Monday, January 31, 2011

Prospect Profile: Charlie Furbush

Profile: 6'5" - 215lbs - TH:L - BT:L - 2011 Age: 25


• FB 90-91: Good fade, gets ground balls in the minors, probably wont be quite as successful at the MLB level. (60-60)
• SL 80-82: More vertical bite than horizontal run, should be strong vs lend effective against the split. (55-60)
• CV 75-76: A bit too loopy for my taste, but should be effective vs lefties. (60-60)
• CH 82-83: Gets decent depth. I believe this will end up being his best off-speed offering. (60-65)

Royals Sign Darwin Castillo

Not much to report here other than that the Royals have signed Darwin Castillo, a RHP out of the Dominican Prospect League. Unfortunately I don't have an age available on Castillo yet - I'll try and dig that up of course.

What I can tell you is that he's 6'5" 215lbs, and has a nice clean 3/4 delivery. He doesn't look like he repeats his motion with great consistency (hardly abnormal) but he clears his shoulder nicely and finishes cleanly - generating easy velocity. He also showed a curveball that humps a bit too early but with work could be a plus pitch if he can do a better job of working out front.

Overall, he LOOKS like he could be a decent prospect. Clean delivery, ideal size, the makings of a decent breaking ball... But we're going to have to see how old he is, and then follow him though at least one full season before we can even begin to start projecting him.

Prospect Profile: Jose Ortega

Profile: 5'11" - 170lbs - TH:R - BT:R - 2011 Age: 22


• FB 94-95: Too straight, inconsistent delivery decreases command. (60-65)

• SL 81-85: Can hump the pitch. Needs more consistent tight rotation. Could add velocity with refinement. (50-60)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rays Claim Rob Delaney and Thoughts on Stats vs Scouting

A few days ago when the Twins announced they had claimed lefty Dusty Hughes from the Royals, I was surprised to see they had chosen to designate reliever Rob Delaney for assignment to make room for Hughes.

Prospect Profile: Anthony Carter

Profile: 6'3" - 180lbs - TH:R - BT:L - 2011 Age: 25

• FB4 93-94: Some lateral movement. (50-55)
• SL 83-84: Legitimate plus pitch, good depth, useful against left and right. (60-65)
• CH 85-86: Very good fade vs lefties, I think the pitch is MLB ready now. Would like to see him utilize it more. (55-60)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prospect Profile: Santos Rodriguez

Profile: 6'5" - 180lbs - Th:L - BT:L - 2011 Age: 23

Repertoire And Grades:

- FB4 95-96: Flat with inconsistent command (50-60)
- FB2 93-94: Average arm-side run, ground-ball neutral. Inconsistent command. (50-55)
- SL 87-88: Flashes plus with good run, could improve depth. Needs to be more consistent. (50-55)
- CH: 86-87: Needs significant refinement. Poor arm speed, lacks movement or consistent command. (25-35)

Prospect Profile: Gregory Infante

Lost in the disappointing finish to the White Sox 2010 season was the debut of the hard throwing, young right-hander Gregory Infante. Infante is hardly a big-name prospect, but in a season where the White Sox could struggle to find pitching depth in their bullpen behind closer Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Sergio Santos, he could prove to be an integral part of their 2011 plans.

Prospect Profile: Jason Kipnis

I'm a firm believer that Luis Valbuena will prove to be a league average or slightly better second baseman with time. I also believe the Indians front office is on the same wave-length. Yet at some point in the very near future, Valbuena is going to need to begin winning over converts, because right behind him at AAA will be Jason Kipnis.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Twins Acquire Dusty Hughes Off Waivers From Royals

It was just five days ago that I wrote about the Royals designating Dusty Hughes for assignment. At the time I said that I expected Hughes to accept the assignment given the Royals. Kansas City was a good fit for Hughes, a pitcher who is essentially a replacement-level reliever because their bullpen is bad enough that he'd almost certainly get another chance at some point in 2011.

Using Sabermetrics To Project A Hitters Performance - Part 1

I've already written about BABIP as it pertains to pitchers in this piece, touching on the concept of .300 - and how pitchers with BABIP marks either above or below it could be consider either lucky, or unlucky. BABIP works in a similar with hitters, and .300 should still be your waterline, but unlike pitchers, hitters have more control over their BABIP, because they have more control over how a ball is struck, whereas a pitcher generally has very little (and none directly). Today I'll try and explain how you can use BABIP, in conjunction with other metrics like LD%, GB%, FB%, K%, and BB% to project a hitters future performance.

Before we can get to the point of doing the actual projections however, we need to go over some important concepts.

Prognosticating A Liriano Extension

I've mentioned more than once that the Twins are likely working on an extension with Francisco Liriano (and quite likely Delmon Young) as we speak (ok, not as we speak, because you're reading this... but you know what I mean). It's only logical after all. In 2010 Liriano was one of baseball's best pitchers, and clearly the ace of the Twins staff. His velocity was back and once again he was making hitters look foolish, showing that he was nearly all the way back to his 2006 form.

Twins, Slowey Agree On One Year Deal, Avoid Arbitration

This even the Minnesota Twins announced that they and starting pitcher (for the time being) Kevin Slowey have agreed on a one year deal, avoiding arbitration in his first year of eligibility. With Slowey seeking 3.1m in arbitration and the Twins offering 2.3, they met in the middle and agreed on a 2.7m pact that comes in 200k above my 2.5m estimate.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Perplexing Luis Valbuena

When the Indians traded outfielder Franklyn Gutierrez to the Mariners for Luis Valbuena, the hope was that they were acquiring a player who could potentially lock down the right side of their double play combination for years to come. Valbuena was a player who has already shown himself to be capable of hitting in the upper levels of the minor leagues, posting a .864 OPS in AA and a .756 OPS in AAA in his split 2008 season with the Mariners.

Tigers Complete Galarraga Trade, Acquire Two Minor League Pitchers From Diamondbacks

When the Tigers designated Armando Galarraga for assignment, it was pretty clear his time with the team was over. Obviously he wasn't going to clear waivers because he's the sort of pitcher who you could pencil in the #5 spot in about half the rotations in baseball. Someone would've made room for him.

Of course, his status as a capable back-end starter also gave him value as a trade target for any of the teams that would've placed a waiver claim. Despite my vehement opposition, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski clearly felt as though the options he had internally, be it Andrew Oliver or Charlie Furbush, would be adequate in the event that one of his five opening day starters became injured or proved ineffective. And so Galarraga immediately became trade bait.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 5

Over the past two days we've gotten to take a plunge into Jonathan Mayo's list of the Top-10 Third Base Prospects for 2011. It's stacked with AL Central talent with a representative from every team. So far we've profiled the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10), the Twins Miguel Sano (#5), the White Sox Brent Morel (#3), and the Indians Lonnie Chisenhall (#2). It's been a fun series to do and should give hope for the future of the hot corner to every fan base.

Now of course, it's time for the top third base prospect in baseball;

Mike Moustakas

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 4

Yesterday we got the ball rolling on our latest series here at AL Central In Focus, a look into Jonathan Mayo's list of the Top 10 third base prospects for 2011. We've already profiled the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10), the Twins Miguel Sano (#5), and the White Sox Brent Morel (#3).

The first two players were 18 and 17 years old respectively last year, and despite having raw talent in spades, are a long ways from the Majors. The third player on the list, Morel, has the makings of a solid everyday player who will provide high end, and maybe even elite level defense.

The last two players on this list however are cats of a rarer breed. They possess multiple refined skills without clear weaknesses and have demonstrated the ability to succeed in the high minors. They are both very projectable and highly talented and could challenge for all-star teams. With that in mind, lets delve into into a diamond in the Cleveland rough;

Lonnie Chisenhall

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Butler Extension, Details Finally Revealed

Quick little update here, Billy Butler's recent extension with the Royals is for four years with a team option on a fifth year. They also decided to structure the contract a little unusually. Butler will get 3m in 2011, and then 8m per year for the next three. Typically teams will give players yearly raises in contracts covering arbitration seasons, but instead the Royals will take the cost savings later. Not a bad idea with almost no payroll concerns in the foreseeable future. His 2015 option is for a team friendly 12.5m.

Very nice deal.

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 3

Earlier today I kicked of our newest series here at Central In Focus, a review of's Jonathan Mayo's list of his top-10 third base prospects for 2011. We've already examined two very young, very raw, and very talented prospects - the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10) and the Twins Miguel Sano (#5). The only players left now are the three players Mayo identifies as the best third base prospects in all of baseball and they're all AL Central players.


Continuing the theme of working from the bottom of the list to the top I'm pleased to present my thoughts on talented White Sox prospect;

Brent Morel

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 2

We kicked off our examination of the AL Central's phenomenally impressive corps of talented young third basemen already with a look into Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos, who's Jonathan Mayo had listed as his 10th best third base prospect in all of baseball. Moving on in our countdown we'll be looking at the next prospect on his list;

Miguel Sano

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 1

Last year when I started Central In Focus, one of the first series I ran covered the American League Central's quartet of promising young catchers. I wrote about Alex Avila of the Tigers, Tyler Flowers of the White Sox, Wilson Ramos of the Twins, Carlos Santana of the Indians. And I never even mentioned the Royals Wil Myers who exploded onto the mega-prospect scene after demolishing two levels of A ball during the 2010 campaign in his introduction to full season baseball.

One year later Santana appears to be headed for the stardom that so many expected, and no one would be surprised to see Ramos win the opening day job in Washington after his mid-season trade. Avila remains a platoon option at catcher for the Tigers and with Victor Martinez's presence, that's unlikely to change for the next year or two. Flowers unfortunately saw his persistent problems with strikeouts catch up to him at AAA this year. He remains a prospect but will need to make fundamental improvements to his offensive game if he's ever to become a viable Major League backstop.

This year the Central heads toward 2010 sporting another impressive area of strength, this time at third base. A recent article listing their Top-10 third base prospects had the top three spots, four of the top five, and five of the top ten filled with AL Central talent. It's an incredibly impressive layout and all five Central teams are represented. It only seems right that such a talented group of players deserves the same kind of coverage the catchers got last year. Just like last year I'm going to go ahead and run through the five players, in reverse order by the rankings given in the article.

Nick Castellanos

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Armando Galarraga Fiasco And My Outrage With Dave Dombrowski Over It

This isn't how Armando Galarraga thought it would be as a kid.

Coming off a disappointing 2009 season, Galarraga opened 2010 in the minors but was up by mid-May when injuries and ineffectiveness necessitated his presence. After three uninspired starts to open his year, Galarraga had just 12 innings with six earned runs allowed to show for himself. Then for one night in early June, he was perfect - too bad Jim Joyce wasn't. To Galarraga's credit he handled the disappointment better than just about anyone could've. For my part, I was literally screaming at my TV, gesticulating wildly with my arms, pounding my fists... I was a belligerent mess.

Galarraga just smiled.

Fast forward seven months and everything has turned on it's head. First, the Tigers signed Brad Penny to a one year deal with incentives. Then Galarraga was signed, and then six hours later, designated for assignment. And once again, I'm a belligerent mess.

Royals Extend Billy Butler

Earlier this morning the Royals announced that they had extended first baseman Billy Butler to a four year extension, buying out all of his arbitration seasons along with his first year of free agency. The fact that these next four years will comprise the best part of Butler's peak year (his age 25-28 seasons) this deal looks very good and barring injury, is a near lock to be a great value.

The Baseball Doldrums

We've pretty much officially reached baseball's version of purgatory. That time between the beginning of the off season when free agent speculation is rampant and each team's fanbase is wondering what toys their Franchise's GM will stuff their proverbial baseball stockings with, and the start of spring training.

At this point, essentially every major free agent is off the board already and most teams have completed all of their internal arbitration signings. Most of what needs to be done between now and then is more subdermal. Teams will be scanning the waiver wire and making minor league signings to add depth in positions of need. There may be a couple minor trades. But for the most part, the action is over. At least for the teams.

For writers like me on the other hand, it's time to begin the grueling process of analyzing where each team stands now that the dust has (mostly) settled. With that in mind, I'm here to let you know that while the action phase of the off season may be over I'll still be cranking out all kinds of new content to keep up with your need to have your baseball craving constantly satisfied.

Over the next couple months my goal is to create projections for every player I expect to be on the 25-man roster. I'll also be examining the key Minor Leaguers who are most likely to have an impact on your squads success in the upcoming season and analyzing all of the most important spring training battles. Furthermore, you can expect to see me continue churning out content on my recently started Sabermetrics Explained series where I [attempt] to explain a lot of the key components of my analysis and how they work together to help provide a clearer view of a players talent and likely impact in the future.

For now, just sit tight and try and stay warm. Ideally do it with a hot dog and some homemade nachos. Maybe put in some DVD highlights from last year. But whatever you do, please for the love of God, don't do it in a Snuggie. That's really all I ask.

Baseball is coming folks. I promise, this is all going to get a lot better really soon.

White Sox Claim Philip Humber

Philip Humber is becoming quite the AL Central traveling man. After stops in Minnesota and Kansas City, he's now a member of the White Sox (after a brief one month stop with the A's this winter). It's hard to believe, but Humber was once an immensely talented prospect who was the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 draft. Tommy John surgery has long since diminished those skills, but he's hung around and will now be joining his 5th Major League organization.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gil Meche Announces Retirement

This one came out of left field.

When the Royals announced their signing of Gil Meche prior to the start of the 2007 season, it came as a  bit of a shock. The team had just gotten done losing 100 games and were nowhere near competing for a .500 record, to say nothing of a playoff berth or a World Series title. So signing a a pitcher who's ERA the past three years had been 5.01, 5.09, and 4.48 to 55 million dollar deal spanning five seasons was a stunning layout.

Royals Designate Dusty Hughes For Assignment

In order to clear room on the 40-man roster, the Royals have designated left handed reliever Dusty Hughes for assignment. Hughes has been decent in his brief tenure in the Majors. In parts of two seasons he's totaled 70.1 innings with a 4.09 ERA though his 4.28 FIP and certainly his 5.18 xFIP suggest he's been at least a little on the lucky side.  Hughes hasn't demonstrated a clear platoon advantage against lefties in his Major League career and therefor is unlikely to find a spot with another team as a LOOGY.

It's not a sure thing, but my guess would be that Hughes will end up accepting the assignment and pitch at AAA until an opening comes about in 2011. I had him as a member of the Royals opening day bullpen and I'm not 100% certain who will be replacing him yet. We'll let that sort itself out as we get closer to opening day.

The Luck Dragon Revealed: BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB Explained

In my post discussing the Carl Pavano signing I made reference to a lot of concepts that fans of the game might not understand if they haven't kept up with some of the new-wave statistics that have come into fashion over the past decade.

While I've already written a primer explaining the concept of fielding independent pitching, in the Pavano post I used a number of other metrics - BABIP, LOB%, HR/FB rate - as well. While I did try to explain some of those things within that post, as long as I'm creating a series explaining different sabermetric concepts, it strikes me that this is logical next piece to go with.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) Explained

After what was a crushing day of writing for me yesterday, what with 9 AL Central players agreeing to new contracts before heading to arbitration, a shocking retirement announcement from the Royals, and a baffling signing-followed-by-designation from the Tigers - today is about as slow as it gets.

With that in mind, what better thing to do than kick off a series I have been meaning to do for some time. Today I'll begin posting a series of articles explaining all of the statistics you see in my articles. Some people might be familiar with them, but I'd like to give anyone that isn't an easy an intuitive guide that explains what the different metrics (stats) are. What they mean, how they work, and why they might be better than some of the more traditional reference points you're used to.

Twins Finally Sign Carl Pavano And A Closer Look At How Luck Effects A Pitchers Peformance

After a month and change of, "they're close," the Twins and starting pitcher Carl Pavano have finally agreed on a two-year pact that will pay the pitcher 16.5m. Pavano's performance in 2010 was his best since his 2005 campaign that propelled him to a four year forty million dollar deal with the Yankees. His 4.02 FIP suggests his 3.75 ERA was a tad bit lucky, but hardly beyond the bounds of the margin of error. And now, after posting FIP marks of 4.00 and 4.02 the past two seasons it can be reasonably assured of the pitcher Pavano is today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indians Payroll Estimate #3

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that position, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Shin-Soo Choo Reaches Agreement

Indians star right fielder Shin-Soo Choo agreed yesterday to a one year deal worth 3.995m during his first season of arbitration eligibility. Choo has been one of baseball's absolute best (and most under appreciated) players over the past two seasons, totaling 10.6 WAR. He's also been incredibly consistent posting near identical triple-slash lines in 2009 and 2010:

2009: .300/.394/.489 - 20HR - 86 RBI - 21SB
2010: .300/.401/.484 - 22HR - 90 RBI - 22SB

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Arbitration Signings 1/18, Post #2

When I wrote these words, "The signings to avoid arbitration have been coming fast and furious the last few days, and that's likely to continue for a few more days.." this morning I had no clue how prescient that would be.

That's because I somehow forgot that today is the deadline for such deals without actually going through the ugly process of exchanging arbitration figures. It's not yet 3pm here in the Central and already we've had nine signings. I wrote about the first six here. By my count there are seven players remaining who've yet to sign deals, four of whom are on the Twins. It would appear that the White Sox, and Tigers have completed their deals, and the Royals have only to Billy Butler remaining on their to-do list.

White Sox Payroll Estimate #4

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that positon, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Arbitration Signings 1/18

The signings to avoid arbitration have been coming fast and furious the last few days, and that's likely to continue for a few more days. We had a bevy of signing the past few days, but instead of addressing them each with their own article, I'll simply do them as a group. Of course, I reserve the right to diverge from that...

Tigers Payroll Estimate #4

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that positon, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Royals Payroll Estimate #3

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that positon, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Indians Payroll Estimate #2

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that position, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Twins Payroll Estimate #3

This estimate reflects only players who are currently under team control for the 2011 season. It does not include any speculation on players who will be signed via free agency or those who will be acquired via trade. This list will change as the off season progress, and players are acquired, or lost.

The positions in many cases are speculative. If I pencil in a player at a position who did not start there in 2010, it may be because I simply feel he would be the most qualified should 2011 begin today. It does not mean I expect the team to enter the 2011 season with said player manning that positon, so don't read into it too much.

An asterisk denotes an arbitration eligible player and my estimate at what they'll receive. Please note that this is not an exact figure, but should be close. 

Two More Arbitration Deals

Yesterday we discussed arbitration deals recently handed out to Alexi Casilla, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, and Asdrubal Cabrera. But they aren't the only ones to have locked in new deals. The Tigers came to terms yesterday with Armando Galarraga and the the Royals brought back Robinson Tejada.

- I spent some time discussing Galarraga's future with the Tigers in the wake of the recent signing of Brad Penny. I had projected Galarraga at 1.5m in my most recent Tigers Payroll Estimate, so to see him sign for 2.3m has to be considered a win for him and his agent. It's a tad surprising given the signing of Penny that GM Dave Dombrowski wasn't able to utilize that leverage a bit better in negotiations.

Galarraga contributed 144 innings for the Tigers in 2010 with a 4.49 ERA that bested his FIP projections by about half a run. He's thrown at least 143 innings in each of the past three seasons but with the presence of Penny likely pushing him out of the rotation at the beginning of the year, there's a good chance he wont meet that mark in 2011.

- Tejada will be entering his seventh season in the league and in this, his final arbitration season is set to earn 1.55m, essentially identical to the 1.5m I had him projected for in the most recent Royals Payroll Estimate.

He's been the picture of consistency the last two seasons with the Royals, posting identical 3.54 ERAs and FIP marks of 3.59 and 3.60 respectively, and they're certainly hoping for more of the same. Tejada has the ability to miss bats, averaging almost exactly a strikeout per inning the last two years but can also get himself into trouble with walks with a career 5.03 walk rate. It should be noted however that he posted his best walk rate of his career in 2010 with a 3.84 mark. Unfortunately, the fly-ball prone pitcher was at his worst in that department, getting inducing ground balls on just 27.8% of balls in play.

As long as Tejada can keep missing bats at a high rate and either limit his walks or keep the ball in the yard, neither of which are a sure thing given his career track record, he'll be successful. But despite the strength of his past two seasons, there is always the possibility those two areas of concern could pair up and he could struggle as a result. If he can prevent that however, he'll once again be a useful option for the Royals in the 7th and 8th innings.

Twins Reach Agreement With Alexi Casilla

After a nightmarish 2009 season that saw the Twins combination of middle infielders hit just slightly better than a random sampling of National League pitchers, the Twins moved aggressively to get better, trading for J.J. Hardy and signing the veteran Orlando Hudson. The moves worked out well and the Twins we're markedly better in the middle infield both offensively and defensively.

One of the culprits of that 2009 middle infield abomination was Alexi Casilla, who chipped in a ghastly .202/.280/.259 line. To lend some credence to the term "abomination," and prove my point about them hitting like National League pitchers, consider that nine NL pitchers posted better OPS numbers than Casilla's .538 mark.

Thankfully, Casilla isn't really THAT bad of a hitter. He sandwiched his 2009 season with decent enough seasons in 2008 and 2010, posting OPS marks of .707 and .726 respectively. Casilla has never, and will never hit for much power but he makes good contact (13.4% career K rate), draws a respectable enough number of walks (7.2% career BB rate), and has shown the ability to hit for an average in the .275 range.

Given that I'm currently projecting Casilla to open the season as the Twins starting shortstop - something that's not at all set in stone - a .700 OPS or better would leave him just slightly ahead of the MLB average of .690 at that position in 2010. Should he instead be used as a second baseman, it'd leave him just shy of the .726 OPS MLB second basemen averaged.

Defensively Casilla has been below average at second, a position where he's logged significantly more innings. His UZR/150 stands at -7.9 runs for his career at that position. At shortstop, which is his natural position, he's been significantly better, posting an outrageous +25.7 mark, but that's almost certainly a sample-size related fluke.

One thing Casilla will add to the Twins is speed on the bases. Of course, being fast is one thing, but being a good base stealer is something all together different. Numerous studies have shown that in order for a base runner to actually make a positive impact, he needs to be successful in about 75% of his attempts - otherwise he's actually costing his team runs by sacrificing outs. In that regard, Casilla succeeds. Casilla has shown that in an everyday role he could be good for 25-30 stolen bases and if he can maintain his incredible 89.7% career success rate, he'll add an extra dimension to the bottom of the order.

Casilla was never in line for a big salary in this, his first year of arbitration eligibility and the 865k he got was pretty much exactly in line with the 800k I had him projected for. 2011 will represent both a big opportunity for Casilla and a big risk. This will likely be his last chance to prove to the Twins he can be an every day player. If he can't, the Twins would likely be ready to give former first round pick Trevor Plouffe, who made his MLB debut last year after a solid AAA campaign, a real shot.

Casilla has the skills to be a light hitting speedster at the bottom of the order, but he's never been able to prove it over a full season. The Twins have a lot of very talented players, but there will be a lot resting on the diminutive shoulders of Alexi Casilla. If he fails to produce it'll leave a huge void in the Twins order and could cost them a few important wins.

Indians Agree To Terms With Asdrubal Cabrera

The Indians are going to be a team with a lot of holes entering 2011, but one of them will not be at shortstop where Asdrubal Cabrera has cemented himself for the foreseeable future. The Indians have agreed to sign him for 2.025m in his first arbitration season, about half a million more than my 1.5m projection.

Despite a down year in 2011 where he struggled with injuries posted the worst offensive numbers of his career, Cabrera remains a solid shortstop. At just 25 years old, Cabrera is likely to rebound offensively to his previous level of production as he returns from a broken forearm that knocked him out in mid-May. I'll have my exact projections out as the season nears, but just as a ballpark guess I'd say he's good for a .750 OPS - 60 points above the MLB average for shortstops.

Cabrera isn't the rangiest of shortstops and according to most defensive metrics, Cabrera has always been below average defensively at short. UZR/150 has him pegged at an ugly 9.3 runs below average for his career while other metrics metrics like like Dewan's Plus/Minus system have him at just 4 runs below average for his career. In an ideal world the Indians would like to see that performance improve, but even if it doesn't, his bat should be enough to keep him right around league average.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bruce Chen Reups For 2011

With the recent signing of Jeff Francis, it looked as through the Royals might have filled out their starting staff. But given the tenuous nature of players like Francis and Gil Meche, both of whom were injured for significant portions of 2011, the team decided to bring back Bruce Chen to add depth.

The 33 year-old Chen had a strong 2010 showing with the Royals, posting a 4.17 ERA in 140 innings of work. That performance might be the second best of his twelve year Major League career that has been far more bad than good. He's the owner of a career 4.64 ERA, and judging by his career FIP of 5.13, that may actually be a tad on the lucky side. While he has demonstrated some ability to miss bats with a 7.00 career strikeout rate, he walks more than you'd like (3.35) and doesn't get enough ground balls (35.1%).

Chen is essentially the definition of a back-end junk-baller. With a fastball that averaged just 86.2 last year, he's not going to throw the ball by anyone, but he's got five pitches and he'll throw them all at you. That helps him keep hitters off balance, but doesn't keep him from being eminently hittable. That Chen was able to have success in 2010 had little to do with any change in who he was as a pitcher, and far more to do with luck. He was the beneficiary of both a favorable BABIP (.286) and a very lucky 8.1% HR/FB rate (career 13.3%) which helped negate his fly-ball tendencies. Unfortunately, the likelihood of him being so fortunate again is, well, slim.

Chen has spent his career bouncing between the back-end of eleven teams rotations and it's likely that he'll do the same for the Royals. He should provide needed depth that will insulate the team from injury and allow the Royals to keep their top pitching prospects in the Minors for as long as possible, buying them valuable developmental time. It's probably not the most inspired signing in the world, but you could do worse things with 2.0m in guaranteed money.

Royals Reach Agreements With Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar

With five likely candidates for arbitration deals on the docket, Royals GM Dayton Moore managed to come to terms with two of those five in short order, inking former first round picks Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar to one year deals. Gordon's deal will pay him 1.15m in his first arbitration season, 850k less than my 2.0m projection. Hochevar will make 1.76m, 740k less than my projection.

The fact that both players come in under budget is obviously a good thing for the Royals and a good showing by Moore.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dayton Moore Changes Tact, Makes Intelligent Signing

We've all gotten pretty used to Dayton Moore making some terrible free agent decisions. Actually, it's pretty much the only thing Royals fans know. So when word came out that he had signed former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis for 2m plus incentives, it was a bit surprising. Not only was Francis not a former member of the Braves - something that had always seemed to be a Dayton Moore prerequisite - he didn't overpay by millions of dollar either.

Strange indeed.

Obviously Francis wasn't exactly the cream of the free agent crop, but while many have wondered where pitchers trying rebuild value off injury such as Brandon Webb, Chris Young, and Justin Duchscherer would land, Francis is perhaps the safest bet of the bunch.

Of course Francis comes with plenty of red flags. After pitching through shoulder soreness for much of the 2008 season, and struggling in the process, Francis finally succumbed and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching arm that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2009 season and the first part of 2010. On the surface there might not seem to be much to indicate he'd return to form given his 5.00 ERA last year, but a quick look at his rate stats shows that underneath the ugly ERA was the Francis of old. Compare if you would his career rate stats against those he posted in 2010.

Career: 6.15K - 2.13BB - 43.2%GB

2010: 5.78K - 1.98BB - 47.0%GB

That pitching formula - despite the ugly ERA - actually produced Francis' best FIP (3.88) and xFIP (3.94) metrics ever. If that ground ball rate is less of an aberration and more of a new fact of Francis' post surgery pitching reality, it's possible he could actually be a better pitcher than the one he was prior.

The signing isn't entirely dissimilar from the one the Tigers made of Brad Penny. While neither pitcher is a lock to be a significant improvement on options already available internally, they both have ample upside to turn in very good seasons, and good reasons to expect that they will.

While the Tigers signing of Penny was motivated by a desire to add depth and potentially acquire a veteran innings eater for the back of their rotation, the Royals likely have other interests. In the Royals case, should Francis turn in a strong 2011 as I expect he will, he should be a strong candidate for a mid-season trade that could net the Royals still more prospects to add to their already overflowing Minor League depth. Or the Royals could let the season play out in the hope that he could net them a draft pick or two in free agent compensation.

In either case, the Royals win. They've added a capable arm who can help them win games in 2010, and bought themselves an inexpensive lottery ticket that has a good chance of coming up a prospect winner.  And even if Francis flops, at just 2m, they can't lose.

It's a strange thing to see in Royal-land, but it can be a beautiful thing when a signing makes sense.

Twins Bring Back Jim Thome for 2011

Regardless of the lens through which you choose to view the game of baseball, or how you chose to evaluate performance, Jim Thome's production in 2010 was big. All by itself with no perspective given, a .283 average, with 25 home runs would be good - and if you're someone who prefers your baseball analysis as simple as possible, you're going to like that production. Indeed just 20 players other players posted an average as good with as many home runs.

Prefer your statistics to be more advanced? His 1.039 OPS would've been third to just Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. His .437 wOBA third to Hamilton and Joey Votto.  How about player value? Thome's 3.6 WAR was the best of any designated hitter, while former Twin David Ortiz (3.3) came in second.

The kicker to all that of course is that the Twins were able to sign him for the heinous base salary of 1.6m - but don't worry, he earned another 200k in incentives for reaching 300 plate appearances - for a grand total of 1.8m

If the voices in your head are saying something along the lines of, "Hold on... what?" you're not alone.

How exactly did we get to a point where Thome, a near certain Hall Of Famer, and one of baseball's most beloved characters could barely get 1.5m guaranteed? I mean, the White Sox gave Mark Teahan (yeah, the Mark Teahan who was supposed to replace Thome) three years and 14m. But picking on the White Sox alone isn't fair. This isn't the case of one team making a bad decision, this is a situation where 29 other teams legitimately sat down and said, "no, we're not interested in Jim Thome even at just two million."

The Royals, who dug up 2.75m for Rick Ankiel and another 1.7m for Willie Bloomquist apparently couldn't dig enough change out of the couch for Thome. I guess paying Jose Guillen 12m to clog up the DH spot was a better play. Neither could the Indians, who instead signed Russell Branyan for 1.5m to be a left handed option off the bench before trading him to the Mariners where he replaced their other DH, perennial Citizen Of The Year Award Winner Milton Bradley.

He'd have been the best hitter on any of those teams - by a vast margin - and could've been had for the baseball equivalent of loose change. How the hell did this happen?

The most likely explanation is that executives saw his declining performance - his OPS in 2009 was JUST .847, combined it with his advancing age and thought he was done for. I guess that makes some sense. Not nearly enough sense mind you, but some. Even when you consider that his market was limited to the 14 AL teams where he could serve as a DH, there are a lot of teams (all of them) that could've used Thome's bat in a bench role - which is precisely the roll for which the Twins signed Thome.

I say all of that to say this: how the hell did we wind up back at the EXACT SAME PLACE????

It's now 2010 instead of 2009 and still no one could make an offer that topped the reported 4m the Rangers offered? Really? It would appear that Thome considered more things than just money - there is speculation he chose the Twins slightly smaller 3m + incentives deal to be closer to his family in Chiacgo, and obviously the Twins are a more competitive club than, say, the Mariners. But... seriously?

Perhaps the only thing more criminal than the Twins being able to sign Thome for 1.5m in 2010 off his .847 OPS in the year before is them signing him for 3.0m in 2011 off his 1.037 OPS.

But let's add some important perspective - I'm not by any means under the impression that Thome is going to repeat his 2010 season, not by a long shot. Other than Albert Pujols, I don't expect anyone to post back-to-back 1.000 OPS seasons. But as Thome showed in 2010 he can still demolish right-handed pitching, and while it's unlikely that he'll do so to the same extent in 2011, I'm guessing he'll still hit them plenty hard. Certainly projecting him to a .850 OPS isn't exactly going out on any kind of a limb.

Further, Thome doesn't fill an obvious hole. Jason Kubel came into 2010 as the Twins every-day designated hitter and he'll likely enter 2011 with the same role. What the Twins really could've used was a right-handed hitter to platoon with Kubel who, like Thome, struggles mightily with left-handed pitching. Personally, I think they'd have been better served by signing either Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero who could platoon in the DH role and provide the Twins with some desperately needed pop from the right side. Clearly the Twins felt otherwise.

Beyond what Thome brings on the field, and beyond the immeasurable intangibles he brings to the clubhouse - he provides something else to the Twins - insurance on Justin Morneau's concussion.

Free agency is a mixed bag. Sometimes you know from the start that a deal is going to implode. Sometimes you know it'll work out. And yes, sometimes there are steals. But they should never be this obvious.

Tigers Sign Ryan Raburn to Two Year Contract

In my most recent Tigers Payroll Estimate I pegged Ryan Raburn as being in line for 1.5m in arbitration. Given a repeat of his 2010 or 2009 performance, which I think is likely, I'd have then estimated him at about 3.5m in 2011. So when the Tigers announced that they had agreed on a two-year extension with Raburn for just 3.4m - about half of my expectation of what it would cost for his 2010 and 2011 seasons - you can be assured that I raised an eyebrow.

I'm quite confident that the reason for my surprise wasn't because my estimates were off, to the contrary I'm confident that I'll prove to be very close in far more of my estimates than not - but rather that the Tigers got a great deal. How good? Well, we could simply say that the Tigers got Raburn for perhaps half of what it would've cost through arbitration and leave it at that, but we can do better.

Amongst all Major League left fielders who had enough at-bats to qualify, Raburn's 2.1 WAR in 2010 would've been tied for 11th with the Twins Delmon Young. And just 0.1 WAR behind Juan Pierre of the White Sox and Bobby Abreu of the Angels.

Would've been, except Raburn didn't have enough at-bats to qualify.

In just 371 at-bats, or about 3/5 of a season, Raburn managed to provide as much production as players with nearly twice as many plate appearances. Indeed, if you were to project Raburn's production over a full 550 at-bat season, he'd have been worth 3.1 WAR, which would've left only this list of players ahead of him:

Josh Hamilton (8.0), Matt Holiday (6.9), Carl Crawford (6.9), Carlos Gonzalez (6.0), Aubrey Huff (5.7), Brett Gardner (5.4), and Ryan Braun (4.2).

Not bad company, and given that Huff started a whooping 24 games in left, you could be forgiven if you excluded him from the list.

What's perplexing is that if you were forced to judge Raburn strictly on the amount of praise or neglect he gets from Tiger fans, you'd be almost certain to come away with the impression that he was a bench player at best.

I don't want to come across as a Raburn apologist - he's a player with some clear weaknesses - specifically in the field and as a hitter with a pretty severe platoon split against right-handed pitching. He's clearly not in the top-tier of the games left fielders like Crawford, Holliday, Gonzalez, or Braun, but he's also a better player than 20 or so other teams are going to run out on a daily basis - and probably better than anyone else in the Central.

At the same time, his weaknesses are probably not as bad as they're made out to be. While Raburn is frequently his own worst enemy, getting bad reads, taking questionable routes, and bobbling balls, we should probably cut him some slack. During his time with the Tigers, Raburn has been used primarily as a utility player, logging time at every position other than shortstop and catcher. Thankfully he finally seems to have settled in left field, and his defense there (+2.8 UZR for his career) hasn't been that bad at all.

Further, during the past two seasons - those in which he's come closest to regular playing time - his performance against right handers hasn't necessarily been bench-worthy as he posted an .800 OPS against them in 2009 and a .753 OPS in 2010.

In the end however, Raburn is mostly about mashing left-handed pitching, and frankly, there aren't a ton who do that better. Raburn's .929 OPS vs lefties in 2010 was good for 26th best in baseball overall (Victor Martinez was 1st and Miguel Cabrera 8th!). In 2009, his .976 OPS was 22nd best and better than anyone else on the Tigers, Cabrera included.

I've seen some questions about how Raburn will fare in a full-time role. Count me in the group of the unconcerned. Raburn might not make it pretty, but I expect his defense will be around league average or just slightly worse. And offensively, he hasn't been nearly the liability vs righties that some seem to think.

Overall, I expect Raburn will provide an OPS in the neighborhood of .820 with defense that shouldn't be worse than 5 runs below average. Over a full season that should be worst at least 3 WAR, and there's plenty of potential for more. If I'm right that would mean the Tigers are in line for at least 6 WAR over the next two years. In free agency, that would probably be worth at least 20m. The Tigers will get it 3.5m.


Twins Trade Jose Morales

I kept meaning to write this piece and just never did, so now, two months later you're finally getting it.

In a move that got little attention, the Twins traded backup catcher Jose Morales to the Rockies for Paul Bargas. A converted catcher, Morales has had some success with that bat at the Major League level, posting a .297/.370/.354 triple slash in 181 plate appearances spread out over three seasons. Unfortunately, injuries have kept Morales from being able to establish himself as the Twins primary backup and the Twins chose to go with Drew Butera as their primary backup to Joe Mauer last year.

With Morales out of options and without room to carry three catchers to open the season, the Twins were in a move-him-or-lose him position and so the move was made. In return, the Twins get Bargas. As a 22 year old Bargas had a strong season for the Rockies class-A affiliate, posting a 3.59 ERA and a 2.82 FIP with solid strikeout (8.51) and walk rates (2.53).

The Twins like strike throwers and Bargas seems to fit that profile. With repeatable mechanics, Bargas works in 88-90 range with decent sink on his fastball and a slider in the high 70s that Baseball America says breaks too early to profile as a put-away pitch at higher levels. His stuff seems to profile more like that of a LOOGY than a long-term rotation option, and that's what I project him as. But the metrics still like him and if he can make progress with his slider and develop his changeup - two things the Twins minor league coaches are known for doing well - he could have Brian Duensing-like upside.

In all likelihood the Twins will have Bargas open 2011 at AA New Britain and we'll get a chance to see how his stuff translates against more advanced hitters.

What this means for the Twins immediate catching situation is a bit unclear. Obviously they made a strong commitment to Butera in 2010 and they love his defense, but beyond Butera, the options are thin. The Twins did make a pair of minor league signings, bringing in Steve Holm and Rene Rivera, but neither have ever hit and in the event that Mauer were to get hurt, the Twins would have a gaping hole in their batting order that couldn't begin to be dented with the current group of internal options.

But hey, at least the Twins didn't make a heinous decision to trade Wilson Ramos for a reliever so they can always turn to him...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tigers Sign Brad Penny. Where Does That Leave Armando Galarraga?

Tigers General Manager Dave Drombrowski has publicly hinted at the idea of adding another starter to his rotation a few times this off season, and with the recent signing of Brad Penny, he's finally made that a reality. By moving Phil Coke to the rotation, the Tigers already had a full five man rotation, but the addition of Penny gives the team additional depth that, beyond Andrew Oliver, was lacking internally.

While Penny himself hasn't been anything particularly special the past three years, having posted a 5.02 ERA while struggling through various injuries, he has been a steady if unspectacular innings eater throughout his career posting a career ERA of 4.11 with an FIP of 3.98 and an xFIP of 4.19. Despite a mid-90s fastball (93.4mph career / 94.1mph 2010), Penny's rate stats profile more like that of a inning-eating-sinkerballer: 6.27K/2.85BB-45.7GB.

What the Tigers will get out of Penny of course, remains something of a mystery. If healthy, Penny could be good for around 170-190 innings with an ERA in the low 4s. Poor results aside, an examination of Penny's rate stats the past three seasons reveals very little change other than a slight (but not completely insignificant) decline in his strikeout rate. He remains an average to somewhat low strikeout pitcher with average or slightly better walk rates and solid/plus ground ball tendencies. Of course, the issue of his health remains a big IF given his past three seasons. He could also pitch the way he did in 2008 or 2009, or end up making just nine starts as he did in 2010 for the Cardinals.

That being said, speculating on injuries is a fools errand. What we should be taking into account is that the Tigers had a need - someone who could eat innings at the bottom of the rotation - and while Penny comes with plenty of risk, he also comes with an upside that former 5th starter Armando Galarraga doesn't possess. For what it's worth, Bill James projects Galarraga for 178 innings of a 4.45 ERA. While projections aren't out yet for Penny, one would assume they won't be good given his performance over the past three seasons.

But with Penny signed, the Tigers have given themselves something more difficult to measure than even advanced metrics can quantify - peace of mind. Penny gives the Tigers depth that insulates them against the all-too-common pitching injury, a veteran presence and a proven innings eater - and he does so at a cut-throat rate.

The worst case scenario for this signing is that Penny, who struggled in the AL during his only stint in Boston, tanks and is summarily released, traded, or banished to mop-up duty. The best case of course, is significantly better. While some might be quick to label the signing as insignificant (something it may very well end up being) I like it because even in its insignificance, it is meaningful.

There are other angles of this signing to explore however. As implied in the title of this post, one has to wonder what this ultimately means for the future of Galarraga. While I've seen some speculation that he may become trade bait, that would seem to run counter to what I imagine Dombrowski's real intent is - to create depth that protects the team against injury or ineffectiveness. Short term, I expect the Tigers to utilize Galarraga in a long-relief role where he'll almost certainly prove to be more effective than Eddie Bonine was in 2010. Long term however, he remains a viable option as a #4 or #5 starter on most teams. Whether that team will be the Tigers or not will likely have much to do with how the Tigers relatively deep corps of pitching prospects develops.

Speaking of pitching prospects, I also wonder what this says about the Tigers short-term view of Andrew Oliver. While Oliver possesses good stuff, with a fastball that averages 93.8mph and a good slider with late break that will be very effective as a put-away pitch against both lefties and righties. His changeup is still developing and in the long run, that will make him vulnerable to lefties. More importantly, his control is still very much a work in progress as this point. While Oliver is rightfully well-regarded as a pitching prospect, his reputation may be ahead of his refined talents.

That being said, Oliver's short-term outlook shouldn't cloud the long-term one, he's still a rare beast, a live-armed lefty who, despite his flaws, projects as a #2 or #3 pitcher. It just seems that the Tigers brain-trust doesn't believe his time is now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

White Sox Sign Will Ohman And What It Means For Chris Sale

In a move to solidify their bullpen, the White Sox signed left hander Will Ohman to a two-year, four million dollar contract. If the contact is balanced, it would bring my 2011 payroll estimate for the White Sox to 126.25m. I've already expended a lot of words here at Central In Focus extolling poor logic in handing relievers three-year deals - and while this deal is for just two years, it violates the same basic tenets.

In signing Ohman, owner of a career 4.09 ERA to a two year deal, they're gambling that the lefty specialist can not only repeat his success of 2010, but that he can do it in back-to-back seasons. His career track-record suggests it's a possibility, but his 2009 season should give one pause.

OPS allowed vs lefthanders by year:

2010: .636
2009: .889
2008: .571
2007: .718
2006: .535
2005: .593

At just 2m per year, the Ohman deal is unlikely to have any significant effect one way or another. But I do question the necessity of offering two years to a player who is valuable essentially as a lefty specialist in low-leverage situations.

Perhaps more than anything, the Ohman signing throws into doubt what the White Sox plans are for the young Chris Sale. With Ohman in place to take care of lefty-lefty situations in the 6th and 7th innings, and Matt Thornton a known commodity for the late innings, will the White Sox choose to keep Sale in the rotation even if it means keeping him in AAA once Jake Peavy returns? Or will they keep Sale in the bullpen and roll with three lefties?

Good problems to have I suppose.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Indians Temporarily Emerge From Hiberation - Sign Kearns

... Immediately return to hibernation.

Ok, that's not fair. We knew going into this off season that the Indians were going to have quite a bit less payroll flexibility than they had in 2010. Intuitively, we also knew that meant that significant free agent acquisitions were unlikely. Fear not though Indians fans, while other teams are handing out what I generally consider to be insane contracts to players entering (or already into) their decline years, the best free agent signings are typically made during the last couple months. Furthermore, they're generally deals of little overall value.

Need examples?

In signing Austin Kearns to be their 4th outfielder, the Indians have not only solidified their outfield for 2011 - they've also gained some measure of isolation against Michael Brantley having a repeat of his disappointing 2010 season. While Brantley was awful at the plate (.284 wOBA) he was similarly poor in the field. Kearns, by contrast has been a plus defender throughout his career and showed in 2010 that he can still be somewhat effective at the plate.

Most importantly, the signing ran the team just 1.3m - something Kearns and his 1.5 WAR in 2010 more than justified.