Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Morning Madness: July 28, 2014

Weekend Recap
Who won the most recent game?  Those of us with a healthy recency bias are pretty high on the Twins right now.  Everyone else?  Not so much.

Logan Darnell...sort of
Congratulations to Darnell for making his first MLB start on Saturday.  He got lit up, but it's still a great moment for him.  Darnell absolutely deserved this opportunity.  He's slowly climbed through the Twins' system since being drafted in the 6th round in 2010.  In 2014, he's made 17 AAA starts and has a 3.43 ERA.  When the Twins needed a starter on Saturday, Darnell was a logical choice.

In fact, Darnell, Yohan Pino (who was great on Sunday) and Kris Johnson have all deserved the starts they have received.  Each has pitched well at AAA and each has paid their Minor League dues.  That said, can we please have Trevor May and Alex Meyer now? 

Darnell, Pino and Johnson are deserving, but Meyer and May are more talented and much more likely to be in the rotation for a long time.  Pino is 30, Johnson joins him at 30 in October and Darnell actually has a higher AAA ERA than either Meyer or May.

I understand being patient with prospects, but at this point in the season, Meyer and May need to be on the active roster, learning how to get MLB hitters out.  If the Twins have any shot of contending in 2015, one or both of these talented pitchers need to contribute.  

Here's an old Bill Simmons trope for you:
  • Player A - .230/.325/.418
  • Player B - .221/.303/.385
Player A is Dozier, Player B is Arcia.  Player A was elected President of Twins Territory, Player B is having an abysmal sophomore season.  At least, that's how I've read and heard things.  Since May 21, when Dozier's line peaked at .263/.377/.480, he is batting .211/.290/.383. 

This isn't even meant to be a criticism of Dozier, more of a call to "back off" of Arcia.  I'm glad to see Arcia in the lineup most days, something I called for last Monday.  He rewarded the Twins with a pretty decent week.  The major difference between Dozier and Arcia is the Twins' willingness to let Dozier work through his slumps.  Arcia needs to be afforded the same opportunity, especially if the Twins want him to be a cornerstone player in the near future.

Why I hated 2011-2013
You may have already picked up on a trend from these past two sections, but the thing that bothered me most during the crummy 2011-13 seasons was the Twins' unwillingness to commit to young players with an eye toward the future.  To me, a disappointing season is a great time to see what you have in a young player.  I'll give the Twins a pass in 2011, because they didn't think they would be bad.  2012-13?  No pass.

Oswaldo Arcia was shuffled from AAA to Minnesota routinely in 2013.  Liam Hendriks wasn't given a chance to work through struggles in 2012 or 2013.  Brian Dozier wasn't even on the Opening Day roster in 2012, which I had actually forgotten about. 

When Josmil Pinto was called up in September of 2013, it didn't seem like he was going to get much playing time.  Then, he hit like freaking Ted Williams and the Twins had no choice but to give him more playing time.  The better plan would have had Pinto as the primary catcher from the start of September. 

Well, at least they tried with Aaron Hicks.  Of course, they also gave up in the middle of the 2013 season.  Granted, he was awful, he had hit better as the season had went on.  As such, the Twins came into 2014 with no clue how Hicks would perform.  He performed as the baseball equivalent of Courtney Love.  

Maybe these guys hadn't fully earned their chances.  They almost certainly should have played better when they actually arrived.  But what was the point in either waiting on them or not giving them opportunity to adjust?  It wasn't an effort to win games because if it was, it was a massive failure. 

After the trade deadline later this week, the Twins should be prepared to commit to their young players.  Meyer, May, Arcia, Pinto, Danny Santana, Michael Tonkin, maybe even Kennys Vargas.  There is no way the Twins plan to be bad in 2015, so they need to figure out if any of these guys are going to be reliable next year and after next year. 

Or, they can just call up a bunch of AAA duds and watch the fans enjoy the Vikings pre-season.  It's really up to them. 

Former Twin Update - Trade Deadline
Next week, I'll have a current Twin to profile in this section.  Kendrys Morales was traded last week and he won't be the only 2014 Twin on a different team by the end of this week.  The Twins appear to be fully committed to selling, something I applaud them for.  Anyone who isn't a part of the future should be jettisoned.  I hope that I'm picking between a few different guys for this section next week.

For this week's update, Kendrys Morales continued to be Kendrys Molasses with the Mariners.  

Random Gif - Totally Worth It

People love baseballs that are discarded into the stands.  This clip is proof.  A few things.  One, the guy was okay.  Two, the guy to his left (from his perspective while laying in traction on the ground) seemed legitimately concerned.  Three, hey guy who got the ball, it's actually pretty bad form to hold your trophy over the carcass of the guy who fell neck-first into metal seats to make sure the ball got to you.  Four, Willingham smoked one of the next pitches into the bullpen.  Ryan Presley resisted the urge to try to back flip into the bleachers to catch the ball.   

Get Excited about a Prospect - Lewis Thorpe
For those who aren't in the know, Lewis Thrope is an 18-year-old Australian lefty who is making his full-season debut with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.  While you may not get excited about a guy with a 4.91 ERA in 9 starts, I am ecstatic.  Thorpe had a rough outing on Thursday, but his overall numbers are pretty impressive.  He was a little wild in his first two starts, but since then, he's thrown 29.1 innings over seven starts, has a 4.30 ERA with 32 strikeouts while allowing just 12 walks (4 on Thursday). 

I cannot remind you hard enough (can one remind hard?) that Thorpe is a full four years younger than the average player in the Midwest League.  He may not be dominating like he did in the GCL in 2013, but he's more than holding his own against much more advanced players.  And, he's dominating at times too.  On July 2, he went just 4.2 innings, but he struck out 8 and walked just one.  This guy could be special.  Let's get excited!

Random Link - Trade Perkins?
I really enjoyed this article from Andrew Walter, Twins Fan From Afar.  It was thoughtful, well-reasoned, articulate and fair, four things I am not known for.  The discussion it generated at Twins Daily was great too.  Perkins is such a tough trade chip because he is so popular among all fans in Minnesota. 

Even so, I have to agree with Walter.  If the Twins get a great offer for Perkins, I'd make the move.  The fact is, the Twins might be further from contention than we want to admit.  Perkins could bring back a really impressive haul.  It's hard to remove the heart from the head, but the Twins might be wise to try if a team offers something eye-popping for their proven closer.  

UPDATE (Unsolved Mysteries) - There are two sides to a coin, unless you have a ridiculous coin.  Bill Parker wrote this rebuttal for Twinkie Town and it's very compelling.  I particularly enjoyed his first point as I think the pro-sabr, but not really the principles of sabr crowd misses the point on closers sometimes.  The last paragraphs sums things up nicely, as a good last paragraph is wont to do.  READ IT!

Plugging My Way
While I love to plug better writers' work, I really love plugging my own writing.  Last week, I wrote about Trevor May and the value of a good, cheap, durable 4th starter.  I did some crude research and found that shockingly, they are very valuable.  If you missed it and want to criticize my research skills, just click here.  n = the sample size, I'm pretty sure of that.  Everything else I cobbled together from Moneyball and cereal boxes. 

Parting Haiku
Last weekend was lame
Now they go out on the road
Time for BBQ

Friday, July 25, 2014

Minnesota Twins July Power Rankings!

Is it really almost the end of July?  Is the 2014 MLB season really over 100 games deep?  Is it really annoying to ask three hypothetical questions because the writer can't think of an introduction?  As always, these POWER RANKINGS are cumulative, so a hot July is not more or less important than a hot April.  If I have one rule in life, it is that a hot July is not more important than a hot April.

I wanted to write about Kendrys Morales, but a top 250 list would have taken forever.  Plus, he got traded.  Onward!

Correia's most recent start was a dud, but he had been pretty great over the eleven starts before that.  In fact, I had argued that the Twins should hang on to Correia for the rest of the season and I had even started to think that he might be worth extending.  Yikes.  I wonder if Correia has some sort of mind-control device, but really bad instincts on who to use it on.  Of course, his low-strikeout act is always a risky one, so he could be reverting back to his early season form before our very eyes.  It will be very interesting to see if a team makes a decent offer for him. 

A June swoon had me reconsidering my entire Eddie 400 campaign.  I became very disillusioned.  I had my Eddie 400 tattoo converted back to my old Eddie Van Halen 400 albums request tattoo.  I'm wondering if I need to get it changed back again.  In July, Escobar has a .273/.322/.364 batting line, not great, but passable for a shortstop and much more realistic considering his level of talent.  If he can keep those numbers up through the end of the season, I'd see no reason to shop for a new shortstop in the offseason.  Escobar works for me as a stopgap between the "talent" of recent past and the talent in the farm system. 

8.  Sam Fuld
Welcome to the Power Rankings, Sam Fuld!  I would have bet my rather large collection of tunics that Sam Fuld would never appear on a list of top Twins performers.  Yet, here we are.  Fuld has easily surpassed Aaron Hicks' paltry 2014 performance and after a very slow start, he has rebounded to the tune of a 108 OPS+.  His defense has been passable in center and he's stolen 11 bases.  In all, Fuld has been a great in-season pickup.  Who would have thought?

Gibson missed his Wednesday start with a stiff lower back.  While a bad back is concerning, I'm much more concerned with Gibson's vanishing strikeout rate.  His K% had risen in each of the first three months of the season, but that rate has plummeted in 14 July innings.  Eh, small sample, whatever.  More concerning is his paltry 8.4% strikeout rate against lefties this season.  In fact, his strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties is just barely greater than one.  If Gibson can't find a way to get that K% against lefties into the teens, he's going to struggle to consistently make it through balanced lineups. 

That said, he's been the Twins' second-best starter this season.  Take that for what it's worth. 

Plouffe has become a serviceable player.  Since 2012, he has a 99 OPS+ and he's produced about 4.6 rWAR.  I'm not sure what the trade market for a guy like Plouffe is, but it seems like there would be a team out there who could use him.  Plouffe's future with the Twins is not clear.  Miguel Sano should be ready for third base in 2015 and Plouffe could make around $4 or $5 million in arbitration next season.  Plouffe has 29 doubles this season, and that's a lot.  Just wedging that in there.

Awesome.  9 pitches and now home-field advantage in the World Series is locked in for the Twins.  Perkins currently has the same strikeout total as Gibson and Correia.  I'll let you figure out who has thrown the fewest innings of the three.

Suzuki has been one of the tougher batters to strike out over the last few years.  Jason Kubel had twice the amount of strikeouts in half of the at-bats.  Of course, Suzuki isn't just good because he's better than Jason Kubel.  He's played over 80% of the Twins' games and he's provided decent defense.  His pitch-framing skills aren't great, but he can handle the position. 

Offensively, he's been great.  In fact, he's produced about as well as I thought Josmil Pinto could have performed if he had been given regular time (115 OPS+).  Remember that guy?  Kurt Suzuki made you forget about one of the more exciting young players on the roster.  That's how powerful he is.

Hughes has been slumping lately, but I as I wrote about on Monday, I'm not worried.  He's going through a terribly unlucky stretch where just about every ball put in play is a hit.  That's an exaggeration, but it certainly feels like it.  He'll bounce back.  Even with a slump, he's easily been the most valuable pitcher on the Twins' staff and his contract looks like a bargain.  I wonder when the extension talks start...

Dozier since May 20:  .200/.300/.397.  Yikes.  It's been clear that Dozier is scuffling a bit, but I didn't realize how long he had been struggling.  He has eight home runs during that span, but just 4 stolen bases and a walk rate under 10%.  He's been a consistently streaky player and his overall numbers are still pretty good.  However, two months with the numbers presented above is a concern.  Of course, he had built up so much value over the first two months that he's still easily the second-best player on the team. 

Who's first, you ask?

1.  Nobody
Controversy!  I am doing this for two reasons.  First, there is no one on the 2014 Twins who is truly deserving of being labeled "numba 1."  Dozier, Hughes and Suzuki have been consistently good, but hardly stunning.  Second, this is motivation.  I am doing my part to motivate the players ranked 2-10 (and those unranked as well; looking at you, Oswaldo Arcia).  Hopefully by this time in August, someone has knocked my socks off and rocketed to number 1 status.

In the meantime, the nine players on this top ten have at least contributed positively in 2014.  Somehow, this collection of dudes is on a 74-win pace, marking a fairly vast improvement from 2011-2013.  Can they maintain?  Can a few more players join them?  Can someone please answer my questions; I'm losing my mind?  Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Value of Trevor May as a 4th Starter

I frequently read Baseball Prospectus's prospect chats.  The Twins' farm system is loaded and there are always a handful of questions about their players.  Here are some semi-recent quotes about future Twins' starter Trevor May:

”(May) wasn't in the mix for the 50; backend profile for me/innings chewer without frontline upside." - Jason Parks

"(May's) best control yet gives him a chance to stick as a back end guy. The production has never quite added up to the stuff. He could still stick or would still make a good pen piece." - Jeff Moore

"I've never been that enamored with May's long term outlook, and never saw the high-end arm that some did. To me, he's more of a #4 starter; still valuable but not nearly as impressive as some would lead you to believe." - Mark Anderson

The consensus, at least among this group of experts, is that Trevor May is a future back-end, #4-type starter with limited upside.  His stuff has always been better than that, but his production has rarely matched.  He's not a top prospect.  Even so, I don't see these as disparaging quotes.  In fact, if Trevor May rounds into just a #4 starter, I'll be elated. 

Aim high, right?  Well, a good #4 starter is pretty valuable.  A good, durable #4 starter is very valuable.  A good, durable, cheap #4 starter might just be a huge indicator of team success.

May has been very durable.  In fact, when he missed a few starts just this past month, they were his first missed starts in nearly four years.  You cannot discount the value of a durable starter, even if he isn't the "Ace" of the staff.  In fact, a reliable back-end of the rotation might be harder to predict and more costly to produce.  Cost is important here too, as May will make the league-minimum for a few years, and reasonable salaries in arbitration if he simply performs as a 4th starter in his first few seasons. 

Of course, projecting May as a 4th starter is still just a projection.  He'll have to perform at that level when he makes it to Minnesota.  Right now, May owns a healthy strikeout rate, just about one strikeout per inning pitched.  He has also improved his walk rate, doing so while pitching at the highest level he has reached.  If he can continue to refine his command, there should be no reason to believe that he cannot perform at a 4th starter level. 

We all know that pitchers do not bring their AAA strikeout rates with them to the Majors.  Most often, that rate dips as much as 2-2.5 K/9, meaning May would sit more in the 6.5 to 7 K/9 range in the Majors.  While this isn't pure science, it gives us a unit for analysis.  I decided to see how many pitchers in the last ten seasons performed as a "4th starter" or better in their first three seasons in the Majors. 

I used a 100 ERA+ (exactly league-average) as the cutoff, and I only used pitchers who threw 170 or more innings.  May has thrown right around 150 innings in each of his last three seasons, so he seems like a reasonable bet for an additional 20 innings or more with an additional month. 

What good is a 4th starter who can't throw a lot of innings?  The whole concept of replacement value has proved that replacing members of the rotation with 6th and 7th starters creates a dramatic effect.  If May is going to have great value, his durability will be one of the biggest reasons why. 

I only looked at the pitchers who were in their first three seasons in the Majors because I wanted to see pitchers who either provided value at the league-minimum or who were so valuable that their team signed them to a larger contract to keep them around through and/or beyond arbitration. 

Using these parameters, I found just 110 pitchers.  Of those pitchers, just 19 appeared on this list twice and only one (Ricky Romero) appeared three times.  If the Twins are confident that May can provide a league-average ERA over 170 or more innings (obviously not in 2014), then they have a pretty rare young pitcher on their staff.  Roughly 11 pitchers per season mean this criteria, which I think makes May a pretty valuable potential player. 

Not all pitchers are alike.  Some get by for a season but fall apart because they don't have the stuff.  Some mature later.  Some remain stable.  I mentioned strikeout rate a little while back, so I wanted to see how these 90 different pitchers performed in year six, generally the last or second-last year before free agency. 

I divided the players into two categories - K/9 greater than 7 and K/9 less than 7.  If we assume May's AAA strikeout rate will be right around 7, we can see if he is perhaps more likely to be successful down the line, not just when he's making the league-minimum salary.

Not everyone on the original list has reached their sixth season, so the numbers aren't completely final at this point.  However, enough have made it to that season to look for a possible effect.  I used a 100 inning threshold in year six because it could account for a random injury within that selected year and it also eliminated some outliers. 

Of the 32 pitchers on the original list with a K/9 rate greater than 7 in their third season, 22 had an ERA+ greater than 100 in their sixth season.  The average pitcher on this list had an ERA+ of 123 or 23% better than league-average. 

Of the 31 pitchers on the original list with a K/9 rate lower than 7 in their third season, 18 had an ERA+ greater than 100 in their sixth season.  The average pitcher on this list had an ERA+ of 112 or 12% better than league-average. 

It seems reasonable to conclude that good pitchers remain relatively good pitchers as long as they avoid injuries.  However, that difference in ERA+ shows that strikeout rate is very important.  If Trevor May comes out firing and can post a K/9 better than 7, Twins fans should be able to be confident that he can perform at a pretty high level while still making reasonable money. 

I keep bringing up salaries and values.  It seems logical that a team that spends less money on back-end starters is also able to spend that money on other parts of the team.  If that is the case, teams that spend less money on 4th starters should perform better than those teams that spend more money on 4th starters. 

I looked at every MLB team's projected 4th starter going into the season.  I looked at their salary and how many starts they had made going into the All-Star break.  I then divided the salary by their number of starts to arrive at a salary/start figure.  Looking at the numbers roughly, it appeared that teams either spent well over $100,000 per start on their 4th starter, or well under.  I separated the teams into those two categories and then I looked at the winning percentage of each team.  Here are the results:

18 teams paid over $100,000 per start to their projected 4th starter and those teams had a collective winning percentage of .482 heading into the break.  12 teams paid under $100,000 to their projected 4th starter and those teams had a collective winning percentage of .528 heading into the break.  That's the difference between a 78-win team and an 85-win team over the course of a full season.  It's not a massive difference, but I think any team would take seven wins.

Arbitrary start and end points?  Check.  Arbitrary cutoffs?  Check.  No way to isolate the variable?  Check.  One year of data?  Not even, but check.  Obviously, this is not the most scientific of measures, but at least in 2014, a cheap 4th starter has been a measure of success.  Which team spent the most per start on their projected 4th starter?  The Twins, as they have paid Mike Pelfrey over one million dollars per start.  Trevor May looks very attractive now, doesn't he?

Wait, why are we using Mike Pelfrey anyway?  He got hurt right away, shouldn't we look at who actually held the 4th starter role? 

I'm not sure that makes sense.  Plans and budgets are formed in the off-season.  The team you go into the year with is much different than the team you leave the year with, but that doesn't mean you plan it that way.  If a team can logically conclude that they have their 4th starter figured out at the beginning of the season, and at a low rate, they can plan to spend their available money elsewhere.  At least, that makes logical sense to me.

Maybe Trevor May is just an innings-chewing 4th starter with little upside.  Maybe we'll always think that the Twins lost the Ben Revere trade because May never put together a great season.  Maybe we need to expand our concept of value to include traits like durability and cost-effectiveness.  If Trevor May forges a career of 180-inning, 100 ERA+ seasons, I'll be ecstatic.  And it's not just because I have low standards.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Morning Madness: July 21, 2014

Weekend Recap

Does MLB offer their teams refunds for entire series?  Can an MLB team get a "do over" on the first series out of a break?  If a tree falls in the woods, could it possibly join the Twins' lineup and produce a few hits?  Is suckatude a word?    

Arcia went 0-4 on Friday night, sat against a tough lefty on Saturday and then returned on Sunday with another 0-3, this time with two strikeouts and he was pinch hit for in the 8th inning.  Arcia is clearly not producing as many had hoped.  I predicted 55 extra-base hits from him in 2014!  Instead, he has 13 and the way he's been hitting, I wonder if he reaches 25 by the end of the season.

I still believe that there are reasons to be optimistic about Arica.  His walk rate has improved, his strikeout rate is slightly down.  He's hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls.  I would hope that he's in the lineup just about every single day going forward. 

I don't think sending him to AAA does him any good at this point.  He has a .999 OPS in AAA.  The Twins have sent him down with the hope that he'll mash AAA and bring that confidence or whatever with him to Minnesota.  It hasn't worked.  For now, they need to brute force this slump.  He needs to play until he breaks out of it.  He's too talented to slump forever. 

Hughes had another rough start on Saturday, giving up five earned runs over seven innings, picking up his sixth loss on the season.  Over his last six starts, Hughes has a 6.34 ERA.  In 38.1 innings over those six starts, he has 31 strikeouts to just 4 walks.  Not bad.  Unfortunately, he's given up a shocking 56 hits over those starts.  Even in his one good start during this stretch he gave up eight hits. 

His BABIP during those six starts is .421, both incredibly high and highly unsustainable.  Basically, Hughes is going through a rough patch, but he should be able to ride it out.  Back on April 20, when his ERA was 6.43, his BABIP was .394.  In the ten starts in the middle, his BABIP was .286 and his ERA was 2.08. 

It sucks that his ERA has spiked by nearly a run over his last six starts, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it down in the low 3s again by the end of the season, especially if he keeps his strikeout and walk rates where they've basically been all year. 

Optimism Fading

I try hard to be optimistic with the Twins.  I predicted (read:  hoped for) a 75-win season.  I'm willing to concede that they are highly unlikely to reach that win total.  The offense goes cold for weeks at a time, the starting pitching is very inconsistent and what does a bullpen matter when the score is 5-1 after 4 innings?  

I greatly hope that the Twins don't completely fall apart in August and September again.  While I don't think they have the talent to reach 75 wins, I really don't want to sit through another 4-25 April.  I'd like to see some young players get time later in the season, but hopefully the few veterans who will remain can keep things together and win some games.  I'm tired of being in the "draft slot derby" in September.  I'd like to see the team finish respectably. 

Former Twin Update - Alexi Casilla

If you're wondering why we haven't heard much about Sexi Lexi this season, it's because he's spent his season with Baltimore's AAA team.  Well, at least the parts of the season when he's been healthy.  It's been a rough year for Casilla, as he hyperextended his knee in May and missed a bunch of time and now he's pretty much out for the season with a broken hamate bone. 

It's a shame because I always liked Casilla, even if his performance didn't merit my affection.  I'll likely always gravitate toward the short middle infielders because that was who I was when I played ball once upon a time.  Plus, we both have spaces in the middle of our front teeth.  Also, he was awesome.  Just ignore his 73 OPS+ in seven seasons with the Twins; he was awesome.

Fun Stat - 4th Starters

Did you know that teams who have paid more than $100,000 per start to their fourth starter have a collective winning percentage of .481?  Did you know that teams who have paid less than $100,000 per start to their fourth starter have a collective winning percentage of .528?  Why is this important?

Well, the Twins happen to have a young pitcher who many have predicted for the fourth starter role.  This particular pitcher is nearly MLB-ready (or already MLB-ready, depending on who you ask) and has been very durable in his Minor League career.  In addition, by way of being young, he will be very cheap and should easily make less than $100,000 per start when he hits the Majors. 

I'm going to expand on this in a post on Wednesday, as I have a whole mess of data and analysis related to Trevor May to share.  Check back on Wednesday!  Cliffhanger!

Baseball Card from the Past

Yep, Rickey Henderson often batted while sitting on six stolen bases.  You probably forgot about that. 

All-Star Game Recap!

As I mentioned roughly 4 million times, I attended the All-Star Game on Tuesday.  In my American League midseason award and predictions column (click here if you missed it), I wrote about how I reacted to a fan who said Mike Trout was overrated.  In addition to that blow-up, I also became irate when I dropped my turkey sandwich.  Seriously, I traversed roughly 30,000 people and 10,000 people looking backward in complete confusion to get to my seat, then I dropped my tantalizing sandwich. 

Make no mistake, I went back and got another one.  It had cajun seasoning and sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.  I made the right choice. 

Oh, the game was fun too.  I think Derek Jeter won.

Poll Results

Last month, I posted a poll with a simple question - When will the Twins make the playoffs next?  Here are the results:

  • 2014 - 2 votes
  • 2015 - 20 votes
  • 2016 - 17 votes
  • 2017 - 4 votes
  • 2018 - 3 votes
  • A depressingly long time from now - 10 votes
To be fair, the last one could overlap with a couple of the other options.  I voted for 2016, a year later than my original projection from before this season.  The two who voted for 2014 are incredible.  I would like to be their friend.  I did post a new poll, so check out my blog and vote.  It's what cool kids do.

Plugging My Way

Well, I already plugged my AL midseason award post, so for the sake of symmetry, here's my NL post as well:  click here!  If you're curious, I did not predict any awards correctly before the season and I did gutlessly change all of my predictions when given the chance.  You should read it, it's fun!

Parting Thought

The second half of the season is not off to a great start.  However, the Twins still have seven games at home to try to pull things together.  Of course, they'd almost have to win six of seven to really have a successful homestand.  I'm just going to assume that won't happen.  At the end of the homestand, the trading deadline will be nearly upon us.  The sweep from the Rays to start the second half might have been the best thing for the "fire sale" crowd and the worst thing for the "buy it now" crowd.  I'm in neither camp, so I'll just chill.  Have a nice week, everyone!

Friday, July 18, 2014

American League Midseason Award Winners and Predictions

With the second half of the MLB season set to start today, bloggers legally have to get their midseason predictions posted before any game action.  Since I am a law-abiding citizen, I will follow suit.  In March, I made award predictions and I stand by them, unless I was wrong, and then I will change them.  This is very serious stuff, so let's just get into it. 

Rookie of the Year

March Prediction - Nick Castellanos
Current Favorite - Jose Abreu
New Prediction - Danny Santana
Real New Prediction - Jose Abreu

I'm going to come right out and say that I didn't pick Abreu because I didn't want him to be good.  I really don't care for the White Sox and I didn't want to admit that Abreu was a smart signing and that he would help them win games.  I also did not want to select Masahiro Tanaka because he spurned the powerful Twins for the less famous Yankees.  However, if I had picked with my head, I would have selected one of those two. 

Instead, I chose Castellanos and he currently has a .701 OPS.  I do maintain that he is still the tallest of the three and that should count for something.  He only has 23 home runs fewer than Abreu, so he's within shouting distance.  Well, at least his defense rates very poorly. 

I really want to pick Danny Santana going forward but that would be lunacy.  I think he can come back and have a fun, flashy second half, but Abreu is going to blow the rest of the rookies away.  He's going to hit 40 home runs, it's really more of a question as to whether he gets to 50.  Tanaka is hurt, so he'll likely fall out of the race, but his first half was so strong that he may still come in second in the voting. 

Cy Young Award

March Prediction - Felix Hernandez
Current Favorite - Felix Hernandez
New Prediction - Felix Hernandez, POTUS

Obviously, Felix Hernandez cannot be elected United States President.  He is not old enough or born in the United States-y enough.  However, the way he has pitched this season, you have to wonder if we'd make an exception.  With Tanaka is injured, Hernandez is the heavy favorite.  Chris Sale and Mark Buehrle are in the mix, but Hernandez is the man. 

Let's take a few minutes to recognize Hernandez's ridiculous career.  2014 would be his third season with an ERA+ over 170, meaning he was 70% better than a league-average pitcher.  Here's the list of active pitchers who have had an ERA+ of 170 or better with at least 200 innings pitched in the American League:
  • Zack Greinke - 2009 - 205 ERA+
  • Johan Santana - 2004 - 182 ERA+
  • Hernandez - 2010 - 174 ERA+
  • Justin Verlander - 2011 - 172 ERA+
  • Hernandez - 2009 - 171 ERA+
Note the only guy on that list twice and therefore, the only guy with a shot at making it a third time. 

Hernandez has started at least 30 games in each season since 2006, with the only exception in his career being his rookie year (2005) when he was 19 years old.  Four pitchers have made at least 250 starts since 2006:  Verlander, James Shields, Jered Weaver and Hernandez. 

Since 2009, Hernandez has thrown 1302.2 innings and has an ERA of 2.77.  In the American League.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1300 innings since 2009:
  • Hernandez - 1302.2 IP
  • Verlander - 1301.0 IP
That's it.  Verlander's ERA is 3.23 over that span. 

Hernandez hasn't allowed more than a hit per inning since 2007.  In fact, he's allowed just 8.1 hits per nine innings over almost 1700 innings since 2007.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1500 innings and have a H/9 lower than 8.5:
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Justin Verlander
Hernandez has struck out 1264 batters and walked just 335 in 2009.  Here's a list of AL pitchers with at least 1200 strikeouts and fewer than 350 walks since 2009:
  • Felix Hernandez
Hernandez has given up just 85 home runs since 2009.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1100 innings and allowed fewer than 100 home runs:
  • Felix Hernandez
His strikeout rate has improved in each of the last seven seasons.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved in each of the last seven seasons.  I could go on and on and on and on and on...

Of course, none of this justifies his selection for the Cy Young in 2014, but I can back that up too!  He leads the AL in pitcher WAR.  He's second in ERA to Chris Sale (2.08 for Sale and 2.12 for Hernandez), but Felix has thrown almost 50 more innings.  He has started the most games in the AL, he's second in innings pitched, his strikeout and walk rates are 7th in the AL, he's 6th in K/BB ratio, his H/9 is 3rd, his HR/9 is 2nd, he's third in wins, 1st in winning percentage, and he has the lowest FIP. 

In summary:  he's good.


March Prediction - Mike Trout
Current Favorite - Mike Trout
New Prediction - Mike Trout, with one hand tied behind his back

While at the All-Star Game on Wednesday, a guy behind me (wearing a Tigers hat) said that Mike Trout was overrated.  I feel I reacted appropriately:

Seriously?  There's simply no way to make that claim without being the most jealous or moronic person on the planet.  Based on other things said during the game, I'm leaning toward moron.

When Miguel Cabrera won back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, I would have selected Trout both times.  But, I would never have made the claim that Cabrera wasn't almost equally deserving.  In fact, in both years, I felt the race was extremely close and that either player was a good selection.  Even the biggest Cabrera fan on the planet has to admit that Mike Trout is anything but overrated. 

Unless Trout truly does tie his right hand behind his back, he's going to win his first MVP award in 2014.  The Angels appear to be a playoff team, so he can't get a bogus knock for that.  His numbers are outrageous and since he's been an outrageous player since his first game, there's no reason to think he'll slow down. 

Oddly enough, I distinctly remember people openly worrying about Trout this season.  On May 19, Trout was hitting "only" .263/.358/.509.  People were seriously wondering if a guy with an 870 OPS was starting to decline.  At age 22. 

Well, those days are gone.  He now leads the league in OPS+, total bases and WAR, the metric that we might just need to rename "Troutiness."  Trout leads baseball with a 5.5 fWAR (and rWAR for that matter).  Only four AL players are even in Trout's WAR stratosphere: 
This WAR dominance is despite the fact that his defense only rates as "average."  His offense is so dominant that he doesn't need defense to dominate this catch-all statistic.  Trout has produced 26 WAR since 2012, and I don't need to tell you that he's the leader in that category.  However, only two players (Robinson Cano and Andrew McCutchen) surpass 18 WAR over that span and neither of those guys reaches 20 WAR. 

In summary:  he's good too.

League Champion

March Prediction - Tampa Bay Rays
Current Favorite - Oakland Athletics
New Prediction - Oakland Athletics

Not all predictions are good.  I thought the Rays would ride their awesome pitching to a World Series in 2014.  I saw it as a last stand of sorts, with David Price likely being traded after the 2014 season.  I was wrong.  Matt Moore went down early, their young starters haven't quite put it together, their bullpen has been poor (especially with Grant Balfour's Australia-sized walk rate), and Evan Longoria is not the MVP candidate he typically is. 

That said, if their pitching can improve, they could get back in the race.  The AL East is kind of sucky and the Rays' pitchers appear to be the victims of some bad luck.  Even so, I'm hitching my wagon to the Oakland Athletics.

The A's have an MVP candidate in Josh Donaldson.  They have an excellent lineup with a manager who is willing to put his players in the best position to score runs and win games.  They have four starters who currently have an ERA+ better than 120.  They have three relievers who currently have an ERA under 2.15.  They might have the best closer in baseball, as Sean Doolittle currently has a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 30. 

The A's have the most balanced team in baseball and I think they win the AL and the World Series in 2014.  The AL West is a monster division, home to three realistic playoff teams, the AL MVP and AL CY Young winner.  It would be very fun to see the A's, Angels and Mariners all make the playoffs despite the fact that they have to play each other seemingly every other day.  That's all the predicting I can do right now; I hope you got your fill.  Have a great weekend, everyone!