We’re halfway through November and the winter meetings are right around the corner. Teams are gearing up for next year and taking a look at their rosters, deciding what direction they want their team to head. Today I want to look at the Toronto Blue Jays and hypothesize a direction they could go.
The Blue Jays had a great 2015 and continuing that momentum is crucial for the newly recharged fan base. They have a number of quality young players who contributed this past year. Kevin Pillar, Chris Colabello, Ryan Goins, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna and Devon Travis (when healthy) all had nice seasons and remain under team control in some shape or form for the next 3-5 years. The Jays also have some large expiring contracts after the 2016 season in the form of R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista who have been important pieces to Toronto’s success. Add in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki and the Blue Jays should once again compete in the AL East in 2016. One of the glaring issues however is their starting rotation and bullpen.
With Marco Estrada signed the Blue Jays have a starting rotation of Dickey, Stroman, Estrada and Hutchison. Reports have come out and the Jays will reportedly have a similar budget to last year, around $140 million. After the guaranteed contracts, arbitration estimates and league-minimum salaries are accounted for the Blue Jays will have about $18-$19 million to spend on starting pitching and bullpen help. There are a number of directions the Blue Jays could go; it’s a solid class of starting pitching this year and with the $18 million left in the salary they could for sure pick up a quality starting pitcher to fill out the rotation. They could also spent the money on a lockdown relief pitcher and try to transition either Aaron Sanchez or Roberto Osuna to the rotation. Or they could split up the money and get an older starting pitcher and get whatever reliever is available for the remainder of the money. Another option, and the one that I’m going to explore, is the trade route.
With all the moves the Blue Jays made at the deadline, their farm system isn’t as strong as it was at midseason last year but the recent developments with the Atlanta Braves got me thinking about trade ideas — mainly Julio Teheran. With the Braves set to open a new stadium in 2017 the mentality has been to shed money and stock prospects for the opening season in the new stadium. This works out great for the Blue Jays who have some talent left in the farm system that could be useful to the Braves. The fourth-ranked prospect in the Blue Jays system and coincidentally the fourth-ranked catching prospect in baseball is Max Pentecost. Atlanta has been stocking arms in recent trades but with Christian Bethancourt struggling in his time in the majors, the Braves clearly don’t have a long-term solution behind the dish. The former 1st round pick, 11th overall is currently in advanced-A ball and his estimated time of arrival in the majors is 2017, perfect for their rebuilding plans. If the Jays were to include one maybe two young pitchers on a similar timeline like Conner Greene and/or Marcus Smoral, perhaps that would be enough to pluck Teheran away from Atlanta.
Teheran is only 24 years old and will turn 25 for the 2016 season. He’s owed a bargain-basement price of $3,466,666 for next season, is under contract through 2019, and has a club option for 2020. With starting pitcher salaries estimated anywhere from $10-$25 million and up this offseason, Teheran and his $3.5 million in 2016 season seem like a steal. Plus the Blue Jays would be getting Teheran for the prime years of his career and although last year was an off year, he’s shown signs of being an ace. Teheran would complete the starting rotation for the Jays in 2016 and after Dickey’s contract expires, Toronto would be left with a rotation of Stroman, Teheran, Hutchison and Estrada for the 2017 season. The other nice thing about Teheran is that his $3.5 million contract leaves Toronto with roughly $15.5 million left over to fill out the bullpen or upgrade other areas. Teheran would be an affordable and valuable piece to a rotation that desperately needs it and would be far better then spending 3 to 4 times his annual 2016 salary on a pitcher that may already be or not far away from the decline of his career.
As I mentioned above, with the money saved on the Teheran trade, the Blue Jays could add a piece to the bullpen or upgrade other areas but in compiling data for this article, I got to thinking about what the Jays could do for the future. 2017 has roughly $36 million coming off the books for Toronto and with a young core of controllable players, the Jays have some room to make a move. One of the contracts expiring is RF Jose Bautista. I personally think the Jays should re-sign Bautista after 2017 but I don’t think putting him in right would make sense. With Encarnacion’s contract set to expire as well, the DH spot would be available for Bautista, should he choose to stick around. That would leave RF empty and looking at the outfield class of 2017 (Beltran, Suzuki, Gregor Blanco, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Mark Trumbo and of course Bautista) the group leaves something to be desired.
That brought me to the 2016 class, led by arguable the best right fielder in the game, Jason Heyward. The Jays have been rumored to be after SP free agents David Price and Zack Greinke but for the amount of money they’ll command and the stages they’re at in their career, I think the money might be better spent on a player whose best days are ahead of him. That in my opinion is Jason Heyward. We know Heyward is a solid player, who’s shown flashes of brilliance and is young enough to still put it all together consistently. In a lineup like the Blue Jays’, Heyward would thrive much the way Josh Donaldson officially broke out as a superstar last year. Heyward would have the protection and opportunities to truly develop into the player he’s about to get paid to be. The problem with signing Heyward would be the Blue Jays would have to free up a sizable amount of money and the only real place to look is at shortstop in the form of Troy Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki was a surprise addition for the Blue Jays last year and definitely added strength to an already dangerous lineup but with the depth that Toronto has with Ryan Goins able to play SS and the return of Devon Travis, the 31-year-old Tulowitzki becomes an expensive option for the remainder of his career. Perhaps the Jays should trade Tulowitzki to free up money to sign Heyward to a long-term deal? Instead of watching the expensive decline of Tulo for the remainder of his contract, Toronto could still sell high to a team willing to take on the contract, receiving bullpen help and possibly an extra outfielder to help address current needs.
I then started going through MLB teams to see which ones would possibly be in a situation to make the trade happen. The Diamondbacks, White Sox and Mets all stood out as possible suitors while the Rangers, Yankees, Padres and Mariners also seemed like possible options. For the purposes of this article I’m only going to focus on the first three.
With a 2015 budget of about $76,622,575 million the Arizona Diamondbacks definitely have room to financially take on Tulo’s contract; the question is, is that where LaRussa and Dave Stewart want to take the team? None of us truly know but if the asking price is right, perhaps Randall Delgado and Ender Inciarte, maybe the thought of Tulo and Goldschmidt would fit their plans. They did spend $68.5 million for 6 years of Yasmany Tomas and with the emergence of David Peralta and A.J. Pollock, the Diamondbacks have outfielders to spare. If the trade were to go through the Blue Jays would gain about $18,487,000 giving them a total available amount of about $33,980,334. That would definitely be enough to sign Heyward to a 7-10 year deal (depending on what the market drives his year amount to) at anywhere from $20-$29 million per season. With the $36 million coming off the books in 2017, Toronto would have about $37 million to spend on the DH spot (Possibly Bautista) and SP or RP spot open (depending on how they handle Sanchez and Osuna). Compared to the $50 million amount they could have in 2017 minus whatever they pay for a starting pitcher this off season. In reality that $50 million would probably be more like $30-$35 million with two rotation spots available as well as the DH. If the Teheran trade and Heyward signing were to happen, here is what the 2016 and 2017 Blue Jays lineup would look like.
2016 Lineup 2017 Lineup
C = R. Martin C = R. Martin
1B = E. Encarnacion 1B = C. Colabello
2B = D. Travis 2B = D. Travis
3B = J. Donaldson 3B = J. Donaldson
SS = R. Goins SS = R. Goins
LF = B. Revere LF = B. Revere
CF = K. Pillar CF = K. Pillar
RF = J. Heyward RF = J. Heyward
DH = J. Bautista DH = ?
SP = R.A. Dickey SP = M. Stroman
SP = M. Stroman SP = J. Teheran
SP = J. Teheran SP = D. Hutchison
SP = D. Hutchison SP = M. Estrada
SP = M. Estrada SP = ?
RP = R. Osuna RP = R. Osuna
RP = A. Sanchez RP = A. Sanchez
RP = L. Hendricks RP = L. Hendricks
RP = B. Cecil RP = B. Cecil
RP = R. Delgado RP = R. Delgado
RP = S. Delabar RP = S. Delabar
RP = A. Loup RP = A. Loup
BN = E. Inciarte BN = E. Inciarte
BN = J. Thole BN = D. Pompey
BN = C. Colabello BN = ?
BN = D. Barney BN = ?
If Heyward’s contract was structured so that his first year was set at $20 million, the Jays would enter 2016 with about $13-$14 million left in the budget for any additional moves. It would also shore up right field a year before it’s an issue while upgrading the bullpen and perhaps leading the way for Sanchez or Ozuna to enter the rotation for 2017. The point is Toronto has money coming available next year but in order to get the player that best fits their future needs, they might have to make a move now instead of waiting till next year.
The next team I thought might make sense as a trade partner was the Chicago White Sox, who recently released long time SS, Alexi Ramirez. The White Sox had a budget of $118,860,487 in 2015 and were supposed to be contenders with the additions of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche but instead fell way short and put together an all-around forgettable season. With the release of Ramirez, shortstop seems to be an area of need for Chicago, and Tulowitzki with Abreu, Cabrera and LaRoche would be a great fit on the south side.
Unlike the Diamondbacks however the White Sox don’t have as much potential new money available, so off-setting the cost of Tulo’s contract would have to be taken into account when thinking about a trade. Someone like Zach Duke, who is owed $5,000,000 over the next two years might be a good addition to the Toronto bullpen. If the Sox would somehow include often-injured Avisail Garcia, this trade might really swing in Toronto’s favor but really saving money for a Heyward run would be more important then any name on the back of a jersey.
For argument’s sake I’m going to use the Duke/Garcia for Tulowitzki trade as an example. The difference in salaries would be about $12.7 million and that added to the $15,493,334 left over after the Teheran trade, Toronto would have about $28,193,334 left over to make Heyward an offer. And again, if the contract was structured so that the first year paid Heyward $20 million, the Blue Jays would have about $8 million left over for additional offseason/mid-season upgrades.
The last team that I thought would make sense for a potential Tulo trade was a team that was linked to him while he was still in Colorado, the New York Mets. Coming off a spectacular run to the World Series, the Mets are set to lose Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy to free agency. In 2015 they had a payroll of $120,415,688 and Cespedes and Murphy combined for $11,729,508 of that total budget, over half of what Tulowitzki is owed going into 2016. For the Mets, their quality rotation is under team control or earlier arbititration for the next few years, so continuing the winning environment at a fraction of the cost is of utmost importance. The health of David Wright is suspect and with a nice young group in Conforto, d’Arnaud, Duda, and Lagares, trading for someone of Tulo’s caliber might help their development and continue the winning environment.
The Mets would be in the same situation that the White Sox are — they can’t add too much salary, so off-setting costs would play into the equation. If the Mets traded Jonathan Niese, who’s owed about $9 million in 2016, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, they’d clear about $10,688,729. Add that with the money saved from letting Murphy and Cespedes walk and they could easily bring in Tulowitzki’s contract. The Blue Jays would have about $26 million to work with and again, if Heyward’s first year was set at $20 million, they’d have about $6,182,063 to work with for offseason/mid-season upgrades.
All of this is unauthorized speculation but I do think that the Blue Jays are in a unique situation where they can really make some moves that could set them up for years of success. Chasing the big-name starting pitchers may seem like the obvious move but taking advantage of other team’s situations could allow them to acquire elite talent for minimal cost and the money saved on starting pitching could be used to solve future needs that aren’t quite here yet. As always, thanks for reading and let me know what you think.
With the World Series over and all the free agents declared it’s now time for my second-favorite part of the MLB season: the offseason. The 2015 free-agent class is pretty deep and includes some elite players. In this article I wanted to figure out a way to determine monetary value for the top three starting pitchers available this year: Zack Greinke, David Price and Johnny Cueto. All of them are aces and certainly heading for a big pay day but I wanted to develop a way of using the recent big contracts pitchers have signed and the production of great players in the past to determine what kind of pay day these guys are heading for.
Since 2009 there have been nine pitchers to sign a major deal: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain. (I didn’t include Masahiro Tanaka because he didn’t face big-league hitting until he signed his contract.) The average salary amount for these contracts was $168 million and had an average year length of about 5-6 years. When we’re looking at contracts there are many things to consider but two of the biggest factors has to be dollar and year amount. For all three of these pitchers, this may be their last big contract, so maximizing potential is crucial. Every team would love to add a pitcher of their caliber but not every team is in a position to pay for them. That’s part of the reason I wanted to figure out a way to see what dollar amount these pitchers’ production has warranted so far, in comparison to the big contracts signed since ’09 and speculate what can be expected of them for the length of the contract.
To figure out the dollar amount I looked at the nine players’ contracts and figured out the average yearly salary for each individual. I then took that number and divided it by their career WAR, essentially figuring how much it cost the team for the player’s WAR production. Here are the results I got (in millions).
Clayton Kershaw – $5.2m
Justin Verlander – $7m
Felix Hernandez – $6.5m
Jon Lester – $8.9m
C.C. Sabathia – $6.7m
Cole Hamels – $7m
Matt Cain – $9.4m
Zack Greinke – $7.7m
Max Scherzer – $7.5m
I averaged out the numbers, rounded off and got $7.3 million per WAR created. I then took that 7.3 number and multiplied it by Greinke’s career WAR to get, 27.7. So theoretically a year of Zack Greinke pitching is roughly $27.7 million. For David Price it’s $29.2 million and for Johnny Cueto it’s $21.1 million. It’s hard to predict where the market will go once teams start the bidding war, and I’m sure some team is willing to pay above the WAR value to ensure they get their man but for now I’m going to use these numbers to speculate year amount and production.
To determine the amount of years each player could receive, I decided to compare their career production with that of a similar type of pitcher. Let’s start with Zack Greinke. For Greinke I went with Greg Maddux as a comparison; obviously Greinke throws harder but I felt their command of the strike zone and pitches put Maddux and Greinke in the same boat. Below I’ve compared Greinke’s first 12 years in the big leagues to Maddux’s and I certainly think they’re close.
Zack Greinke Greg Maddux
ERA = 3.49 ERA = 3.06
IP = 2,092.1 IP = 2,596.7
BABIP = .299 BABIP = .283
WAR = 3.8 WAR = 5.5
K/9 = 7.97 K/9 = 6.27
BB/9 = 2.37 BB/9 = 2.23
FIP = 3.52 FIP = 3.06
HR/9 = .92 HR/9 = .49
At age 32 Maddux had a better WAR than Greinke and threw about 500 more innings, but the latter may work in Greinke’s favor. The next part will help determine how many years a team can reasonably expect Greinke to pitch at an elite level. I looked at Maddux’s career numbers from age 32-38 and these were the results.
Greg Maddux (Age 32-38)
ERA = 3.21
IP = 1,581.6
BABIP = .285
WAR = 5.3
K/9 = 6.18
BB/9 = 1.50
FIP = 3.46
HR/9 = .81
As you can see from the results, Maddux was still pitching at an elite level from ages 32-38. From the ages of 39-41 however, you have a different story.
Greg Maddux (Age 39-41)
ERA = 4.20
IP = 827
BABIP = .291
WAR = 3.5
K/9 = 4.93
BB/9 = 1.39
FIP = 3.88
HR/9 = .91
Still good enough to be a major-league pitcher but a far cry from his prime. For Greinke’s situation I think you can expect a similar outcome, so a contract of 6 years at $166 million would be incredibly reasonable for a team. But this is America and money talks; whichever team is willing to pay the elite price tag for more then six years, I think, will be the winner of his services. A seven-year contract between $27-$29 million would be palatable and completely plausible but I think you start to handcuff yourself as a team going for eight years at that rate. Greinke had a dominant 2015 and if there ever was a time for him to test the open market, it’s now. We’ll see what teams are willing to shell out for him but for now let’s move on to David Price.
Unlike Greinke, David Price has never had a chance to test the open market and after another stellar season in the big leagues, Price is gearing up for a big pay day. As I mentioned before Price has a WAR value of about $29.2 million per season and at the age of 30 could see a lengthier contract then Greinke. To figure out future production I could only go with another tall, hard-throwing left-hander by the name of Randy Johnson. Price has eight years under his belt and his comparison to Randy Johnson looks something like this.
David Price Randy Johnson
ERA = 3.02 ERA = 3.44
IP = 1,439.8 IP = 1,457.8
BABIP = .275 BABIP = .279
WAR = 4 WAR = 4
K/9 = 8.34 K/9 = 9.78
BB/9 = 2.43 BB/9 = 4.46
FIP = 3.30 FIP = 3.43
HR/9 = .80 HR/9 = .76
Price and Johnson compare very well, with Johnson having the advantage in K/9 but Price’s BB/9 is significantly better. Both have a WAR of 4 and nearly identical IP, BABIP, FIP and HR/9. Over the next eight years Johnson went on to be one of the most dominating pitchers in the game and during that stretch had some of the greatest seasons we’ve seen from a pitcher, period. Here are his numbers from 1996-2003.
Randy Johnson (’96-’03)
ERA = 2.93
IP = 1,660.8
BABIP = .308
WAR = 7
K/9 = 12.04
BB/9 = 2.79
FIP = 2.85
HR/9 = .94
This was by far the prime of Johnson’s career and although Price may not put up those types of numbers, he has a good shot of coming close. An 8-year deal for $233 million would be a steal if Price could come close to Johnson’s numbers. Price’s situation is similar to Greinke’s whereas whichever team is willing to pay elite prices for the most years will probably win out. Like Maddux, if you look at the back end of Johnson’s career, you’ll see the decline in results. Still effective for a major-league pitcher but not worth the elite money they once were.
Randy Johnson (’04-’09)
ERA = 4.00
IP = 1,011.6
BABIP = .290
WAR = 3.8
K/9 = 9.09
BB/9 = 2.21
FIP = 3.70
HR/9 = 1.21
Again, whichever team is willing to pay the elite price tag for these years of Price’s career will probably be the winner. It’s a gamble for sure to exceed eight years but eight elite seasons of David Price might be worth a year or two of mediocre Price. This brings us to our last top-tier starting pitcher and the one who perhaps stands to gain the most by being in the same class as Greinke and Price: Johnny Cueto.
First off, I want to say that I think Cueto is a great pitcher and one who deserves the “ace” title, and I know he’s spent most of his career in a hitter-friendly ballpark, but I don’t think his numbers warrant the price tag that Greinke and Price may receive. That being said, pitching is crucial for success in the big leagues and there are only a few top-tier pitchers available via free agency. A team that loses out on Greinke and Price could very well overpay for Cueto’s services to ensure they get one of the best available. For comparison I decided to use Jake Peavy; although Peavy is still playing I think his time as the ace for San Diego and his funky delivery pair nicely with Cueto. Here are the comparisons for the two pitchers through the first eight seasons of their careers.
Johnny Cueto Jake Peavy
ERA = 3.31 ERA = 3.34
IP = 1,418.7 IP = 1,360.1
BABIP = .272 BABIP = .286
WAR = 2.9 WAR = 3.7
K/9 = 7.35 K/9 = 9.00
BB/9 = 2.65 BB/9 = 2.94
FIP = 3.87 FIP = 3.46
HR/9 = .94 HR/9 = .90
Through similar innings pitched Cueto and Peavy have comparable ERA, BABIP, WAR, BB/9, FIP and HR/9. The WAR value that I came up with for Cueto was $21.1 million per season, a number I think he can certainly get for a number of years. He’s only 29 and unlike Greinke and Price, may be able to sign two major contracts in his career if he can maintain elite status throughout the first one he is about to sign. If he were to sign a four- or five-year deal (4 years/$84 million or 5 years/$105), it’s not crazy to think that a team will pay the elite price tag for another three or four years of a quality Johnny Cueto.
The red flag I see with Cueto is the amount of innings he’s thrown; at 29 he’s only 21.1 innings away from David Price’s total of 1,439.8. As is the case with Jake Peavy, injuries completely derailed effectiveness and Peavy quickly went from “ace” to a 3rd or 4th starter. I’m not saying Cueto is destined to get hurt — his chances are the same as anyone, but paying the high price required to get him makes the possible injury sting even more. Here are the numbers Jake Peavy has put up over the past 6 seasons.
Jake Peavy (’10-’15)
ERA = 4.06
IP = 893.8
BABIP = .281
WAR = 2.3
K/9 = 7.39
BB/9 = 2.31
FIP = 3.82
HR/9 = 1.04
As I mentioned above, injuries greatly affected Peavy’s last six seasons and that’s not the best situation to compare future production from Cueto but it could be a caution to whichever team signs him as to the other end of the spectrum. We all hope for the best but you have to plan for the worst and shelling out $21m+ per season for those types of numbers doesn’t necessarily make sense.
Again I think Cueto is in a great position here, he’s young enough to sign a big deal and still have the potential to land another one down the road. It just depends on effectiveness and health; if both of those stay on his side, he should have no problem getting another big contract around 34 or 35.
After it’s all said and done, we’ll truly know the answer and that’s part of the fun. Speculating how much, how long and where players will end up helps get through the grueling winter months and I, for one, love it. Let me know what you think below and as always, thanks for reading.
Since the Rockies have started playing baseball in Colorado, they’ve continually run into the same problem: pitching. We’re all familiar with the situation — the altitude and thin air create a hitter’s haven and a nightmare for pitchers, particularly starting pitchers. The Rockies have tried to remedy the situation in the past by bringing in top-tier starting pitchers, only to have them struggle. In 2012 and ’13 they tried a four-man rotation with a 75-pitch limit which led to a 64-98 record and a 5.22 team ERA. 2013 was a bit more successful, as they finished with a 74-88 record and a 4.44 team ERA. Still it wasn’t good enough to contend for a playoff spot and definitely not good enough to compete for a World Series title. In fact, in 2007 when the Rockies had their only World Series appearance, they carried a team ERA of 4.32. Only four teams since 2007, including the Rockies, have had a team ERA of over 4.00 and made it to the Fall Classic. The others were the 2009 New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies and the 2010 Texas Rangers. As the Mets and Royals have shown us this year, quality starting and relief pitching can take you pretty far in this game. My question is, with all the different strategies the Rockies have tried, what can they do differently to compete?
My suggestion is a slight tweak on an idea that Dave Fleming wrote about in 2009 called the 3-3-3 Rotation. In his article he describes the 3-3-3 Rotation as three pitchers, pitching three innings, every third day with a pitch limit of 40-60 pitches. By having a pitcher essentially go through the order one time, it allows them to give it all they have for a short time instead of conserving their energy for the later innings. In theory, this makes sense. Look at the Royals the past few years; they’ve turned a number of former starting pitchers into relievers and most, if not all have found success in their new roles. In his first year as a starter in 2008, Luke Hochevar had an opponents batting average of .243/.289/.319 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time through the order. His last year as a starter in 2012 was a little bit better with a .288/.263/.294 BAA but his best season in the majors came as a reliever in 2013 when he held opponents to a .169 BAA.
This may hit a little too close to home for Rockies fans but last year Franklin Morales as a starter for Colorado had a split of .300/.337/.220; in his first year with the Royals out of the pen he held opponents to a .246 BAA. Staying with the Kansas City bullpen, we can look at Wade Davis, who actually had declining BAA numbers in his last year as a starter — .280/.251/.236 — but still posted a solid .151 BAA in his first season in relief. Andrew Miller had a split of .336/.261/.300 in his last year as a starter in 2011; his first year as a reliever in 2012 was significantly better with a .194 BAA. Zach Britton is a similar case with a .272/.266/.293 BAA split in his last year as a starter in 2011 and a .180 BAA in 2012 as a bullpen piece. The point is, generally speaking, when a major-league hitter has a chance to see a pitcher three times in one game, the advantage shifts to the hitter, and if a pitcher with quality stuff can face the order once, the advantage goes to the pitcher. This point is even more important for the Rockies who can’t afford to give their opponents any more advantages when playing in Colorado.
The Rockies have always struggled to attract top-tier starting pitching, since no one really wants to inflate their numbers by pitching half of their games at Coors Field. Colorado has tried to draft and develop power arms who rely on strikeouts and ground balls more so than fly-ball pitchers but still the results are the same ;; a sub-.500 team with an ERA over 5.00, which is not a recipe for success. The average major-league team has five starting pitchers and carries seven relievers in their bullpen. My tweak on Dave Fleming’s 3-3-3 rotation would be to split the 12 pitchers into four groups of three, all with a pitch count of 40-60 depending on effectiveness. In a perfect world every pitcher would go through the order once, throwing anywhere from 30-60 pitches and then turning the ball over to the next guy up who would hopefully do the same thing.
But we don’t live in a perfect world so by having four groups of three, each pitcher could be shifted around depending on the amount of pitches thrown in a week, meaning an effective pitcher could pitch as much as three to four times a week. The average starting pitcher in the majors pitches once maybe twice a week, each time throwing anywhere between 70-120+ pitches depending on the outing; by splitting up that workload they could see action three to four times a week. The average reliever definitely pitches less innings, around 70-80, and in turn throws less pitches but many major-league relievers spent time in the minors as starters, throwing 100+ innings a season. The workload is definitely something to monitor but in 2015 the Rockies used 29 different pitchers. The average amount of innings that a team played was 1,447, and the Rockies staff as a whole pitched 1,426.1 innings. So between the 29 different pitchers, you could keep arms fresh and put pitchers in a position to succeed.
Which brings me to my next point — putting pitchers in a position to succeed. When an offense has a strong 3 and 4 hitter, a manager may put a young player in the 2nd spot instead of lower in the order to ensure that the young player will see strikes. A pitcher never wants to walk someone in front of a player who can crush it out of the park. This leads to more balls seen in the strike zone, hopefully leading towards a positive result, Josh Donaldson is a great example of that this year. Joe Maddon has also implemented a strategy to set young Addison Russell up for success by having him bat 9th after the pitcher instead of 8th before the pitcher. The logic is the same — Russell will see more strikes because opposing pitchers don’t want to walk him and turn the lineup over to their heavy hitters.
I believe the 3-3-3 rotation does this for pitchers, especially pitchers in Colorado. The Rockies had a collective split of .298/.339/.351 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time through the order in 2015. By having their pitchers face the opposing lineup once, it allows them to display all of the pitches right away. Instead of establishing your A and B pitches the first time through the order and showing your C and possibly D pitches through the second and third time, a pitcher can show all of them through the first three innings. This creates confusion for the hitters and also forces them to be more aggressive at the plate early, something that can be taken advantage of if properly executed. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the best offenses in the game do a tremendous job of communicating with their teammates about the pitcher and the pitches they’re seeing. Remember, the more familiar the pitcher is to the batter, the more advantage the batter has. If you can remove that advantage from the opposing offense, it further sets your pitching staff up for success. Opposing teams would have to have different game plans for each pitcher they see, and those quick adjustments aren’t the easiest to make throughout a 162-game season.
All in all it’s an experiment and besides Tony LaRussa trying something similar for a week in 1993, there hasn’t been another team to try this method. For many teams, the classic five-man rotation works and who am I to say they’re wrong but the Rockies have never really been able to figure it out and if any team is in a position to give it a shot, I believe it’s them.
Today we’re going to look at the teams in the cellar of their respected AL divisions. As it stands today, those teams are the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and the Oakland A’s. With a closer look at the numbers, I think we can find which team, if any, still has a chance of contending this year. Let’s start with the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox are currently 8.5 games back going into action today. They are 11-22 in the AL East and have an overall record of 32-41. They have a -43 run differential and a team ERA of 4.46. Starting pitching has clearly been the problem for Boston this year, and although the offense hasn’t been as bad as the other teams we’ll look at, it just hasn’t been enough to compete in a stacked AL East. The Red Sox are last among last-place teams in SP ERA (4.77), K/9 (7.08), BB/9 (2.86) and WHIP (1.34). And as the run differential shows, they haven’t been able to outscore opponents to make up for sub-par pitching. This combined with a tough division makes it hard to believe Boston can turn it around this year. And although a trade for a starting pitcher is possible, it still seems unlikely the Red Sox are one piece away from contending; from the look of things, it seems more like 2 or 3 pieces. But have no fear Boston, although the Red Sox have played poorly, they haven’t played as bad as the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox were a trendy pick going into the season. With the addition of Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and the return of Jose Abreu, it seemed like the White Sox could compete this year. So far, they’ve done anything but compete. They’re currently 11 games back in the AL Central and are 14-23 in the division. They have a -79 run differential, worst among last-place teams, and have a team ERA of 4.09. Unlike Boston, the White Sox starting pitching hasn’t been horrible; it hasn’t been great but it hasn’t been the reason for their lack of success. They lead all last-place teams in SP K/9 (8.36) and RP ERA (3.84). They’re also second in SP ERA (4.19) and BB/9 (2.62) but run into the same problem the Red Sox have — they play in an extremely competitive division, perhaps the best in the AL. With Kansas City, Minnesota and Detroit playing solid baseball, it has made the climb for the White Sox quite difficult.
What makes it harder, and perhaps the most shocking, is the White Sox aren’t hitting at all. They haven’t all year and show no signs of turning it around. They’re last among the cellar-dwellers in AVG (.237), wOBA (.282), BABIP (.282), OBP (.292), ISO (.108), K% (20.2) and BB% (6.3). All of that adds up to the worst statistical offense in baseball and hardly seems like an easy fix. GM Rick Hahn had what seemed like a productive offseason, and we’ll see if he can figure out a way to turn things around, but like the Red Sox, it doesn’t appear to be a simple fix. All that brings us to the final last-place team, the Oakland A’s.
The A’s, like the Red and White Sox, had a busy offseason, but unlike Boston and Chicago, no one really expected them to contend this year. Billy Beane blew up what was a successful 2014 squad in order to retool and make another run but so far it hasn’t exactly worked out this year. Oakland is 9 games back in the AL West, looking up at Houston, Texas, Los Angeles and Seattle. They have a 16-22 record in the division but have the only plus run differential (43) among last-place teams and rank second to the Houston Astros in the division with (47).
The A’s have succeeded where Boston and Chicago have failed. Oakland leads all last-place teams in SP ERA (3.00), BABIP (.271), BB/9 (2.68), HR/FB (9%), HR/9 (.81) and WHIP (1.22). They also stack up well in their division: the A’s are first in the AL West in ERA, BABIP, HR/FB, HR/9 and WHIP. Their offense hasn’t been bad either; along with their plus run differential, they’re first among last-place teams in AVG (.259), BABIP (.297) and OBP (.323). Although they can’t hit the long ball like Houston can, Oakland seems to have an efficient offense and good starting pitching, and both of those things could come in handy if the Astros start to falter down the stretch.
Oakland’s biggest issue seems to be the bullpen, as they’re last among last-place teams in RP ERA (4.77) and HR/9 (1.24). They’re also last in the AL West in RP ERA (4.77) and BABIP (.306). The Kansas City Royals showed everybody last year how important a shutdown bullpen can be and although Oakland has performed well in other categories, the bullpen seems to be hurting them the most. Another aspect of Oakland’s game that is hurting them is their defense. The A’s are currently last in the AL West with a -28.7 UZR; that’s more then double what any other division opponent has. If the bullpen can’t shut down the offense and defense isn’t doing you any favors, it becomes very hard to win enough games to contend.
But alas, all is not lost. The AL West is not nearly as competitive as the East or Central and although the Astros have played tremendous baseball, they’re still a young team that lives and dies by the home run. If Oakland can find a way to shore up the bullpen and defense, either through a trade or in-house, it’s not unlikely for them to make a run and cover some ground. They have 35 games left with AL West opponents and Houston seems to be the clear #1 enemy. The Rangers and Angels both seem like middle-of-the-road teams, neither succeeding or failing in any particular category but not dominant enough to move forward. The Astros’ bullpen and offense has been phenomenal this season, leading the AL West in RP ERA (2.62), BABIP (.236), K/9 (9.66), BB/9 (2.36) and WHIP (.94). And although their offense strikes out a lot, they’re leading the West in BB% (8.4%), ISO (.186) and wOBA (.320). They may swing and miss a lot but when they make contact, watch out. The reason to believe the West is still anybody’s to grab is Houston’s starting pitching. They’re last in the division in SP ERA (4.19) and HR/FB (11.5%) and second to last in SP BABIP (.297), K/9 (6.91), BB/9 (2.80) and WHIP (1.30).
Now we are getting closer to the trade deadline and making a move for a starting pitcher may behoove the Astros more so than any other division leader but if they can’t swing a deal, I think it definitely leaves the door open for a team to contend. As unlikely as it appears now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that team were the Oakland Athletics. They have to make moves to improve the bullpen and defense but with their efficient offense and quality starting pitching, I think they’re the only team in the division that can beat Houston and in turn, I believe they’re the only last-place team that still has a chance.
I decided to do a little experiment today and put the first third of the season under a microscope. I thought, what better way to compare MLB teams then by using a fantasy baseball format? Using seven offensive stats (AVG, wOBA, BABIP, OBP, ISO, K%, BB%) and seven pitching stats (BB/9, HR/9, BABIP, HR/FB, ERA, WHIP, K/9) I compiled the numbers from around the league. After getting the numbers, I went through and noted where each team stood in the overall standings for each stat. For every top-10 a team had in a given category, I gave them a point; the teams with the most points, theoretically, should be in the mix for the 10 playoff spots this September. Three teams — the Cardinals, Dodgers and Tigers — had the highest scores with 10 overall points. The next highest was the upstart AL West leading Astros and the red-hot Blue Jays. Both teams are interesting cases but with the Blue Jays sitting in third place in a, let’s say, competitive AL East, I have to wonder, how good are the Blue Jays and how far can they go?
This isn’t the Blue Jays of old; with the addition of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin and the emergence of young, productive players like Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis (before he got hurt), Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia, the Blue Jays have a balanced and deep offense. We know teams that live and die by the home run generally have trouble staying consistent throughout the season. This has been the problem with the Blue Jays in the past, waiting for Bautista and Encarnacion to heat up and then when they do, watch out. This year however, has been much more of a consistent team effort. With the top offense in baseball the Blue Jays are third in AVG, first in wOBA, 10th in BABIP, third in OBP, second in ISO, seventh in K% and seventh in BB%. All of that adds up to scoring runs, which they do very well, leading the league with 5.47 RPG. In my fantasy reality projections, the Blue Jays received a point for every offensive stat, the only team to do so. It’s the pitching categories however that raise my questions.
Although they had a total of 8 points, the Blue Jays were in the top 10 of only one pitching category: they’re third in BABIP. This isn’t to say that their pitching has been bad, as they’ve actually been pretty decent so far this year. Mark Buehrle has been his same old self, Drew Hutchison with his 5.33 ERA is 6-1, Aaron Sanchez has recovered nicely from a rough start of the season, Marco Estrada is a nice piece to have and although R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball hasn’t been as good as in years past, he’s still keeping them in the game and at least saving the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, it’s been a lot better as well this year. Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna and Liam Hendricks all have K/9 above 9.0 and the bullpen as a whole has an ERA of 3.38, lower than the league average of 3.50. But is all of this enough to win the division or at least get a wild-card birth?
The AL East has been a mixed bag this year. Every team, besides the Red Sox, seems to be a hot or cold streak away from dominating or falling off the face of the earth. The Rays are currently leading the AL East by 1 game over the Yankees and 2 games ahead of both the Orioles and Blue Jays. The Rays are pretty much the opposite of the Blue Jays, as they don’t hit a lot of home runs and where the Blue Jays lead not only the division but the league in runs scored per game, the Rays are last in the division and 26th in the league with 3.73 RPG. The Rays have an AL East best 3.26 ERA and the Blue Jays, of course are at the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking fourth in the division at 4.26. These numbers bring into to play run differential, where the Blue Jays lead the division at +69 and the Rays are fourth with a +7 run differential. Anything is possible but it just feels like the Rays won’t be able to hold on throughout the season, especially facing the offenses in the AL East. Speaking of the other teams not named the Red Sox, let’s look at the Yankees and Orioles and see how their success may impact Toronto.
Both the Orioles and Yankees have mostly played good baseball throughout the season. The Yankees have definitely exceeded expectations and the Orioles have been a streaky team but are still hanging right in there. I think these two teams pose the biggest threat to any potential Toronto success. With the AL Central as loaded as it is, it’s entirely possible that two AL wild-card teams come from that division. It’s also highly possible that one could come from the AL West — the Rangers are playing better, the Angels have a similar record to the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles and I know it sounds crazy but I’ll never count the A’s out until it’s mathematically impossible.
All that being said, I think it will be hard for Toronto to secure a wild-card birth; I think they have to win the division. The Yankees and Orioles are second and third in the AL East in RPG with 4.53 and 4.50 respectively and both have a better team ERA than the Blue Jays do. The Orioles have a run differential of +35 and the Yankees are at +12, so it’s certainly possible if the numbers stay where they’re at that the Blue Jays can just outscore everyone more often then not. But pitching wins championships — just ask the Giants — and if the Blue Jays want to have the success they’re looking for, they’ll need to improve their starting rotation.
The question then becomes, where do they get the help? We saw what happened to the A’s last year when they went for everything and broke up a successful offense to secure their starting rotation. I’m not suggesting the Blue Jays do exactly that but I do think they need to make a move to get a proven starter. Toronto is invested in young starters Hutchison and Sanchez who have performed well but not great, and veterans like Buehrle and Dickey are a good presence for a young staff, but they seem to lack that workhorse, front-of-the-rotation guy. Filling the void from within is always the preferred method but it doesn’t appear that the Blue Jays have anybody waiting in the wings.
Perhaps R.A. Dickey can regain his form and become the ace that he was with the Mets, but that’s a lot to hope for. Toronto’s farm system was ranked 19th in MLB going into the season, making it difficult to trade for a top-tier starter without dealing major-league talent but surely they could put something together for a major-league starter without breaking up their core players. If they can make a move, I think they’ll greatly increase their chance of winning the division. If they don’t, they’ll have to hope everyone stays healthy and the offense keeps rolling. One thing is for sure, it’s baseball and anything can happen at any time. For now we’ll just have to wait and see, and of course, enjoy the dingers.
June is here and summer has been kicked into full swing. And of course you can’t have summer without baseball and with about a third of the season gone, we now have an idea of how the year is shaping up. There have been some surprises — at the beginning of the year many were wondering if Bryce Harper would regress even more, and of course they’re not talking about that now. Many had A-Rod not producing at all but so far this year, he’s returned to A-Rod form. We have rookie sensations who are delivering right away in Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant but there’s another rookie who has put up great numbers but hasn’t seen the same hype or support from analyst and in ways, even his team, that the others have. I’m talking about Alex Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers of course. Technically a rookie with clause in his contract that keeps him from being sent to the minors, at the beginning of the year some thought it would hurt the Dodgers to have Guerrero on the roster but so far he’s been an offensive surprise (and for not playing third base or the outfield much, defensively he’s done better then let’s say former Dodger, Hanley Ramirez.) So what I want to know is, where’s the love for Alex Guerrero?
After filling in at third for an injured Juan Uribe, Guerrero quickly impressed with his bat going 4-10 with one homer and six RBI. Once Uribe came back however, Guerrero was relocated to do what some consider to be one of the hardest things to do it in sports, pinch-hit. It didn’t seem to stop Guerrero who continued to hit, going 3-5 in a five-game stretch, hitting two homers with five RBI. It was easy to understand everyone’s apprehension when Guerrero came out hitting this way. He was operating at a Superman-like pace and the logical thought would be he’d eventually come back down to earth, so neither analysts nor even the Dodgers themselves fully committed to Guerrero. The Dodgers also had a clubhouse favorite and adequate third baseman in Uribe, a full outfield and a deep bench; it seemed like there was no place for Guerrero in the starting lineup. So as April turned to May, Guerrero would find himself jumping all around the left side of the field, playing third, left field, and of course, pinch-hitting. It still didn’t seem to stop Guerrero. From April 23-May 13, when Carl Crawford went on the DL, he hit .310 with three homers. He did have, as many predicted, a drop-off in production, but still put up numbers that warranted playing time and with the injury to Crawford, it seemed like he would have just that.
Guerrero is a swinger. It’s hard to say he’s a free swinger because he seems to have a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. He doesn’t walk much or steal bases and in the baseball world that generally doesn’t result in runs scored. But I’d look at where he’s batting in the Dodgers lineup to explain some of his less appealing numbers. In 2015 he’s batted fifth six times with Ethier, Heisley, Grandal and Van Slyke batting behind him. He’s batted sixth eight times, seventh eight times, eighth six times, and pinch-hit nine times. He’s never started in the top part of the order.
That seems odd for a guy who has put up the offensive numbers Guerrero has. Joe Maddon has made waves this season batting his pitchers eighth. One of his reasons is to get the nine-hole hitter better pitches to see in order to get on base and turn the lineup over to their best hitters. I’m not suggested the Dodgers bat their pitchers eighth but I do think Guerrero would benefit from having the production of someone like Adrian Gonzalez behind him. Forcing pitchers to challenge Guerrero in the strike zone in order to hopefully keep him off base and minimize any damage Gonzalez may inflict. Guerrero is definitely susceptible to the slider off the plate but I wonder if he would see less of those if he were batting third?
And although Guerrero swings a lot, 60.3% of the time to be exact, he’s also got a contact percentage of 77.9% better then Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt and Joc Pederson. And when Guerrero does make contact, he is generally hitting the ball hard, with an ISO of .371, second only to Bryce Harper. Guerrero is averaging a home run every 10.8 at bats. The Dodgers lead the majors with 23.7 at bats per home run but they’re also second in the league with 21 solo home runs — Guerrero has hit three of them. It’s obvious the Dodgers have a good offense but I wonder if it’s as productive as it could be and I wonder if Guerrero can play a bigger role?
Another reason for apprehension with Guerrero is the sample size we have. Guerrero didn’t put up these numbers in the minors and many didn’t expect him to contribute the way that he has in the show. All that leads to doubt from the outside. Guerrero has about 100 fewer at bats that the top hitters in the league. That being said however, it’s interesting to note how similar they are anyway. When added to the top hitters in the league, Guerrero is fifth in wOBA, third in SLG and as I mentioned before second in ISO.
With the rate that Guerrero is on, if he gets another 300 at bats would be 37 HR/ 59 R/ 93 RBI. If he got another 400 at bats it would be, 46 HR/ 74 R/ 116 RBI. As realistic or unrealistic as the projections may be, Guerrero even with a regression can put up solid major-league numbers. Would anyone say no to 25 homers and 80 RBI? I think the answer to the season-ending stats lie in how the Dodgers choose to handle the situation. They’ve already dealt Uribe to free up third base and with Crawford being moved to the 60-day DL, it looks like left field is Guerrero’s for the summer. But Yasiel Puig is coming back soon and Ethier has been playing better then expected this year, so is Mattingly going to platoon Ethier and Guerrero in left?
In many ways this is a great problem to have for the Dodgers — they’re a veteran team that wants to win now and having a versatile bench helps shift people around and keep everyone healthy. That being said, this is baseball and with the trade deadline less then two months away and the Dodgers with a beat-up starting rotation, who’s to say some of that offensive depth can’t be flipped for some pitching help? The question then becomes, who gets traded? But that’s a topic for another day. Until then we’ll just have to hope Mattingly and the Dodgers give Guerrero a chance in the top part of the order.