Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rangers Sign Roy Oswalt, Will He Help?

Yesterday Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers had signed starting pitcher Roy Oswalt for about $4.25MM for the rest of the season. It had been reported for months that Oswalt really wanted to play for Texas, as he wanted to stay close to home but also play for a contender, which is undoubtedly why he preferred the Rangers to the Astros.

Oswalt reportedly has told the Rangers he'll be ready to go in a month, which means the Rangers should get anywhere from 10-15 starts from him if he can remain healthy and effective. Adding a quality pitcher mid-season is almost never a bad idea, and when it involves giving up nothing, as it does in this case, it's never a bad idea. More importantly, though, can Oswalt still provide value as a starting pitcher? Let's take a look.

Before getting into any stats, simply put, Oswalt is still a stud. Over the last three seasons, Oswalt's ERA is 3.47, his K:BB ratio is just under 4:1, and despite battling some injuries he's still averaged 177 innings a season during that time. He'll be 35-years-old at the end of August, so his age is somewhat of a concern, and he was considerably worse last season than the previous two. However, his 3.69 ERA was still very good, and while his 2.82 K:BB ratio isn't all that close to his career average of 3.52, it's not terrible. Oswalt also missed a month in July with injury issues, and they may have plagued him all season. I fully expect Oswalt to show he's still one of the league's better pitchers for Texas once he's ready.

And while some people will express concern about Oswalt never pitching in the American League, his stuff has always been good enough to dominate either league. He's no longer quite as dominating as he once was, but he should continue to be an asset for Texas in basically every game he starts. The quicker he can get ready, the sooner Texas will have another arm for the race out West this summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos in Review

After suggesting the Twins look into trading Denard Span this summer because his power has largely disappeared, Span naturally got hot this weekend and saw his slugging percentage rise from .359 when the week began to .408 before Monday's game. Span's now hitting .307/.364/.408, and if he can match that line for the remainder of the season trading him would likely be a huge mistake, despite what I wrote on Monday. If the Twins do indeed decide to move Span, and the Nationals come calling again, the Twins need to be sure not to get fleeced by them again.

Two seasons ago, Joe Nathan went down in Spring Training and the Twins were forced to find a closer from within their organization. They chose Jon Rauch, and from opening day until July 30, Rauch was 21/25 on save attempts with a 3.05 ERA. Now, Rauch didn't fit the closer mold, as he no longer had elite stuff, but he was clearly getting the job done. However, since the Twins organization has long valued scouting over stats* it wasn't surprising to find out that they were looking for closer help at the deadline.

*In recent years the Twins have began hiring front office executives with advanced stats backgrounds, which is a good thing. No matter how much people want to insist they can see things stats don't show, the truth is stats are far more accurate than the human eye. It's not surprising that the Twins were one of the last teams to join the advanced stats craze, and they're one of the league's worst teams at the moment. You simply can't evaluate players as well without advanced stats.


Unfortunately, the Twins decided on Nationals closer Matt Capps to replace Jon Rauch. On July 30, the Twins announced that they had traded one of their top prospects, major league ready catcher Wilson Ramos, along with a minor league reliever, for Matt Capps. The early reaction from even common Twins fans wasn't a good one, and that instant reaction was backed up by local and national baseball analysts. What were the Twins doing?

Matt Capps was available as a free agent the prior off-season, and he wasn't considered an elite reliever. The Pirates had non-tendered him, and prior to signing with Washington in 2010 Capps had a career 3.61 ERA since debuting in 2005. In comparison, from 2005-2009, Rauch posted a 3.65 ERA. Both players were used as setup men at times, which screws up their save percentage, but Capps had 67 saves while Rauch had 59 over that time frame.

Capps was certainly slightly better, but the upgrade wasn't worth giving up any kind of prospect in my opinion, let alone a major-league ready catching prospect like Wilson Ramos.

And despite Capps being very good in 2010, he's been considerably worse in 2011 and 2012, making the Ramos-Capps trade just another mistake by the Twins front office. After posting an ERA of 2.00 and going 16/18 on save opportunities in 2010, Capps was just 15/24 on saves in 2011 while posting an ERA of 4.25.  So far this season, his ERA is 4.00 and he's 9/10 on saves, after blowing his first save of the season on Sunday against Detroit.

Based on WAR, which calulates Wins Above Replacement, Matt Capps was worth -1.4 wins in 2011 and has been worth 0.0 wins this season. Relievers WAR numbers are generally lower than position players or starters, because their workloads are much less. Capps throwing 60 innings in a season is far less valuable than a catcher playing 135 games a season at an above-average level. When you add in the fact that the Twins could have signed almost any free agent reliever to match Capps production over the last two years, it makes the trade look like even more of a laughingstock.

Ramos played in 113 games in 2011 for Washington, hitting .267/.334/.445. Fan Graphs pegged Ramos WAR at 3.3, which means Ramos was worth about 5 more wins than Matt Capps in 2011. Ramos also made the league minimum while Capps made over $7MM.

This season, Ramos was hitting .265/.354/.398 in 25 games before he tore his ACL. Ramos only played in 25 games, yet his WAR is 0.7. Not a great number by any means, but considering Capps is at 0.0 this season, Ramos has been better.

The Twins undoubtedly would say they didn't have a spot for Ramos because they signed Joe Mauer to his mammoth extension with the expectation being he'd be able to stay at catcher. Whether Mauer can stay there or not, the simple fact is had the Twins decided to keep Ramos and just let Jon Rauch close games in 2010, moving Mauer to a new position wouldn't be such a big deal anymore. If the team had a productive, young catcher waiting in the wings, Joe Mauer could've filled a huge hole at third base. But instead, the team will have no catcher, no third baseman and no closer when Mauer moves to first base permanently in 2014. Hopefully the organization can make some good decisions between now and then, or we could be watching a team as bad as the mid-90's Twins for the next handful of seasons.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Weekly Links


Lots of links this week, so let's just get right to it...
  • Somebody actually did a study on this. In related news, the sky is blue, dogs are great pets and pizza is good. I could've told you those results in 30 seconds without any studying necessary. 
  • Congrats to Kevin Love for being named to the all-NBA second team.
  • Whoever is behind the Social Media for the LA Kings is a genius. 
  • Joe Posnanski debunked the myth that the last three outs of the game are the "three toughest outs" in baseball.
  • Rich Thompson, I'm rooting for ya.
  • Owned.
  • Wanetta Gibson, I hope you enjoy Hell.
  • I'd like to thank The Sports Blitz for syndicating my blog and getting my writing out to even more viewers. Check them out, they have a lot of interesting blog posts daily.
  • Ted Kacyznski, still crazy.
  • Perfect, I was hoping to workout and charge my phone at the same time.
  • The UNC baseball team has an interesting modification to bat-"boy".
  • The Wild signed their 9th overall pick from the 2010 draft, Mikael Granlund, about a week before they would have lost his rights. With a ton of young talent and the possibility of New Jersey Devils star Zach Parise coming home to Minnesota this off-season, the future looks bright for the Wild.
  • The Orlando Magic fired Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith, despite having a .653 winning percentage together, so naturally they're targeting Shaquille O'Neal as their GM. That franchise is an embarrassment, and that comes from a Minnesota sports fan.
  • However, Shaq thankfully declined the chance to interview, saving the Magic a ton of criticism and punchlines.
  • Despite being required to read The Great Gatsby by three different teachers in high school, I never actually read it until last year. I'm reading it again, because Leonardo DiCaprio headlines a star-studded cast for the movie, and the trailer looks fantastic, although I pictured both Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchanan considerably better looking than the actresses playing them.
  • This is my favorite piece of artwork so far this year.
  • And finally, check out my posts from this week:
           - Joe Mauer should move to Third
           - What to do with Denard Span
           - Twins Notes: Devries, Mauer, etc.
                

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Twins Notes: DeVries, Mauer, etc.

- After thankfully designating Jason Marquis for assignment, the Twins decided to promote formerly undrafted Cole DeVries from AAA. DeVries attended the University of Minnesota and Eden Prairie High School before that, so he's a local kid. As Aaron Gleeman noted, DeVries is unlikely to have any kind of sustained success in the big leagues, but just getting to the show is a huge accomplishment and I would imagine today will be the most exciting day of his life.

- Speaking of Marquis, he allowed 32 runs in 34 innings while in the Twins rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Brandon Beachy and Johnny Cueto have allowed 38 runs COMBINED in 182 innings pitched. Marquis should give his agent half of his $3MM salary, because he fleeced the Twins.

- Joe Mauer grounded into his 9th double play last night, and he's currently on pace to hit into 37 for the season. The record is 36, by Jim Rice, and despite Mauer's pace I highly doubt he comes close to it. The injury concerns could keep his at bats down, but even if he plays a full season I'd be surprised if that number was any higher than 30. Still ridiculously high, but grounding into double plays should be one of the least concerning issues with Mauer at this point, especially since his .810 OPS is a huge improvement from last season.

- At 15-28, the Twins are no longer the league's worst team, thanks to a 9-game losing streak by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are 15-29, so it's not like the Twins are a lot better, and the battle for the number 1 pick will likely include these two teams, among others, for the remainder of the season.

- 38-year-old Jamey Carroll, who the Twins foolishly gave a two-year contract to, is hitting just .229/.319/.268 through 42 games. In fairness, the guy I wanted the Twins to target, Ramon Santiago, is hitting an even worse .188/.264/.250, so I can't criticize the Twins too much. We'll see where Carroll's numbers end up at the end of the year.

- Drew Butera currently leads all Twins pitchers in ERA, and he's second on the team with a .909 OPS. Of course, he's pitched just 1 inning and he's gotten only 25 at bats, so don't expect the reincarnation of Babe Ruth anytime soon.

- With the Rule 4 draft coming up on June 4 (better known as the amateur draft) and the Twins selecting 2nd overall, the team appears set to choose between Mark Appel, the hard-throwing right-hander from Stanford, or Byron Buxton, the toolsy outfielder who's drawn comparisons to Justin Upton. There's been some talk that the Twins would pass on Buxton if the Astros select Appel first overall, but considering the team has taken toolsy high-school outfielders in the first round basically every year since I was born (that's a slight exaggeration) Buxton seems to fit the Twins mold perfectly. We'll find out soon enough.




Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The 2009 NBA lottery, redrafted

Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and James Harden all correctly went in the top 5 in 2009, but Hasheem Thabeet at #2 overall is one of the worst draft picks in NBA history. With the value of hindsight, here's how the draft would look today, with who they actually took in parenthesis:

1. Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin, PF (Blake Griffin)

He's been a human highlight reel since returning from his knee injury his rookie season, and there's little doubt the future is very bright for Griffin in LA. Kevin Love is more effective, although not nearly as flashy, but Griffin is certainly in the discussion for being the best power forward, even if he isn't quite there yet.

2. Memphis Grizzlies - James Harden, SG (Hasheem Thabeet, C)

OJ Mayo has fallen out of favor over the last few seasons in Memphis, and at this point he's nothing more than instant offense off the bench. Harden would give Memphis a great backcourt partner to pair with Mike Conley, and Harden would fit in better with Rudy Gay as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - Steph Curry, PG (James Harden)

This was a tough choice between both Rubio and Curry, but since Russell Westbrook came out before the draft saying he'd be upset if the team took a point guard, Curry would be an easier pick to spin. Curry could play the 2 guard at times with Westbrook running the point, although the defensive issues would likely mean they couldn't play together for extended stretches.

4. Sacramento Kings - Ricky Rubio, PG (Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF)

The Kings selected Tyreke Evans, who has regressed considerably since his rookie of the year campaign. Rubio's playmaking ability wouldn't mask all of the Kings problems, but his knack for sharing the basketball and always finding the open man would likely help clear up some of the chemistry issues this team has had over the years.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Jennings, PG (Ricky Rubio)

Jennings jumped onto the NBA scene after a 50-point outburst his rookie season. He's only improved since his rookie season, and the playmaking ability that scouts raved about before he headed to Europe is obvious. 

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - DeMar Derozan, SG (Jonny Flynn, PG)

While the Wolves undoubtedly were thrilled when Rubio fell to them at #5, they certainly wish they could redo the sixth pick. Based on how everything fell the team could have selected Steph Curry (who seemed to be the obvious pick) or Derozan, because there was simply no need for another point guard after drafting Rubio.

DeRozan has been solid to this point, and while he doesn't look like a future star he should be a quality starting wing, which is something the Wolves were in dire need of this past season.

7. Golden State Warriors - Ty Lawson, PG (Steph Curry, PG)

Lawson has been efficient and solid since entering the league, which is what most people expected out of him. He's had stretches where he's looked even better than advertised, and considering Curry's health issues to this point I'm not even sure Golden State wouldn't prefer Lawson if given the choice today.

8. New York Knicks - Jrue Holiday, PG (Jordan Hill, PF)

Holiday hasn't been great to this point, but he's had flashes of brilliance early in his career. He's unlikely to ever be the kind of player that will turn around a franchise, but he's going to be a good starting point guard in this league. Linsanity took over New York shortly, but Holiday is a considerably better all-around player at this point.

9. Toronto Raptors - Tyreke Evans, SG (Demar DeRozan)

Evans looked lost this past season playing without the ball in his hands, and he simply doesn't have the instincts necessary to play the point, so he looks like a classic tweener. He has the size to play the small forward, which is where the Kings tried him for extended minutes this season, but he doesn't move well without the ball and it's a big enough concern that I think he'd fall this far.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - Taj Gibson, PF (Brandon Jennings)

With no elite guards left, Gibson would be a steal at this point for how well he's played thus far. He's not a future star but he's been a key contributor for the Bulls each of the past two seasons. A perfect rotation player that doesn't need the offense run through him to contribute.

11. New Jersey Nets - DeJuan Blair, PF (Terrence Williams, SG)

Blair slipped into the second round because of issues in both ACL's, but his production to this point has been great. Gibson is slightly taller so he went a slot ahead, but they've been about equally as productive per minute since joining the league.

12. Charlotte Bobcats - Marcus Thornton, SG (Gerald Henderson, SG)

Thornton has bounced around but he's been a solid player at each stop. He's been considerably more effective than Henderson, who's really only getting playing time because the Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history.

13. Indiana Pacers - Tyler Hansbrough, PF (Tyler Hansbrough)

Hansbrough has been exactly what people expected him to be: efficient, hard-working, and ultimately a starting caliber big in the NBA. The Pacers made a good selection; no point in trying to fix something that isn't broken.

14. Phoenix Suns - Danny Green, SF (Earl Clark, SF)

Danny Green has been fantastic as a 3-point shooter for the Spurs this season. He shot nearly 44% and his improvement over the last 3 years has been remarkable. The Suns, who still love to shoot the 3-pointer, would have loved to have someone like Green launching treys consistently. Green is just another example of the Spurs identifying a player that could fit in their system perfectly, and acquiring him on the cheap. They are an amazing organization to watch, no doubt about it.


Monday, May 21, 2012

What To Do With Denard Span

When the Twins used the 20th overall pick of the 2002 draft on Denard Span, a lot of the draft analysts were surprised and felt the Twins had reached for him. For years, that analysis seemed to be spot on, because Span continued to struggle year after year offensively in the minors. Even the Twins had ultimately given up on him becoming an every day player in 2007, when they decided they needed to get a center fielder back in any Johan Santana trade (good thing they chose Carlos Gomez).

After injuries forced the Twins to simply give Span a shot at the major league level, he surprised everyone by hitting .294/.387/.432 in 93 games, with his plate discipline improving substantially at the big league level. In 2009 he quieted any "fluke" talk by hitting .311/.392/.415 in 145 games, and it appeared the Twins had found their lead-off hitter for years to come. The Twins were impressed and decided to lock Span up long-term, and he's making $3MM this year, $4.75MM next season and $6MM in 2014, with a $9MM team option for 2015. That's a very team friendly deal for the kind of outfielder Span was his first two seasons in the majors. 

However, Span's offensive contributions have largely disappeared dating back to 2010. He hit just .264/.331/.348 in 153 games that year, and then basically matched that line in half as many games last season when he hit .264/.328/.359. He's been a little better this season, as he's hitting .291/.359/.358, but the fact that his power is largely disappearing is a cause for concern. His slugging percentage is down more than 20% since his 93-game rookie campaign, and has been trending downward each year.

It's hard to know for sure which Span the Twins will have for the next few seasons, although it would appear he's trending in the wrong direction. His walk rate and line drive percentage has been basically the same dating back to 2010, so it's unlikely that he's dealing with simply bad luck. Whatever it was that made Span so effective for his first two seasons in the big leagues seems to be missing from his game these days.

Last season while Span was dealing with a potentially serious concussion, the Washington Nationals still expressed interested in adding Denard. The rumored deal was centered around closer Drew Storen and apparently fell apart when the Twins asked for infielder Steve Lombardozzi as well. That interest suggests that Span still will have some suitors if the Twins do indeed decide to trade him.

Considering the team is 14-27 and has a lot of young outfielders that need to be given a shot, I think it's in the team's best long-term interests to trade Span. While I would prefer the team get more than an overvalued late-inning reliever for him, I certainly wouldn't complain if that's the deal they ultimately made. Storen for Span might be discussed again this summer, as Storen's coming back from surgery himself and the Twins will undoubtedly want to see him throw again before pulling the trigger on any kind of deal.

If both players can remain healthy through June, don't be surprised to see discussions heat up once again. That would allow the Nationals to play Bryce Harper at one of the corner outfield positions, where they feel more comfortable with him. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mauer Should Move to Third

For years, fans and media alike have argued whether the Twins would benefit more by moving "injury-prone" Joe Mauer to a less taxing position than catcher. For years, I've been arguing that Mauer is most valuable as a catcher, by a wide-margin, and for the team to get fair value from his enormous contract they need him to catch as long as possible.

While all of that remains true, the fact is the Twins don't have a short-term or long-term solution at third base. Prospect Miguel Sano is killing the ball for Beloit as one of the league's youngest players, but as he continues to fill out there's no guarantee he'll remain at third base long-term.

This season is clearly a rebuilding season for the Twins. Currently they're a major league worst 10-24 so any hopes of making the playoffs should probably be tossed out the window. If the team were to move Mauer to third base for the remainder of this season and allow him to get acclimated with the position, it would help the team more long-term. Ryan Doumit isn't a great defensive catcher and certainly isn't someone the team will want to rely on into the future, but he's decent enough as a one-year stop gap for the rest of this season.

Now, it may seem odd that I'm suggesting Mauer change positions this season, considering he's been as durable as ever. He's played in 33 of the team's 34 games. However, he's only caught in 16 of those games, while spending the other 17 games between first base and designated hitter.

Mauer's .286/.406/.387 line this season is good for an OPS of .792. The average AL catcher this season is hitting .240/.310/.394, or a .704 OPS, which makes Mauer's OPS about 10% higher than the average catcher. However, Mauer has only caught in about half of his 33 games. That makes his bat less valuable, because generally 1B and DH are the two best offensive positions in the league.

First baseman this season, though, are hitting even worse than catchers. The average AL first baseman is hitting just .235/.309/.387, which is good for just a .696 OPS. That number will almost certainly improve over the season, but as it is now Mauer has outproduced the average first baseman by even more than he has outproduced the average catcher.

So in 25 of Mauer's 33 games this season, he's been well above average offensively for the defensive position he's playing. Why even bother moving him?

The issue is that everyone seems convinced Mauer will eventually have to move from behind the plate. While even the most informed people may disagree just how long he can catch for, I don't think anybody realistically expects Mauer to catch through the 2018 season (when his contract runs out).

If Mauer were to suffer another knee injury next season, while still catching, he'd also have no experience at third base. What worries me is that the Twins will keep Mauer at catcher for the remainder of this season, and then have to move him sometime next season after an injury. If they keep Mauer at catcher and he does indeed get hurt, the team is much more likely to keep him at first base and designated hitter than try to teach him a more valuable position.

For example, let's look at last season's numbers by position, in the AL:
C: .238/.305/.391 (.696 OPS)
1B: .271/.340/.452 (.792 OPS)
2B: .263/.321/.400 (.721 OPS)
SS:  .266/.321/.387 (.708 OPS)
3B: .247/.316/.394 (.709 OPS)
LF: .251/.311/.393 (.704 OPS)
CF: .259/.317/.410 (.727 OPS)
RF: .267/.337/.431 (.768 OPS)
DH: .266/.341/.430 (.770 OPS)

So, as I mentioned earlier, 1B and DH were indeed the two highest OPS' by position. That's to be expected because those positions have low defensive value (1B) or no defensive value (DH) so the player is expected to contribute more with his bat.

If Mauer is moved to strictly 1B/DH full-time, his $23,000,000 a year contract is even more of a burden for a mid-market team.* If Mauer were to simply match his current stat line for the remainder of his contract (.286/.406/.387), he'd be above the league average OPS from 2011 at every position. Of course, because 1B and DH-types are generally easier to find than any other position, the Twins would be wise to use their $23,000,000 player at a position that has been an Achilles heel for the team since 2003, third base.

*Following the opening of Target Field, many fans incorrectly assumed the Twins would now be able to spend considerably more money. However, as great as a new stadium is, the real revenue comes from media contracts. The Twins local TV deal is something like $30 or $40MM a year. That's not a bad number by any means, but teams like the Yankees (close to $400MM) and the Angels (close to $150MM) make so much more per year that the Twins will simply always be a mid-market team, fancy new stadium or not.

Mauer seems to be athletic enough to make the move, although it is worth noting that his move to third base wouldn't be guaranteed to work. There's always a chance he'd be so bad at third that they couldn't justify playing him there, but the general sense among those close to the Twins is that Mauer would have no problem making the switch.

As you see in 2011, the average first baseman was more than 10% better offensively than third baseman, and DH's weren't much worse than first baseman. The team will give themselves a better opportunity to win into the future if they realize Mauer is much more valuable at a position that is not first base or designated hitter. The Twins have been unable to find even a league average third baseman in almost a decade, and with Mauer's contract basically unmovable for it's entirety, they might as well move him this season and let him deal with his growing pains defensively in a rebuilding season.

So, if the team were to move Mauer to third, who becomes the long-term catcher? Obviously, it would have been ideal if the team still had Wilson Ramos (torn ACL or not) but since they foolishly traded him for Matt Craps (I think I spelled that right) they need a new long-term catcher.

Remember, though, that Mauer wasn't likely the Twins long-term plan at catcher either, so by moving Mauer to third they aren't really creating a hole in the future. All they'd be doing is solidifying a different position of need while they try to find a catcher of the future over the next season or two.

The easiest solution would be to draft the best catcher in the draft, Mike Zunino, who's a draft eligible junior from Florida. He's considered a future franchise backstop, and in a draft that doesn't really have a clear cut top tier, taking a highly productive college bat with lots of upside makes plenty of sense. Zunino could potentially see the bigs as soon as mid-2013 if he develops quickly, but since the Twins have generally been conservative with their prospects, I'd say a 2014 debut would be more likely.

The team is lacking high-impact offensive players that are close to major league ready, and Zunino certainly wouldn't be a reach at #2 overall anyways. It's not a necessity to have an elite catcher, but by having one that is elite it can mask deficiencies elsewhere. If your catcher is 25% better than the average catcher, you could theoretically have a few slightly below average players and still finish above .500.

The Twins have never been accused of being a forward-thinking organization, but in a rebuilding season it's time to look toward the future. Move Mauer to third base, permanently, and effective immediately. Besides, it'd give the Twins a reason to let Drew Butera continue to sit on the roster despite being the worst offensive major leaguer in almost 100 years.