Archive for Pitching

What To Do with Mark Redman

Well, Mark Redman stinks. I’m not really surprised that he’s not blowing the league away, but Atlanta fans want him cut. The problem with this is that the Braves need another starting pitcher. Oscar Villarreal is probably a better option as a starter, but Redman might still be able to help the team.

My suggestion: put him in the pen. If he puts all of his effort into a short stint, he can’t be worse than the worst reliever on the team. I’m not even sure who that is right now. He’s already paid for, and there is no obvious promotion candidate in the minors. This could be the beginning of a new career as a LOOGY.

Smoltz Is Worth It

Yesterday, the Atlanta Braves signed John Smoltz to one-year, $14 million extension. The deal includes two years of options. The first is a $12 million player option for 2009 that vests if Smoltz reaches 200 innings in 2008. The second is a club option for 2010 that is worth $13 or $12 million, depending on whether or not Smoltz pitches 200 innings in 2008. It should be noted that he has pitched about 230 innings in each of the two previous seasons.

According to my estimates from The Baseball Economist, Smoltz’s 2006 season was worth about $16.6 million, so this deal seems about right. Yes, there is a chance of injury, but Smoltz has been very durable since his return to the rotation. He is hardly more risky than any replacement the Braves could have found on the free agent market. Indeed, Smoltz probably would have commanded a larger deal as a free agent, and certainly would not have given the injury out-clauses—this is essentially what the option years are—to another club. It was a good move by Schuerholz to take advantage of Smoltz’s desire to pitch for the Braves. Even it Smoltz goes down tomorrow, it was a good gamble.

I have read some comments from fans that even if Smoltz is worth this contract, that’s a lot of payroll to tie up in one player, especially on a team with some holes. The biggest hole on the Braves organization—not just the big club—is pitching. There are very few arms to wait for from the farm. If Smoltz left, the Braves were going to have to go to the free agent market for a replacement. So, why not pick up one of the best pitchers in the game and pay him what he’s worth?

What does this mean for Andruw Jones, who is hitting the free agent market this offseason? Well, I actually think this is good news. It shows that the Braves are able to spend some money again. And even if the new owner is going to put some restrictions on payroll, the Braves need a center fielder. And like Smoltz, Andruw wants to play in Atlanta for Bobby Cox. That is something that no other team can offer, and I think that Schuerholz may be able to get him for less than any other team. The McCann deal signed during Spring Training frees up some payroll that can be used on other players.

As a fan, I am happy to see Smoltz back. I thought that he would leave after this season like Glavine and Maddux. It’s been hard to cheer against the Mets when Glavine is on the mound. I’m glad I won’t have to go through that with another pitcher.

Aging in Baseball

Fellow economist Steve Walters pinch hits for Dave Berri at Wages of Wins Journal, where he discusses aging in baseball. You may remember Steve from his Statscape column in Sporting News.

Steve discusses how our perceptions about aging in baseball may be incorrect. In the early-1980s, Bill James found that players peak around age 27. But statistician Jim Albert, co-author of the excellent Curve Ball, finds that players tend to peak closer to 29. This reminded me of some work I have done.

A few years back, I ran a series of posts to measuring aging in baseball for hitters (part 1, part 2 , part 3) and pitchers using slightly different methods. What did I find? Like Albert, I find players peaking at around age 29—worse players tend to peak earlier, and better players peak later.

Now, this was three years ago, and I need to follow up on my findings (and I plan to this summer), but I think it is interesting that both Albert and I reach similar conclusions.

I’m not sure if Steve will be writing more for WoW this week, but I will. Look for a post from me there tomorrow or Wednesday.

ESPN: Wither Leo Mazzone?

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I think Leo Mazzone is a good pitching coach. It’s been a pretty hot topic on this site for quite a while. In fact, in my book I have a chapter dedicated to the subject. When Mazzone bolted for the Orioles last season, many pundits, like me, expected the O’s pitching staff to improve. But there is no way to spin it, 2006 was not a good year for Oriole pitchers.

Does this mean there is no such thing as the Mazzone effect? That was a question posed to me by an editor at ESPN The Magazine, and in the latest issue (March 12) I search for an answer. In “The Vanishing Magician” I explore Mazzone’s record as a pitching coach, with a particular emphasis on 2006. Some of the reported results I have reported before.

In my upcoming book, I update my previous study on Leo Mazzone’s effectiveness as a pitching coach. This study takes into account aging, park effects, defense, pitcher quality, and the run environment of the league. What I find is that during his years in Atlanta, pitchers who pitched for Mazzone and with another pitching coach had ERAs 0.64 lower with Mazzone than without. How does this happen? Pitchers under Mazzone increase their strikeouts by 10% and lower their home run rates by 20%. I could not find any effect on walks. This is interesting, because it fits exactly with Leo’s advice to his pitchers.

Don’t give into the strike zone. This is about making pitches and trying to execute a good pitch. So forget about walks. And don’t throw one down the middle just because you walked a guy. I’d rather you be off the plate a little than give up a three-run bomb.

Furthermore, when pitchers leave Mazzone, they tend to revert to their old form.

An effect that has persisted for about a decade and a half is unlikely to be a fluke. Still, what about 2006? It’s easy just to say, “hey, it’s a small small sample size, this doesn’t mean much,” because it’s the truth. However, what is the fun in that? :-)

I looked at pitchers on the O’s and Braves who pitched more than 25 innings with the same team in both 2005 and 2006 to compare how Mazzone’s current and former pitchers performed with and without him. This sample allows me to view pitchers in very similar environments with only the pitching coach changing in both cases. The direction of the stories in both Atlanta and Baltimore are the same: on average Braves and O’s pitchers were worse in 2006 than in 2005. However, the effect on Atlanta pitchers is much larger. Mazzone’s former pupils suffered worse than the men he coached in Baltimore. lending some support to the Mazzone effect.

I can’t reveal more than this, because that wouldn’t be very nice to the good people at ESPN. So, pick up a a copy of the latest ESPN The Magazine or sign-up for a free trial to read the article. This issue features the MLB Fantasy Baseball Preview, which I am enjoying right now.

Given the sum of the evidence, I think Mazzone’s reputation is safe, and I expect he will continue to work his magic over the next few years in Baltimore.

Arbitration Losses

Yesterday, two pitchers lost their arbitration cases: John Patterson of the Nationals and Kevin Gregg of the Marlins. I have a few thoughts.

Patterson was asking for $1.85 million but the Nationals now have to pay him only $850K. In my mind, this case went to arbitration because Patterson’s agent submitted a number that was way too high. There is no way he was going to get that. By my calculations, Patterson’s 2006 was worth about $2.87 million. Arbitration-eligible pitchers typically get 75% less than their previous season’s performance value, putting him at about $720K—that is less than what the Nationals offered. I suspect Patterson’s good 2005 may have made him a bit overconfident. Still, when Patterson’s number came in, I suspect the Nationals didn’t even try negotiating. Why bother? There was no chance that the panel would give him $1.85 million. If he’d asked for say, $1.25 million, he’d have probably ended up settling with a contract close to $1 million.

Kevin Gregg is an interesting case, because I don’t see how he lost. He asked for $700K and the Marlins countered with $570K. Gregg had a really nice career with the Angels, generating $4.43 million in 2006 and $3.16 million in 2005. He should have easily garnered a million dollar contract, but his less glamorous role as a middle reliever/spot starter may have cost him. And I admit that my model for predicting non-free agent contracts is rough. But never underestimate the Marlins when it comes to managing their budget. I guess there is a reason I find them to be the best organization in baseball in my book.

Say What?

MLB.com Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman:

Still, while battling the storm, McDowell showed the patience and intellect necessary to make progress. The evolution of Macay McBride and Tyler Yates were a result of McDowell’s dedication and patience — two necessary qualities his predecessor didn’t always show.

Had Leo Mazzone been handed this pitching staff and faced the same obstacles, I’m apt to believe last year might have been a disaster on the pitching front in Atlanta. Young pitchers like McBride and Yates need somebody to provide both direction and confidence. With McDowell, they had somebody capable of providing both.

(emphasis added)

Look, I don’t believe that last year is evidence that McDowell is a bad pitching coach, nor do I think it shows he’s any good. But to say that Mazzone would have done worse is a bit much. I don’t know how you can defend that statement since the Braves pitched even worse after he left with a similar staff. I’m not sure what qualities make someone a good pitching coach—patience and dedication probably aren’t negatives—but Mazzone definitely has them.

In my upcoming book, I update my previous study on Leo Mazzone’s effectiveness as a pitching coach. This study takes into account aging, park effects, defense, pitcher quality, and the run environment of the league. What I find is that during his years in Atlanta, pitchers who pitched for Mazzone and with another pitching coach had ERAs 0.64 lower with Mazzone than without. How does this happen? Pitchers under Mazzone increase their strikeouts by 10% and lower their home run rates by 20%. I could not find any effect on walks. This is interesting, because it fits exactly with Leo’s advice to his pitchers.

Don’t give into the strike zone. This is about making pitches and trying to execute a good pitch. So forget about walks. And don’t throw one down the middle just because you walked a guy. I’d rather you be off the plate a little than give up a three-run bomb.

Furthermore, when pitchers leave Mazzone, they tend to revert to their old form.

Some Leo detractors have pointed to his first year with the Orioles, who had a pretty bad pitching season in 2006. I think his experience was quite similar to McDowell’s: he had a year of adjustment to a new environment and players, coupled with a little bad luck. But let’s not forget that Mazzone had 14 years of success in Atlanta with many different kinds of pitchers: young and old, lefties and righties, starters and relievers, jocks and nerds, future Hall of Famers and Quad-A cast-offs. If you’re looking to call some period of Mazzone’s career a fluke, last year would probably be a good pick.

Maybe Leo Mazzone is overrated, but the evidence indicates that he is good at what he does. Sure a few his former pitchers have complained about him, but many more have offered praise and given him plenty of credit. I was once one of those who thought his reputation was overblown, but I have changed my mind. Leo Mazzone is a damn good pitching coach, and I expect the Orioles to reap the benefits of his expertise for many years to come.

Monetizing Mediocrity: Meche, Marquis, and ‘Mirez

A big development on the hot stove this is year is the “over-valuing” of less-than-stellar starting pitching. Three not-so-spectacular pitchers have signed big free agent deals, so far.

Gil Meche: $55 million, 5 years
Jason Marquis: $21 million, 3 years (not finalized yet)
Ted Lilly: $40 million, 4 years

And Horacio (Ra)Mirez was swapped by the Braves for a good relief pitcher, Rafael Soriano. All of this has caused many to question the sanity of several GMs; in particular, Jim Hendry of the Cubs who signed both Marquis and Lilly. I can see why the reaction has been so strong. None of these guys are fantastic. And as a Braves fan who has had to endure Horacio Ramirez for several years, I was happy to see the guy go. However, when I look over the dollar value estimates that I have calculated for all of these players, I have found another similarity among these players: their recent performances have been worth about what the free agent labor market says they ought to be. And it’s not because of a market efficiency tautology. Here are my dollar value estimates for these players. All values are 2006, except Ramirez’s estimate is from 2005, when he pitched a full season.

Gil Meche: $10.17
Ted Lilly: $10.15
Jason Marquis: $7.6
Horacio Ramirez: $7.7

Now, I don’t wish use these numbers to say that these were good deals—I’d need a lot more time and information—but it demonstrates the deals are understandable, and that I don’t wish to commit any GMs to an asylum.

Where do my estimates come from? Well, I used the revenue generated by MLB teams to measure how much the things players do on the field translate into winning, and then estimate how much wins impact team revenue. It’s a modified version of the method Gerald Scully put forth in his classic 1974 article in the American Economic Review, “Pay and Performance in Major League Baseball.” I’m not going to go into the details of the calculations here, but I do so in my upcoming book. But anyway, one of the things that first caught my eye when I ran these numbers was how valuable some of these mediocre pitchers are. And there is a good reason for this. Though these guys are not world-beaters, they are all better than their potential replacements—it’s been a while since any of these guys have spent time in the minors for more than a rehab start. There’s a reason for this: their potential replacements are much worse—Braves fans, think Travis Smith or Jason Shiell. And all of these guys pitch many innings of work. Sure, you’d prefer better pitchers to have these innings, but that’s not the option because a lot of GMs want those same pitchers.

And then, there’s the starter versus reliever question. Why would the Mariners trade a good reliever for a mediocre starter like Horacio Ramirez? Well, the good innings that Rafael Soriano will produce are far less than what HoRam has been able to do. And though Soriano’s been better on a per inning basis, you get many more innings out of HoRam. At some point, HoRam’s quantity of inferior innings pitched must pass Soriano’s in terms of overall value. Is it after 50, 100, or 1,000 innings? Well actually, it’s a pretty low number. It just so happens that HoRam’s injury-plagued 2006 produced a dollar value of $4.73 million. Soriano, as a reliever, produced $4.03 million. Since, these are just estimates, let’s just say they were close to equivalent value with Horacio pitching about 25% more innings than Soriano.

Why not make Soriano a starter? That seems like a fine idea, but I don’t know if it’s as simple as upping a pitcher’s innings. Starters and relievers are quite defined roles, and it seems that some pitchers can’t do both for mental or mechanical reasons. It could be that teams should have more swingmen, or at least tinker with their starter/reliever designations, but I’ll leave that to them. My guess is that the M’s and Braves have their reasons for leaving these guys in their defined roles. In any event, I expect that a starting Soriano would pitch worse than he does as a reliever, which might cancel out his per-inning superiority over Ramirez.

The lesson here isn’t that these pitchers are good, or that relievers aren’t valuable. It’s that these pitchers have value. And while they might make fans curse and sweat when they hit the mound, they keep us from destroying furniture by limiting the innings of the quad-A replacements. Also, it’s important to judge these salaries in light of the increasing wealth of MLB. If fans are spending money on baseball, it’s going to increase the salaries of not just the very good. Teams might be spending too much, or they might also might be responding to the higher returns to winning. In reference to the past, $7-$10 million for a blah pitcher may have seem outrageous. But in a few years, this could be the norm.

Closing the Book on HoRam

As I write, the Braves and Mariners are supposedly finalizing a deal that will send Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for Rafael Soriano. As a Braves fan, I feel a huge sense of relief from this news. Finally, he’s gone. If you’re not a Braves fan, you probably view this trade as just a deal—some back-of-the-rotation starter for a decent reliever, both with histories of injuries. Most of what I have read—from M’s and Bravos fans—is that the Braves got the better end of the deal. From my perspective the deal isn’t that lopsided. I do think the Soriano is the more talented player, but even when he’s healthy, a reliever is covering about no more than half the innings of a starter. With a market that’s paying Tanyon Sturtze $1.1 million, pitchers like Horacio Ramirez have value. Like Kevin Gryboski, I didn’t like seeing HoRam on the mound; I had no confidence in him. But at the end of the year, when I’d look back on his performance I could definitely see he’s not good, but there were many worse options out there. Still, he wasn’t decent enough to make part of any long-term plan. He was the definition of mediocre, which is why I’m so happy to see him go.

The problem with HoRam was not so much with the pitcher, but that he has been viewed by the Braves as an important cog in the future of the team. For example, Braves mlb.com beat writer Mark Bowman wrote as recently as late August

But (and here’s where the bashing will begin), I believe next year’s rotation must include Horacio Ramirez. His injury-plagued season won’t allow him to receive much of a raise, and I’m not of the belief that his injury history means he’s a soft individual.

Injuries have wrecked two of Ramirez’s first four full Major League seasons. But it’s not like he’s not pitching because his shoulder or elbow is sore. He’s had legitimate ailments. When healthy, he’s shown why some believe he could consistently win at least 14 games per season.

This offseason could be a very busy one for the Braves. Along with Marcus Giles, I believe Chuck James is somebody who could draw some interest on the trade market. Although he is cheaper, I don’t believe James has the upside that Ramirez possesses.

In fairness to Bowman, he recanted a month ago, which is about the same time the Braves seemed to let out their lack of support for the guy. What support? Well, if you follow the Braves, you can spot the talking points the team leaks to the media. And the spin on Horacio has been nothing but positive and full of excuses.

  • Oh, he’s dropped his cutter, which was his big problem.
  • He’s good at night.
  • He’s good on the road.
  • This guy has the make-up of a Tom Glavine.
  • Now that Mazzone’s gone, he will flourish. (oh brother!)
  • Don’t look at his spring or rehab stats, he’s been “working on something.”
  • When you take out his bad starts he’s pitched well. (my favorite!)

Robert Downey, Jr. could asks this guy on advice for how to ask for second chance. The Braves have really gone out of there way to portray him as something special. Let me just say that Braves fans are tired of it; more so than seeing Jeff Francoeur hit pop flys to a kid in The Netherlands for Delta during the commercial break he just created. He doesn’t strike out hitters. He’s not particularly skilled at preventing walks or home runs. On top of this, he keeps getting injured, which has probably done more to prolong the team’s patience with him. Now, the team is finally moving on.

I want to reiterate that HoRam isn’t awful. He’s not close to sniffing Triple-A ball, but just don’t expect anything more than a fifth starter. My guess is that Seattle isn’t anywhere near his last stop. He’s the type of guy who will go from team to team to fill out rotations. I wish him the best.

What Does Tanyon Sturtze Mean?

So, the Braves have signed Tanyon Sturtze to a one-year $1.1 million deal. What does this mean? Well, one obvious knock on Sturtze is that he’s not very good. His career ERA+ is 87, with K9 of 5.42, BB9 of 3.76, and HR9 of 1.25—basically, he doesn’t do much of anything well compared to the average major leaguer. However, he’s still better than a lot of people, so $1.1 million isn’t too steep, even if he pitches same “quality” baseball as usual.

What gives me greater concern is that the Braves feel they need to acquire someone of Sturtze’s quality so early in the offseason. If the team acquired this salary at the deadline, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But, throwing away dollars on a guy this early scares me. This tells me that Schuerholz doesn’t have a lot of confidence in what’s on the farm. At his best, Sturtze will eat innings, and there ought to be plenty of candidates in the minors who can fill this role.

More on Matsuzaka

I’m tired of updating the previous post on the subject, so I’ll add another. David Gassko of The Hardball Times comes up with some estimates of potential contracts that take into account Matsuzaka’s value from being Japanese.

Here is what would [be] a fair offer to Matsuzaka:

3 years, $22 million, or
4 years, $49 million, or
5 years, $75 million

While I doubt that Boras and Matsuzaka would ever agree to the first offer, the latter two look pretty realistic. In fact, it had been rumored that Boras would be seeking a Roy Oswalt-type deal, and Oswalt got five years and $73 million from the Houston Astros. If the Sox can bargain him down to a lower price, they might just make a little money on Matsuzaka.