with their bullpen coach. I don’t see how firing Mazzone is going to fix anything with this club. This team clearly fell apart when the brass up top gave up on the team. Guys got traded, and some shut it down. Yeah, the pitching was pretty bad by the end of the year. One thing is very clear from his time with the Braves, even if you don’t believe he was responsible for any of pitching success in Atlanta: Mazzone was not the problem.

I really don’t understand the impatience of people who run sports teams. How can you expect any rebuilding when you demand immediate results? Talk about bad incentives.

It’s been a rough ride for Mazzone in Baltimore, but I have no doubt that he will bounce back. It’s good to hear that he’s not intimidated.

Mazzone has no intention of being idle during the 2008 season.

“He’s not going to sit out a year. He has no desire to do that,” said Brad Steele, Mazzone’s business manager. “He will have plenty of time to do that after he retires.”

The Braves were a fixture in the playoffs when Mazzone was there. In contrast, the Orioles lost more than 90 games in each of his two seasons with the club.

“I think Leo still has a lot of fire in his belly. He wants to be part of a winning organization,” Steele said. “But he’s not opposed to doing what he did in Atlanta, taking a team from last to first. Either way, we suspect there will be a lot of interest in him.”

Braves Pitching

Here are two groups of players who pitched for the Braves this season.

John Smoltz
Chuck James
Kyle Davies
Jo-Jo Reyes
Jose Ascanio
Macay McBride
Anthony Lerew
Joey Devine
Blaine Boyer
Kevin Barry

Tim Hudson
Buddy Carlyle
Lance Cormier
Mark Redman
Bob Wickman
Peter Moylan
Tyler Yates
Rafael Soriano
Oscar Villarreal
Chad Paronto
Ron Mahay
Manny Acosta
Mike Gonzalez
Wilfredo Ledezma
Jeff Bennett
Octavio Dotel
Steve Colyer
Royce Ring


The former group includes Braves farm products, the latter group are pitchers whom the Braves brought in from elsewhere. Yes, I know that Smoltz spent some time in the Tigers organization, and some of the non-Braves group have put in short stints in the minors with the Braves, but I want to keep this simple. The lists reveal an unsettling trend for Braves fans: most of the decent pitching is coming from the outside. And the bad news continues as any potential help is too far down in the organization to count on.

I’ve heard a good bit of grumbling among Braves fans about Roger McDowell, but I’m not sure there is much to complain about. The Braves are tied for fourth in the NL ERA and the pitching staff has an ERA+ of 105. As ugly as some of the Braves pitching has been with the fourth and fifth starter spots, the team has survived. Yes, it would be nice if some of the younger products had performed better, but looking at this pattern, I’m not so sure it’s McDowell’s fault. With the sea of ill-will that followed Leo Mazzone out of town, we heard similar complaints about his inability to work with young pitchers. But, now I wonder if the problem has more to do with deficiencies in instruction or scouting of pitchers.

I believe Roger received a big vote of confidence when Davies was traded. If the front office considered McDowell the problem, I don’t think they would have moved Kyle. The Braves need young and cheap starters more than old and expensive relievers. The Braves gave up on Davies, not their pitching coach. I will not be surprised if some minor league pitching instructors move on after the season.

How Long in the Oven?

Last night, Kyle Davies hit near rock bottom when he was pulled from the game without recording an out. He faced five men, issuing three walks and two singles.

Davies now has a career ERA of 6.15 (70 ERA+) with 6.53 K9, 4.78 BB9, and 1.29 HR9—not good. But he’s only 23 years old—younger than many of the top Braves prospects. Davies has pitched 237 innings in the majors since he was called up in 2005 at the age of 21. Kyle pitched exceptionally well early in his minor league career, but was merely good at Double-A and Triple-A. He made it all the way from Myrtle Beach to Richmond in 2004, the year before he received his call to the big leagues. He would be sent back to Richmond in 2005, but he began 2006 in Atlanta (I think this is right). His woeful 2006 campaign was interrupted by a groin tear. I suspect that he will be sent back to the minors today.

Was Davies rushed? If so, how can we know if he was rushed? These are difficult questions to answer, but they are important. While some favor letting the kids play as soon as possible, I wonder what is lost when a player is forced to play when he is not ready. And there is also the possibility that playing above your true talent level early on can harm development.

If Davies had stayed in the minors, he would be working on getting to the majors. The downside of playing in the minors playing baseball against inferior talent, but the upside is working on potential problems to aid is future performance. In the minors, a pitcher can work on developing new pitches, painting corners, and experiment with new mechanics in game conditions without risking damage to the major league club. At 23 Davies is far too young to give up on, but I wonder where he would be if he hadn’t been called into duty so early. We can never know, but I don’t see he’s gained much from pitching at the big league level. I also wonder if his excellent start in 2005 gave him a false sense of his ability.

This leads me to Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy was called up unexpectedly in the 2005 season after the Mondesi-Jordan experiment failed. At the time, he was posting an .809 OPS in Double-A with a walk rate less than six percent. This is not bad for a 21-year-old prospect, but not dominant. Brian McCann, on the other hand, had been called into emergency duty with an injury to Johnny Estrada and Brayan Pena’s inability to call a game. His OPS in Mississippi wasn’t much higher than Francoeur’s, but his walk rate was nearly 13 percent, which he had improved over the previous season. McCann showed all the signs of a player who had used the minors to improve, while Francoeur was still developing. I’m not surprised that McCann has become the better player.

Francoeur surprised me by posting a .885 OPS in 2005. He batted .300 and hit 14 homers in 70 games (a pace that would have given him 32 over 162 games) while swinging at everything. McCann posted a respectable .745 OPS in 50 games, but he maintained his excellent walk rate. I have speculated before that Francoeur’s fast start was a combination of good play, excellent luck, and poor advance scouting. It’s a formula that is great for the present, but not so good for the long term. Frenchy became an Atlanta hero. Even when he’s in a slump, no other player gets as many cheers at Braves games. He admitted that his fast start lulled him to sleep, and it may have stunted his development. He hit .300 and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, what more did he have to learn? In 2006 and 2007 his OPS has been more than 100 points below his 2005. He continues his free swinging ways, and I have to wonder if he is going to develop into anything more than an passable right fielder.

But did rushing him to the big leagues have anything to do with his development? We can’t know. He might have become a better player or it may have just prolonged his minor league career. It’s something we should study and think about more. It is a question that ought to be of great importance to teams.

JC on Baseball Prospectus Radio

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has posted an interview with me regarding (mostly) the Orioles managerial change and Leo Mazzone. If you didn’t know I was from the South, you will after you hear my accent.

Mp3 of the interview

Thanks to Will for doing the interview. I enjoyed it.

The Baseball Economist in Village Voice

Allen Barra uses my estimate of Roger Clemens’s worth to rationalize his signing by the Yankees.

Professor J.C. Bradbury of Kennesaw State University in Georgia tells the Voice that Roger Clemens isn’t worth it. In his new book, The Baseball Economist, Bradbury calculates the value of a win in terms of revenue created. He then credits each player for his contributions to those wins in monetary terms—sort of like Bill James’s theory of “Win Shares” converted to dollar signs. It’s complicated, but then so are both baseball and economics. The bottom line for Bradbury, economically speaking, is that Clemens’s worth is about $11 to $12 million, or about a third less than the Yankees will be paying him to start perhaps 20 games in what’s left of the season. (Actually, the cost to the Yankees is greater than Clemens’s reported $18.6 million salary. They’ll also be kicking in more than $7 million to Major League Baseball’s luxury tax fund.)

How is this rational? Read on.