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 Post subject: Insane free-agent market
PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 9:57 pm 
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In case you haven't noticed, the market has gone nuts.

Five years, $47 million for B.J. Ryan? There's virtually no chance he'll be uninjured for the life of that contract.

Five years, $60 million for Paul Konerko? Konerko is an average hitter whose skills happen to be perfectly suited to his ballpark. His type of player rarely ages well, and I would bet everything I own that by year four of that contract, the White Sox will be desperate to get out of that deal.

Four years, $43 million for Billy Wagner? See B.J. Ryan. Closer mythology has gotten completely out of hand. Good ones who just need a chance are more plentiful than you think. Look at teams like the Angels or Twins or Red Sox, who have done well to forsake the myth that closers are born and only a few people are endowed with special closing properties. Trusting low-priced, high-leveraged veteran setup guys or giving a chance to minor-leaguers with good stuff but no track record (hello, Bobby Jenks! Joe Nathan!) has worked very, very well for teams that actually trust their talent or know how to recognize talent lying fallow in other organizations. The Wagner and Ryan moves are desperation moves made by desperate organizations who feel they need something superficially impressive to show their fans that they're serious.

The Mariners' swallow-hard pickup of Eddie Guardado's $6.25 million option looks downright brilliant right now. As does their three-year, $16.5 million free-agent signing of a Japanese catacher who projects to be a half-step below career-peak Ivan Rodriguez.

The A's also made a reasonable deal in getting Esteban Loaiza for just $7 million a year over three years. He's a high-quality innings-eater with good BB/K and K/9IP rates who's been undervalued because of his one meltdown year in The Bronx.

This whackbag market almost certainly assures that mediocrities like Paul Byrd (suspiciously declining K/9 and H/IP rates), Matt Morris (bad numbers trends, labrum surgery waiting to happen) and Jarrod Washburn (just plain terrible) will be horribly overvalued, like Russ Ortiz and Eric Milton and Cory Lidle were last year.

The best under-the-radar free-agent deals waiting to happen, in my opinion:

— Frank Thomas. Why not one year, $3M guaranteed with lots of incentives?

— Rafael Palmeiro. Same.

— Kevin Brown. Same.

All have something left ... and more important, their perceived market value is MUCH lower than their actual value.


Last edited by Wabberjocky on Fri Dec 02, 2005 1:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 10:03 pm 
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Mike Piazza's still out there, too. Would probably be mainly a DH, but he could definitely help someone.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 10:05 pm 
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He'd cost more — probably $5 to $7 million, by my hasty recalibration of the current market — but our favorite alleged heterosexual can still rake.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Dec 02, 2005 1:03 am 
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From a very knowledgeable friend, on what free agents to avoid at all costs:

Jarrod Washburn, LHP, Angels

Washburn had the greatest positive difference of any pitcher in the American League between his actual ERA and his fielding independent ERA. His 3.20 ERA was great. His 4.39 FIP is totally mediocre. His expected FIP, which normalizes his home run rate based on the amount of flyballs he allowed, was 5.01. His strikeout rate stinks, he’s an extreme flyball pitcher, and he’s got middling command. Run away, run away…

Matt Morris, RHP, Cardinals

Since the all-star break, Matt Morris has been, well, awful. His numbers across the board have taken a nosedive. His strikeout rate has fallen and he’s getting lit up like a Christmas tree. He has a history of arm problems, and at this point, wouldn’t be a good bet even on a one year contract. Given his reputation and his overall totals, someone is certainly going to overpay.

Kenny Rogers, LHP, Rangers

Kenny Rogers is in for a massive collapse next year. His peripherals across the board this season were poor with one exception; his home run rate. He allowed just 7 percent of his flyballs to leave the yard. That’s not sustainable. His exepected fielding independent ERA was 4.88. I’d be surprised if Kenny Rogers was still a major league pitcher at this time next year.

Bengie Molina, C, Angels

He’s got the rep as the best free agent catcher on the market. That shows just how bad this free agent catching crop is, I guess. Anyone want to pay for the age 31-33 seasons of an out-of-shape catcher who has a career .272/.308/.395 line? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Other potential landmines include Todd Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Piazza, Jason LaRue, and Jason Johnson. Also, Jeff Suppan, if the Cardinals decline his option.

If you see your teams pursuing any of these players, it’s bad news. These guys are the prime candidates for the bad offseason signings of 2005. Avoid like the plague.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Dec 02, 2005 1:23 am 
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Some more free-agent analysis I cobbled together with my friend:

A.J. Burnett: Skilled and 28 years old, Burnett’s in the prime of his career. He misses bats, striking out batters at a rate higher than any Mariner save the boy king. Burnett did miss significant time with Tommy John surgery, which points to injury risks.

In another year, Burnett would be a good, solid B-plus, a talented pitcher with some questions, a notch below the slam-dunk talent available above him. This year he’s the flagship of the free agent class. That may well drive his price beyond reasonable.

Rating: Fat Tire beer. Of undeniable quality, Fat Tire is nonetheless one of the most overpriced items at the ballyard. There might not be a more delicious item available, but at this cost, even the manageable risk that some clown might kick over your brew and not offer to buy another seems disconcerting. A premium that you’ll probably have to pay dearly for.



Kevin Millwood: Millwood is older than Burnett and a step down. But though Millwood commanded $7 million this year, what he’ll get in the offseason is likely to be a bargain (in terms of dollars and years) than what the mighty Marlin will draw.

A career flyball pitcher (check out those ratios), Millwood also appears to be well-suited for Safeco Field and other pitching-friendly ballparks. Think of Ryan Franklin, with talent and without the drug suspension.



Jacque Jones: Okay, okay, I know, he hit .249/.321/.438 this year. Not exactly the big bat everyone was hoping for, is he? His plate discipline is legitimately terrible, and his .258 EqA places him as a league average hitter playing one of the easiest defensive positions in baseball. His offensive production the past two years is actually fairly similar to what Adrian Beltre put up for the M’s this season. And I don’t think I’m going to win anyone over by saying that acquiring another 2005 version of Adrian Beltre was going to save the Mariner offense.

Stay with me, though. I’m not insane. Really.

Take a look at these numbers over the past four seasons:

Vs Left: 608 AB, .229/.285/.365

Vs Right: 1510 AB, .277/.338/.472

Jacque Jones cannot hit lefties. At all. Since 2002, against southpaws, he’s drawn 37 walks and struck out 147 times. His line against left-handed pitchers makes him the rough offensive equivalent of someone like Jason Phillips or Neifi Perez. In other words, not anyone you want in your line-up.

But against right-handers, he’s pretty darn good. His line against righties the past four years puts him in the category of guys like Carlos Lee, Jose Guillen, and Shawn Green. When a right-handed pitcher is on the hill, Jones is a well above average offensive force, even when compared to other left fielders. You’d like to see a higher OBP, but the power is a legitimate offensive weapon that the team lacks. Jones has “left-handed sock”, if you will. But he only has it against 75 percent of the major league pitchers out there.

To be truly effective, Jones needs to be platooned. At 30 years old, he’s had plenty of time to make adjustments and show some improvement against lefties. He hasn’t. So he shouldn’t play against them. This puts a cap on his value, since he would begin 25 percent of the M’s games seated on the bench. However, that flaw in and of itself isn’t enough to disqualify him. Even if he only manages 450 at-bats next year while hitting .270/.330/.470, that’s worth approximately 25 runs on offense. 25 runs is a significant upgrade from what the M’s got from their left-fielders this season. Creating 25 runs with his bat would have made him the 4th best hitter on the Mariners this year.

However, 25 runs from a left fielder isn’t the kind of production you’re looking from in a left fielder, especially one who is going to command a multimillion dollar deal as a free agent. Thankfully, offense is only part of the Jacque Jones story.

We’ll be the first to admit that defensive statistics are flawed. When evaluating defense, we need to speak in generalities. We have a pretty good idea of who is good and who is bad, but we don’t have anything like the tools we do to evaluate offense production. The defensive metrics that have been developed based on proprietary play-by-play data hardly ever agree anyways.

But occassionally, they do. And in Jacque Jones case, they agree that the man is pretty freaking awesome defensively.



Kevin Brown:
I’m endorsing Kevin Brown, the broken down 40-year-old with an ERA of six and a half as a free agent target. And I’m not insane. Here’s some numbers for you.

2.1 walks per game. Among the 45 American League qualifiers, this would tie him for 11th best in the AL, well above average.

5.5 strikeouts per game. From the 45 qualifiers, that would put him 22nd, tied with Mark Buehrle. His strikeout rate, essentially, is league average for an AL starting pitcher.

0.55 home runs per game. Among the AL qualifiers, this ties him for best in the AL with Scott Kazmir. He’s allowed 80 flyballs and just 5 home runs. Even if you normalize to an 11 percent HR/FB ratio, he’s only giving up about 20 homers over a full season, making him one of the hardest pitchers in the AL to take out of the park.

1.73 G/F rate. If you put him in the AL qualifiers, he’d rank 3rd, behind Jake Westbrook and Daniel Cabrera. He’s still a dominant groundball pitcher.

Fielding Independant ERA: 3.66. Among those 45 qualifiers, Brown’s 3.66 FIP would rank fifth in the American League. Bartolo Colon, the likely league Cy Young winner, has a Fielding Independant ERA of 3.63. Remember, FIP is a far, far more reliable predictor of future pitching performance than actual ERA. And FIP thinks Brown pitched very well this year, right in line with what he’s been doing the past 10 years.

So, why on earth does Kevin Brown have a 6.51 ERA? Two main reasons:

The defense behind him has been absolutely abysmal. Just 61.5 percent of all his balls in play have been turned into outs, which is just absolutely awful. It’s not like he’s getting torched, either. His line drive percentage is basically league average. We’ve been over the DIPS theory many times, but for the new readers, basically, most pitchers are going to generally fall in the range of a .300 average against on balls in play. Hitters whacked Brown to a .385 average on balls in play, which is most likely a factor of the players behind him simply being unable to get to balls in the hole. The average on balls in play against Brown in 2004 was .290 while his other rate stats were basically the same as they were this year. That’s defense, not pitching.

The other huge factor has been his inability to strand baserunners once they get on. Brown has left just 60.3 percent of the baserunners he’s allowed on the bases when the inning ends. Jose Lima, probably the worst starting pitcher in baseball, stranded 61.4 percent. Stranding runners is not inherantly a skill. Good pitchers do it because they’re good pitchers, and bad pitchers don’t because they’re bad pitchers, but you won’t find many examples of pitchers who succeed in almost all aspects of pitching and then just can’t get anyone out when there’s a runner on base. In fact, Brown’s opposing batters lines with runners on and with the runners empty aren’t dramatically different. In other words, he just allowed an awful lot of clutch hits that happened to pick up baserunners, and he got outs when it didn’t matter as much. Unless you want to believe that after 15 years of dominance, Kevin Brown suddenly began to wilt under pressure, there’s little reason to expect his strand rate to stay so low.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Dec 02, 2005 4:58 pm 
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Wabberjocky wrote:
Some more free-agent analysis I cobbled together with my friend


Wabber,

You can rattle off all the stats you want about Kevin Brown (and you did), and I would turn him over to you in a nonce, no bag of doorknobs in return required.

I don't care what the numbers say: to ascribe Brown's failures to the failures of his defense is not to have watched him pitch. Yankee fans treated to that inglorious sight over the past two years saw plenty of balls that were "torched," to use your term. Brown often went to the mound with nothing and lied about it (as most pitchers do).

Put another way: The Yankees have had All-Stars at almost every infield position the past two years, and how much did that help Brown's ERA? You could put 1987 Don Mattingly at first, 1978 Willie Randolph at second, 1985 Ozzie Smith at short and 1969 Brooks Robinson at third, and Brown would still have an ERA of 7. Sorry. You have to look beyond the numbers in this case.

Your analysis also fails to take into account Brown's juvenile, self-absorbed, misanthropic personality. His punching a dugout wall late in the season took himself out of the 2003 pennant race at a time when the Yanks needed him.

In addition to that, the guy was on the disabled list, what, 14 times in his career? He hasn't played a full season since signing the ridiculous contract with the Dodgers. His back left the building a long time ago, with no forwarding address.

Brown stayed in the game two, possibly three, years too long. The Yankees' biggest mistake wasn't trading for him, because they were exchanging Jeff Weaver for him, and Weaver was another one unsuited for the Bronx. The Yanks' biggest mistake was in not cutting him loose after 2003.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 02, 2005 5:29 pm 
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For one year, $1 million guaranteed and a long laundry list of incentives ... if I had a need for a No. 5 starter, I'd roll the dice on Brown.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 05, 2005 3:10 pm 
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Now, Paul Byrd's getting $7.5 mil a year is truly insane. By that logic, Kevin Millwood is worth about $15 mil or $16 mil a year.

Byrd is a journeyman's journeyman who's lucky to be employed and is two or three bad outings away from being Jose Lima.

The Indians really thought Byrd was better than Millwood? Not sure I understand that thinking. They're both righties, so handedness wasn't a factor. Millwood had a very good season in his first AL campaign (he had a 2.86 ERA, even though his record was 9-11), so he probably wasn't jettisoned for performance.

Odd.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 05, 2005 4:02 pm 
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Agreed. And Millwood is a Scott Boras client, so don't be surprised if Boras waits to see what A.J. Burnett gets ... and then shapes Millwood's contract by that standard. My guess is Millwood gets 5 years, $55 million. Burnett will get more like 5 years, $65-70 million.

Paul Byrd will be either injured or ineffective for a large stretch of the next two years. He survives by a hairsbreadth with good control.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2005 12:49 pm 
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It just gets crazier and crazier ....

Five years and $55 million for A.J. Burnett. Who would have thought the Blue Jays would be the major market-setting player of this off-season?

Now the circus shifts to Scott Boras and his clients: Kevin Millwood, Jeff Weaver and Jarrod Washburn. Boras has been insistent that Millwood, not Burnett, is the real prize of this offseason and will hold out for a five-year deal for his 31-year-old client in excess of Burnett money. Good luck!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 07, 2005 2:37 pm 
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Wabberjocky wrote:
Five years and $55 million for A.J. Burnett. Who would have thought the Blue Jays would be the major market-setting player of this off-season?


From today's Boston Globe:

''There's a leap of faith any time you do anything like this," said Ricciardi about the soon-to-be 29-year-old Burnett, who has a 49-50 record, including a 15-23 mark with a 4.02 ERA since 2002 outside of vast Dolphins Stadium.

''In our situation, where we're at in our city, trying to re-attract quality free agents to come here, maybe we had to go the extra mile. With free agency, one thing I've learned is either you're in or you're out. And if you're in, you're in all the way."

*****************************

At least Ricciardi is realistic about it. He knows Burnett is a bit of a gamble, but he's trying to improve the team, and maybe that will jack up the attendance and advertising buys.

If Halladay and Burnett stay healthy and don't implode off the field (in the case of Burnett), with Ryan at the back of the bullpen, the Jays could be wild card contenders at worst. Those are big "Ifs," though.


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