Tuesday, 23 February 2021

What to Make of Tanner Roark

 There are bad seasons, and there are Tanner Roark's 2020.  The Jays, of course, signed Roark last offseason to a 2-year deal worth $24MM,  and it certainly appeared at the time that they were the only team to have offered that second year to make that happen.  It seemed like a not-entirely-unreasonable decision at the time, as he had been worth 2.0 fWAR or more in each of the previous 4 seasons, averaging 32 starts and 180+ innings each year over that span, and the Jays were pretty light on pitching.  Even if the results to that point were uninspiring (ERA/FIP/XFIP all in the low-to-mid 4's, save for a 2.89 ERA in 2016 that did not align with the peripherals), there wasn't any real reason to expect that he'd be anything other than the walking talking pitching cliche of the 90's: every fifth day, try and keep the ball on the ground, don't walk too many guys, go 6 innings and give the bullpen a bit of a rest.

That obviously went to shit this past year, to the tune of  a 6.80 ERA, a 6.86 FIP and a 5.84 xFIP over 11 starts and 47.2 innings pitched.  All the obvious caveats apply here, whether it's Covid-19 stopping and starting spring training, or pitching in some bandboxes, or the juiced ball, or small sample or whatever other things people are pointing to as reasons for anybody having poor seasons last year. I'd imagine the boost in lineup quality from the move from the NL to the AL didn't help either, as his trade from Cincinnati to Oakland in 2019 didn't exactly turn out too well.

I can't imagine I'm alone in kind of just wishing he were gone at various points this offseason, dreaming up scenarios where he or Randal Grichuk could be moved elsewhere as a way to offset salary coming back in a Kyle Hendricks/Kris Bryant or Castillo/whomever deal, but it's become increasingly clear that such a thing ain't happening as we've gotten deeper in to the offseason and in to spring training, especially now that Taijuan Walker has signed with the Mets and James Paxton has signed with the Mariners and Castillo, Hendricks, Marquez and whoever else remain not on the Blue Jays.  Nope, Tanner Roark is staying, and he's going to start, at least for now.

Given the short season last year, the league leader in innings pitched was Lance Lynn, at a whopping 84!  It seems kind of hard to imagine, then, that there's going to be any significant number of guys going out there and throwing 200+ innings this year, especially considering the way teams are beginning to use their bullpens for multi-inning relief and not letting starters see the top of the order three times.  Teams have 1458 innings (162*9, give or take extras, 7-inning double headers, home team leading after the top of the 9th, position players pitching, etc.) of pitching to cover in a given season, so guys who have the ability to take the ball every fifth day and throw 6 innings have a little more value in a 162 game season than they would in a 60-gamer, and doubly so when everyone is working on a reduced workload.

As Andrew Stoeten mentioned in his last mailbag, there are a solid dozen or more guys in the organization right now that we can expect to see start games (or provide bulk after an opener) behind the obvious Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Ryu himself isn't a model of health, never having thrown 200 innings in a year, and having missed all of 2015 and most of 2016.  Groin, arm, and neck issues have troubled him in the past, even if he's stayed injury-free and wildly effective these past couple years.  Still, I think we can only earmark him for somewhere around 150 innings max this year after throwing 67 in 2020, which leaves 1300 innings to spread out across the rest of the pitching staff.  Nate Pearson's workload will need to be managed too, given his youth and last year's injury.  Aside from Ryu and Pearson, there's really not all that much high-upside to be had.  It seems, rather, than this Jays rotation is going to be built more on depth than on octane, and the more I think about it, that may not be such a bad thing?  Or at least I'm trying to put a positive shine on this.  A few bullet points, in no particular order, in regards to the general state of pitching for 2021:

  • I'm expecting offence to be up league-wide this year; if, as we assume, pitchers are throwing fewer innings on an individual level, the innings that they would have otherwise thrown still need to be thrown by someone, and thus the overall quality of pitching is likely to go down.  If we were able to project a top-of-the-rotation arm to throw 200 innings in previous years, but only 175 this year, those 25 innings in lieu won't just go to the 2nd best pitcher in the rotation, they'd go to the 6th or 7th or 8th option, since the 2nd-5th options are all seeing reduced workloads too. It seems as though the Jays will use Merryweather, Waguespack, Kay, Hatch, Murphy, Stripling, Zeuch, etc., at least at the start of the year to carry that extra bit of weight via options and taxi squad, spot starts and piggybacks, openers and bulk guys. If so, they're likely to at least try to rely on Roark and Ray as guys who can throw 5 or 6 innings with a single roster spot, instead of using two players to do the same amount of work.  A mid-to-high 4's FIP over 150+ innings will carry a lot more value this year than it would in others as teams shuffle through more and more (and therefore worse) pitchers as the season goes on. The value of a guy like Roark (pre-2020 version) is a lot lower in a 60 game season with less wear and tear to the rest of the staff, fewer appearances, and thus fewer opportunities for injury, especially if we're going through the season with 26-man rosters (as opposed to starting 2020 with 30 guys, and dropping to 28 after 2 weeks).
  • MLB has deadened the ball, which would reduce homeruns if it weren't for the above.  Roark's issues in 2020 were largely HR-related (not to say his entire body of work didn't suck), giving up HR's in 20.3% of flyballs, vs. an 11% rate for his career (xFIP essentially regresses HR/FB to league average and is best used over small samples; whereas Roark saw a big increase in HR/FB relative to his career numbers in 2020 over a 47 inning sample...).  Per Statcast, it doesn't appear that he was horribly unlucky in that regard by any stretch, and it's hard to say what effect a deadened ball will have on that.  Per this thread on twitter, the KBO ball change in 2019 resulted in approximately -9 feet per fly ball, for whatever that's worth.  That's not going to do much for a 438 foot bomb, but at least shallow homers can turn in to deep fly outs or doubles.  Looking at this past year, I really only count one ball that might not have otherwise been a HR, and that was a Yankee Stadium special, so the revisionist Roark version of this point is probably moot anyway.  Still, I think a decrease in HR's (that is to say, a baseline decrease before accounting for the lowered quality in pitching) will likely be met with an increase in doubles and triples, as opposed to all those balls becoming fly outs.  I don't think these two bullets are in contradiction of each other, and I do believe that the reduced workloads per pitcher is why the league chose to try and deaden the ball a bit.
  • With reduced workloads and the 3-batter minimum, I think we're going to see relief appearances get longer, whether that's measured in terms of pitches thrown, batters faced, or innings pitched.  If a team is down 8 runs after 4, I think it's more likely we see someone take one for the team and throw 3 innings out of the bullpen, then get demoted in favor of a fresh arm, whether it's mid-year or in the first week.  A derivative of this, I believe, is a guy like Roark having a longer outing than he otherwise would have in order to try and save the bullpen from a length standpoint where Montoyo might typically have a quicker hook in regular situations.
  • I'm going to assume that the Jays go with 14 pitchers to start the year (and probably throughout the bulk of it), of whom Ryu, Ray, Roark, Yates, Matz, Dolis, Phelps, and Chatwood can't be optioned.  That leaves 6 flexible roster spots (unless one of the above is DFA) to spread across the remaining pitchers on the club.  If Jordan Romano pitches anywhere near how he did last year, there's one fewer.  The 40-man roster is at 39 after Payamps was claimed by Boston, so adding another pitcher (Odorizzi?) or any two of Francisco Liriano, AJ Cole or Tim Mayza to the equation would require either a DFA or a 60-day DL placement. The DL stint is less of a thing that can be controlled, but a DFA, especially of a player who can reject an outright assignment seems like something that would ideally be avoided in a year where pitching depth is going to come at a premium unless it's a clear upgrade.
  • If Roark does stink to begin the year, I'd expect him to go to the bullpen for a little while for mop-up innings, rather than be DFA'ed immediately.  Innings are important this year, and even in-season upgrades are going to have the same innings concerns.
Taking all this in to consideration,  Roark was really, really bad last year, ranking in the bottom 5% league-wide in a bunch of statcast metrics, so it's not like he's going to get a ton of rope here or anything.  The Jays aren't going to let him carry an ERA in the mid-6's to the end of the season again, but it's probably going to take a lot more to cross the you-suck-so-bad-we-have-to-release-you threshold than we'd like to believe unless another couple of options present themselves from the Kay/Waguespack/Murphy/Hatch group, or a return to form from Ray or Stripling.  Even then, the Jays are going to give him a couple months and see if he can provide some below-average (or better?) performance and eat some innings to keep the rest of the staff as fresh as possible.

After a quick dig through his Fangraphs page, I've noticed a couple of things, whether they matter or not.  Beyond the obvious velocity dip, his pitch mix has changed in recent years, and the HR rate has gone up as GB% has gone down.  Seems like when he threw more sinkers, he gave up fewer HR's, though I submit that this may be a result of the velocity dip since 2-seamers/sinkers tend to be a couple MPH slower than 4-seamers, and velocity is obviously king these days. The homer spike really began after the trade to Oakland in 2019, too, not necessarily just overnight after signing in Toronto, and that aligns with the whole launch angle revolution.

I dunno, I wish I could say that I thought he was due to regress back to what he was before, but he wasn't even all that good before. I'd say there's a good chance he doesn't survive the season without keeping the ball on the ground, and even then, his ability to keep the ball on the ground made him sort of an also-ran whose usefulness came in the form of being an above-replacement talent-level pitcher who could just throw a lot of innings.  We're going to be in a situation this year where we're just completely dumbstruck at how guys keep getting sent out there to pitch.  The ability to provide length this year may just be as important as being able to get guys out. Fortunately the lineup the Jays are going to send out there every day ought to make that a bit easier to swallow.

Monday, 11 January 2021

An Ass for Every Seat

 I sold cars for a living for a couple years.  Selling cars is just like selling anything else, in that you're identifying the needs and wants of a potential buyer and overcoming any potential obstacles.  The big difference with car sales, though, is that buyers are full of shit pretty well all the time.  I'm sure that has a lot to do with the reputation that car salesmen have. It's a reputation that they've definitely earned through the years, but still, if you're selling food or clothing or some kind of service, you don't really seem to need to manage potential buyers lying to you about their intentions or their potential hangups that they have with your product/service nearly as often, it seems.

I was reminded today of a hypothetical that my sales manager explained to me one day about leverage.  Imagine you're running a used car dealership that's on a stretch of road that's 100 miles from any other civilization.  I don't know why you'd build a car dealership there, so this situation is messed at jump street, but that's fine. 

Imagine it's 5:30pm, and you close at 6.  A guy comes on to your lot pushing his vehicle.  It's an old piece of shit that, for the purposes of our story, is totally fucked and is headed to the junkyard.  He decides to ask the salesman for some help.

"What are the most important features for you on your new vehicle?" the salesman asks.  

"Well, reliability is important, and I'd like to keep the vehicle for a few years, so low mileage is important too.  Ideally I'd also have a sunroof and blindspot monitors, but those aren't deal-breakers" the customer answers.  "Oh, and it's got to be red."

The salesman has a 2018 Rav 4 XLE with 60,000KMs on the lot that checks all the boxes.  The salesman shows him a final price of $20,000.  The customer answers back "I'll give you $18,000 for it."

"Let me get this right," the salesman says. "You just pushed your old beater on to the lot, and you're an awfully long walk away from wherever it is that you were heading.  I found you the exact car that you're looking for and you're still asking for 10% off? It's gonna be $20,000."

Now, in most situations, where the customer wasn't a million miles away from civilization, he could look around online and find other similar vehicles, see what they're selling for, or maybe leverage a couple of dealerships against each other.  If we change the scenario from a single dealership to a small town with 3 or 4 dealerships, how does the situation change?

Well I've had people look at vehicles on other lots on their cell phones from my office before.  If you're looking specifically for a used 2018 Rav 4 XLE in red with 50,000km-70,000km and find one on a lot, that's probably the only one you're going to find in that particular town, even in my town where there are 25 different lots to search through.  You might find a blue one on another lot, or a different options package, or one with 150,000KM, or one a year or two newer or older, but used cars are kind of unicorns and every one has it's own story.  Hell, even if you do find another one that matches up, condition is another really important factor.

So where am I going with all this?  Well apparently DJ Lemahieu is going to re-engage other teams, since the Yankees are unwilling to meet his asking price.  In the above scenario, Lemahieu is the customer, and the Yankees are the dealership.

The more Lemahieu is willing to change the variables, the more likely he is to find the best value.  The problem, it would seem, is that Lemahieu appears to really only want that red Rav 4 that is the New York Yankees.  The Yankees are the only red Rav 4 with the desired mileage and the sun roof in town, whereas the Blue Jays are a nice one at a similar (maybe even better!) price, but it's Blue and doesn't have the sunroof.  The Dodgers have one that was an accident repair, the Cardinals have a Honda and the Red Sox have one that was smoked in so it's all stinky and has nicotine stains on all the interior surfaces.

So the customer calls around and gets some pricing at the other dealerships.  The Blue one in Toronto is offering the $2,000 discount that the customer wants, but the customer doesn't want that one because it's not New York, and New York knows it because the customer is still sitting in their office.

Lemahieu needs to fire his agent yesterday.  It's fucking January.  We're like 43 days away from P's and C's and Lemahieu's agent is ready to engage teams now?!  Lemahieu is free to ask for whatever he wants for a contract (apparently 5 years, $110MM), but the Yankees don't have any need to negotiate and up their offer when no other alternatives were even being accepted by Lemahieu's camp.  Just my speculation, but I don't think anyone is going to give Lemahieu that $110MM deal, but the best way to get the Yankees up from the $80MM area would have been to involve another dealership.  

As for the Jays... well, there's no real need to get excited about this one.  They might give Lemahieu a bit of leverage and force the Yankees in to spending a bit more, but as much as they may be interested in signing DJLM, I have a hard time believing that it's going to happen at this point in time.

(The Jays are going to sign George Springer anyway.)

Sunday, 10 January 2021

I Don't Think the Mets are Done

 Seems like there are two schools of thought with regards to the Mets and their acquisition of Francisco Lindor; either they're shoving everything to the middle, or they're done with their big acquisitions and are just going to round out the roster, adding a potential bullpen arm and maybe some depth, maybe a 3B.  If we're to believe Andy Martino of SNY, the Mets aren't going to bypass the $210MM luxury tax threshold, and that they'd like to leave a $5-10MM buffer heading in to the season for in-season upgrades, so that would kind of indicate that they're out on Springer unless the price tag drops dramatically, right?  And GM Jared Porter was on MLB Network discussing their offseason the other day and made it seems like they weren't overly concerned about their CF situation, via Ben Nicholson-Smith.

Sounds like a decent situation for the Jays, yeah? Springer is all but signed, just let the ink dry!

But I dunno, something seems a bit fishy to me still.  Porter mentions in the above link that they were mostly concerned about run prevention coming in to the offseason.  Obviously there are a number of ways to address that.  Pitching is the main one, and acquiring a couple nice bullpen arms and Carlos Carrasco is a good start, but adding Lindor and James McCann should help too.  That lineup is still pretty suspect defensively though; I count JD Davis, Dominic Smith and Brandon Nimmo as all being out of position out there.  Smith is a first baseman playing in left due to Pete Alonso, Nimmo is a corner outfielder playing CF, not unlike Randal Grichuk.  If you wanted to argue that JD Davis isn't too bad at third, I could live, I guess.  Nimmo-Springer-Conforto would make me a whole lot more comfortable if I were a Mets fan though.  

It's tough to say exactly what happens there if the Mets do go get Springer, but the answer is almost built-in if there's going to be a DH in the NL this year (sidenote: How the fuck is that still up in the air?!?).  You can live with Nimmo in CF 30 games a year if Springer plays the rest.  You can live with Alonso at DH on occasion with Smith playing 1B the rest of the time.  It's only an issue if there's no NL DH.

And if there's no NL DH, it's not like the Mets can't find some budget space.  Cots has them at $180MM as of right now for 40-man roster commitments, so adding Springer on a $25MM AAV still leaves that $5MM buffer (Luxury tax is based on the AAV of the contract, not the yearly salary). It's tight, and it doesn't really allow for any further work to the roster, but that gets you to ~$205MM (this all assumes that the arbitration estimates are accurate/close, which after 2020's shortened season, isn't a given).

Of course, with no NL DH, you'd probably want to figure something out with the outfield.  Conforto is set to make $12MM through his final run at arbitration before free agency, so you could argue that you'd make the trade-off of 5 years of Springer for 1 of Conforto, plus whatever he'd fetch on the trade market. Maybe they could attach Steven Matz or eat some of Jeurys Familia's contract to free space, then go grab Brad Hand and George Springer.

And let's not forget that the new Mets owner is apparently the 36th richest person in the USA, and that maybe the luxury tax number doesn't actually mean jack shit, and that maybe they'll just blow right by that number.  We'll see what happens with Lindor with regards to an extension, but he, Marcus Stroman, Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Familia and Steven Matz are all set to be free agents at the end of the year, totalling for ~$79MM in salaries coming off the books (though Robinson Cano's $24MM is back on the books next year, for a net ~$54MM).  That leaves plenty of room for a Lindor extension, among other things, for next year. Going over by less than $20MM only costs money for the first year, and there's nothing stopping them from coming back under that amount after this year, especially with all that cash coming off the books.

I just have a hard time being concerned about an extra $5-10MM in space for in-season upgrades when you could just go get a 4-5 win CF and have him for the whole year.  That's not to say that you can't use the $20MM in space to go make other smaller moves or go find a pitcher if Syndergaard doesn't come back from Tommy John as hoped, or if someone gets hurt along the way or whatever... just don't think Springer is entirely out of the question for the Mets just based on the Lindor deal.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

I Thought Cavan Biggio was Overrated but he's Probably Not

2021 will be Cavan Biggio's third season in the bigs, kind of.  2019 was a 100 game debut, and 2020 was obviously a shortened year, given Covid.  He's played 159 games, totalling just shy of 700 plate appearances, the equivalent of a single, full, normal season.  One season doesn't exactly tell us a whole lot about a hitter!

Granted, those 700-ish PA's have been pretty good for the most part.  Among qualified hitters since the start of the 2019 season, Biggio ranks tied for 7th in walk-rate, behind names like Trout and Soto, and ahead of some pretty good hitters like Freeman, Votto, Yelich and Donaldson.  He ranks 7th in Fangraphs-WAR among 2nd basemen (sidenote- that list of 2B includes Max Muncy, who played just 82 innings at 2B this year,  as well as Whit Merrifield who played 92; Biggio himself plays a few different positions obviously) with 4.0, and he's closer to 5 for B-Ref.  He's a quality baserunner, even beyond the 20 SB/0 CS ratio, which is excellent for someone who walks so often and is at the top of the order.

Now I realize that I'm kind of cherry-picking complaints here a bit, but I like Keith Law.  I quite enjoy board games, and food, and baseball, and Keith is fairly well-versed in all of that stuff, so I read his stuff a lot.  Keith REALLY doesn't think Biggio is good.  He's been vocal about it, and when Biggio does good stuff, Jays fans are quick to shit on Law on twitter or in his chats or wherever else they can find him.  To wit, in no particular order:

Klawchat, 2/27/20 

lucas: Will Cavan Biggio ever hit enough to be a regular? The sky high walk rates make me believe he at least has a good approach at the plate?
Keith Law: No, I don’t think he will.

Klawchat- 5/31/18
Cavan Biggio's breakout reminds me of Kingery adding HR pop out of nowhere last year.   
Do you buy Biggio as a regular in the bigs?
Keith Law
Where does he play? Kingery is a 7 runner and 7 defender at second. Biggio is none of those things.

Klawchat- 8/27/20

cool guy
what did scouts miss about cavan biggio?
Keith Law
Nothing. This season so far is such a tiny sample that there are weird outlier results all over the place -
unless you think Mike Trout is really a .333 OBP guy.

So yeah, he doesn't like Biggio.  But Biggio's been good! What should we believe?!?  Is there something he's seeing that we're not?

I think the obvious factor that we'd need to look at is whether or not he's good at stuff aside from drawing walks.  He's not a great defender, but he's at least competent and can play multiple positions without creating panic (sample size!).  He doesn't hit the ball particularly hard, per statcast, and the walks are at least somewhat cancelled out by the strikeouts.

We've certainly got to keep in mind that being good at baseball/being a good hitter isn't entirely correlated with big exit velocities, and the ability to play 2B (or multiple positions, for that matter) certainly has a lower threshold for success with the bat than a 1B or LF.  As Biggio is able to provide value beyond just walks with his baserunning and with his glove/arm, the threshold of what is acceptable in terms of the value he provides with his actual hitting lowers, naturally, even if the baserunning value is tied directly to his walk-rate and/or hitting ability.

So, then, if he's not a particularly good hitter (i.e. bat-to-ball), but has an elite-level plate discipline, what should we expect moving forward?  Shouldn't we assume that he'll walk less if he's not as much of a threat to hit the ball with authority?  Pitchers would be more likely to attack the zone and less likely to nibble, right?

Well... First of all, it wasn't exactly a secret that Biggio was patient.  Teams had plenty of time to scout Biggio after his 2019 rookie year, but he didn't stop walking in 2020.  You could do the bare minimum like checking his baseball card stats as an advanced scout and see that he walks a shitload.  Every team has access to the Statcast data and probably lots more, and those front offices are all full of people way smarter than I who do this for a living.  Second, he actually sees slightly more pitches in the strikezone than the average batter. It's close, and the sample is small, but it's there for now.  Within that same link, however, we should notice that he's seen fewer first-pitch strikes than average, and I wouldn't expect that to continue.  Pitchers probably will attack him harder on the first pitch.  Afterall, he's only swung at 18% of first pitches (scroll to plate discipline), vs. 28% league average.  They'll just groove BP fastballs down the middle on 0-0 and get ahead, then he won't walk as much, right?!

Orrrrr?  Looks like he swings at approximately as many first pitches that you'd expect him to, given the amount of first-pitch strikes he's seen.  I think we can expect him to see more first-pitch strikes moving forward as the small sample catches up, but I also think the chart above would indicate that his walks aren't necessarily a matter of him seeing fewer pitches in the zone, or getting ahead in the count early, but rather staying patient and catching up in the count when he gets behind.  It's hard to throw strikes! He doesn't see a notably different distribution of pitches down the middle or in the borderline area than anyone else, and doesn't even do much damage on pitches over the heart of the plate anyway.

I had honestly come in to the number crunching thinking that he was due for some regression since so much of his value is tied to his walk-rate and I expected the walk-rate to fall, and that if, say, Cleveland insisted on Biggio being included in a Lindor deal, that we not hesitate.  I'm not so sure now.  That's probably a bad example, because yes, Lindor for Biggio is something we should be happy about if it were to happen.  Steamer projects .237/.354/.406, a 14.6% walk-rate, and strikeouts in 25.2% for his PA's, and ZiPS is even less optimistic, but they're still seeing 2.5-3 WAR.

I'm fairly certain that those projection systems cite historic examples of players that are similar and then correct for anomalies in their statlines, and I think projection systems are a lot more likely to dislike Biggio given how few players have historically fit the same mould.  Someone who strikes out as often as he does is historically not getting many at-bats until recently.

There are just relatively few batters who walk anywhere near as often as Biggio does who also have as low a wOBA.  I've done my damndest to find a player who walks as much that has an xwOBA as low as his, and, well, it's just not there.  That one dot right above Biggio is Yasmani Grandal, who shows up 3 times in the general area; he's of course a really good catcher who actually does happen to hit the ball with authority, but is otherwise probably the best comparison I can find for Biggio offensively.

I was able to take the statcast leaderboard, sorted by BB-rate, download the CSV and filter all qualified batters who, in single seasons since 2015, walked in 14.5 to 16.5% (i.e. +/- 1% of Biggio's 2020 season) of their at-bats in that given season.  I count 32 players within that range, and Biggio has the lowest xwOBA (which takes in to account steals!) of all of those players, one of the lowest isolated power totals, and one of the lowest average exit velocities.  We're really just comparing Biggio with some of the more elite hitters in baseball and confirming that he's not as good offensively as they are... not exactly a groundbreaking discovery!

Having said all of that, we probably shouldn't expect the 4 WAR pace that he's started his career on, and we certainly shouldn't expect even more that that from Biggio.  If he has room to grow offensively, it would likely involve swinging the bat more, especially at pitches down the middle, which almost certainly means that he's bring more aggressive and chasing slightly more, trading walks for hits and outs.  The thing with that, though, is that he doesn't swing at many bad pitches, which would be the pitches that typically get put in play softly.  Keith Law says he's not worth a roster spot, which I think we can pretty confidently dismiss at the moment; at his absolute worst, he's still a competent defender who can get on base with empty power, and at his best, provides an above-average super-utility player who can play multiple positions.  He's more than worth a roster spot if he's able to maintain a walk-rate anywhere near what we've seen, and I've not seen any data that would indicate that he isn't.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Aaaand We're Back: 20/21 Offseason, Springer Edition

 So I think we're going to do this again.  At least for a while.  I realize that the last like 12 posts begin the same way, but whatever.  Updating this page regularly in the past was something that was made possible by the fact that I hadn't been working an actual job way back when, but rather was playing internet poker and living rent-free in my folks' basement.  In the several years since this page was updated regularly, I've left the poker world, got a real job, got married, had a kid, bought a house and more, not leaving a ton of time for baseball and writing.  Of course, now that there's a plague destroying the world, I'm working from home, if at all.  The Blue Jays are exciting again, and they're trying to add a bunch of stuff this offseason, and I pretty much just refresh Twitter and MLBTR with any spare time I've got.

So then, I suppose we can let 'er rip again, yeah?

We all know that the Jays are looking to add in multiple spots this offseason, and that they've been linked to pretty well every available player under the sun.  I'm not sure how much the Jays front office is willing to add this year from a payroll perspective, but we're only a couple years removed from payrolls in the $160MM+ range, and Cots is forecasting something like $76MM as of right now when considering arbitration salaries for Teoscar Hernandez and Ross Stripling and Robbie Ray having re-signed.  Adding $50MM in one offseason seems like a lot for most teams and most years, but $125MM seems like a downright reasonable payroll for a team with Rogers as an owner and leaves plenty of flexibility for future seasons.  Is adding $60MM farfetched?  $70MM?  In the midst of a pandemic?  Not sure!  I think they're more likely to take on extra money for a longterm and/or high-impact piece rather than a rental, but we'll see.

Anyway, I've got my preferred course of action for the offseason and the odd plan-B to go along with it, but with the offseason being so fluid and the Jays having a bunch of positional and financial flexibility, we're probably in a situation where the Jays have 20 different roadmaps, depending on who they're able to sign and who they can trade/trade for.  Lots of speculation here on my part, but my preferred course of action for the offseason hinges on Centre Field, as I think the Jays' best offseason move is to sign George Springer (MLBTR predicted 5 years, $125MM).

I think Springer makes the biggest impact for this team (on the position player side, at least), and the contingency plans are fair at best.  He's projected for 4+ WAR via both ZiPS and Steamer, far ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr.  But what's next if they're able to land Springer?  Signing Springer creates a bit of a logjam in the corner OF spots, with Gurriel, Hernandez and Grichuk fighting for two spots.  We've heard plenty of chatter about Gurriel being a trade chip, but I think the ideal play under this scenario is to move Grichuk instead.  The obvious problem there is that he's owed $31MM over the next three years, and there's just not a lot of value there.  It's not that the contract is so bad from a $/WAR perspective; he's projected to be worth somewhere in the 1.5 WAR area if you're inclined to believe ZiPS or Steamer, and probably only needs to provide something shy of 4 WAR over the balance of the contract to see that $31MM in value.  The problem is that we're in a world where Adam Eaton just signed with the White Sox for 1 year and $7MM with a club option and projects to similar value, (even if they arrive there in different ways-- Eaton provides more OBP and less power), without the extra commitment, so it's fairly unlikely that you're going to convince someone to give up useful assets to take his contract.

More likely is that, if traded, Grichuk is used to offset another contract coming back.  We can dream on Yu Darvish (3 years, $61MM left), if the Cubs are even willing to move him, and I think that one actually works if the Jays add some prospects.  Not sure if Kris Bryant is available either, but Baseball Trade Values seems to think that Darvish and Bryant, with all their salary, could be had for some nice prospects and Grichuk to offset the salaries a little:

No idea if the Cubs would ever do this, but it certainly works for the Jays.  Adding Darvish ($22MM/$19MM/$18MM) and Bryant (~$20MM) and subtracting Grichuk ($10.33MM in '21-'23) nets an addition of about $33MM to the current payroll and addresses the hole in the infield and adds a pitcher.  If the theoretical Springer deal is backloaded slightly, it adds flexibility for bullpen additions until Bryant is off the books and leaves room for Groshans or Martin if either is ready and needs a spot for 2022.  This trade isn't really contingent on a Springer signing other than having an extra outfielder, I suppose.

The more likely scenario is that nobody is interested in Grichuk and that it's Gurriel that gets moved.  He projects as a ~league-average player with upside with a cheap contract, which makes him someone that another team might actually want.  Signing Springer and adding pitching for Gurriel certainly doesn't hurt, whether it's Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, or some other pitcher that we've not heard about in trade rumors yet.

Jackie Bradley definitely works as a backup plan; he's a left-handed batter that would be joining a primarily right-handed lineup, and he defends very well.  MLBTR predicted that he'd sign a 2 year deal at $8MM a year, which is a commitment that leaves a lot more room to add elsewhere on the roster than what Springer would cost.  It's a bottom of the order bat, but he's had success in spurts previously and had a good 2020 (119 wRC+ over 217 PA's).

My biggest concern is with the entire offseason is what to do in CF if you miss out on both.  The Mets are a strong fit for Springer, and it was reported today that there are multiple teams interested in JBJ's services as well.  The Jays have a backup plan at C if Realmuto signs elsewhere-- the internal options of Jansen, Kirk and McGuire, assuming he survives the offseason without being moved/DFA, is perfectly fungible.  If they miss on, say, LeMahieu, they can pivot to Lindor, or to Justin Turner, or to Bryant, or to Correa, Semien, etc, by virtue of having Biggio and Bichette (and Vlad?) able to play multiple infield spots.  If they want to sign another SP and miss Bauer, they've got options with Paxton, Walker, Tanaka, or Odorizzi, or move to the trade market.

CF isn't exactly flush with options though.  The drop-off between Springer and JBJ is fairly wide, and the options behind JBJ (Pillar? Almora?) kinda make you want to stick with Grichuk as a plan C.  I think the flexibility at all the other spots is part of the reason that the Jays have been so patient to this point; gotta add an infielder, not specifically a 3B or 2B or SS.  CF is just so fucking dodgy on this roster though, and there are so few quality options out there, relative to the options at other positions.

And it's really that flexibility that this whole Blue Jay offseason is built upon, isn't it?  As a team with plenty of budget space available, I think a Springer signing moves the needle and maintains that flexibility moving onward through the offseason and improving the team as much as possible.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Defending the Price Thing

Associated Press

Pretty much anything that is different or against the grain is going to be picked at and criticized, whether it's baseball or not.  And that's doubly true when it has something to do with Toronto sports teams, it would appear.

John Gibbons hooked RA Dickey in the 5th inning after 78 pitches, and went with David Price, who had pitched Thursday on ELEVEN days rest, and wasn't totally sharp.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Price is your ace.  If he's not, and Stroman is, then Stroman should be starting game 5 anyway, and you'd like to have him do so on normal rest.  If you want to hang on to Price just in case things go south with Stroman in Game 5, then sure.  I can't imagine there's a shift in win equity by saving Price for relief in 5, versus using him in game 4 in a 6-run game, but if there is, it's small.
  • We don't know that Price isn't available in relief for game 5.  I'd guess that he is, for the record, because he's David Price, but I don't know, so I'm willing to not piss and moan about it.  Still, Price threw 90 pitches four days ago on 11 days rest, threw a bit last night, and then threw 50 more today.  I don't think it's unfathomable that he can't rest a day and then face Choo, Fielder and Moreland in a big spot, especially with no Brett Cecil.
  • Dickey was a little wild out there tonight, getting a bunch of 3-ball counts and having a reasonably elevated pitch-count.  More importantly, he was entering his 3rd time through the order, having just gotten Delino DeShields out.  He was at 78 pitches at this point, so it's not like he was primed to go 8 innings and Gibby was quick with the hook-- it was a must-win, and Dickey probably had it in him to get through 6, but that assumes that he doesn't have issues with the middle of the order coming up.
  • Choo had gone 2-for-2 against Dickey, as had Beltre, despite the fact that he can't run.  Next up would be Fielder and Moreland.  This inning didn't end up getting out of control, but that doesn't meant that it couldn't have.
  • Can you maybe go to Aaron Loup in a 6-run game with the lefties coming up?  Yeah, probably.  Or in the 8th, when it was Fielder and Moreland? Sure.  Except Loup wasn't there tonight.  He had to leave the team to attend to a personal matter of some sort, so Price was the only lefty available.  So he gets through Choo, Fielder and Moreland in the 5th and 6th, but then what happens if you take him out and the Rangers, in the 7th or 8th, rally and have men on base for one of those guys?  Roberto Osuna is the only person in the bullpen with anything nearing a halfway reliable sample of success against lefty hitters.  I'm not saying you can't go with Osuna in the 7th or 8th, but I think we all know that Gibby probably won't do that.
If Brett Cecil is still around, and maybe even if Aaron Loup is there, I think this game plays out a bit differently.  We probably see Loup or Cecil in the 5th, or we see Price come in and stay in through Odor's at-bat, rather than coming all the way back around, but no Cecil and no Loup left Gibby's hands pretty well tied.  This was a must-win game, and the best way to do that is to score more runs than the other team.  If you were paying attention, you'd know that the Astros blew a 4-run 8th inning lead right around the same time the Jays' game started this afternoon, and there's no real reason that the same thing couldn't theoretically happen in this one.

It was outside the box, and it didn't exactly work to perfection, but Dickey didn't quite have his A-game out there, and until someone else proves themselves to be a viable option against lefty hitting, I'm really not going to complain that David Price is pitching in games for the Toronto Blue Jays in the playoffs.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sanchez, and the Bullpen, of Late

So Brett Cecil just kinda went ahead and made this all about himself last night, saving the game and Aaron Sanchez in the 8th inning.  Aaron Sanchez went ahead and allowed the only two runners he faced to reach base, before Gibby moved to Cecil to face Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, all of whom he struck, relying mainly on the curveball.

The Jays twittersphere was pretty quick to shit on Sanchez, myself included, until Cecil just went ahead and stole the show, making us all forget about Sanchez' recent issues, at least for the time being.  Something's kinda sticking out to me here though.

Was Gibbons right to go to Cecil?  Yeah, absolutely.  Was he wrong not to go to Cecil sooner?  Yes, 100%.  If Cecil was unavailable, or they were trying to save him for the rest of the series, then sure, I see the point.  Aaron Loup might not be the right guy to go to to start the 8th if you're trying to avoid using Cecil, ditto Jeff Francis.  Is Hendriks, or Hawkins the guy to go to (Mark Lowe wasn't available) over Sanchez?

I don't really know the answer to that, but regardless, Cecil is really the only good lefty out of the pen at the moment, and he had pitched in consecutive games leading in to last night, and Sanchez is the "8th inning" guy, after all, so it was his turn, AND if Sanchez gets the first two outs, I doubt anybody second guesses the choice in the first place, nor would we have seen the Cecil light-show that totally takes the cake as best moment of the season so far.

The problem is that Sanchez has some pretty distinct struggles against left-handed hitting.  Even if this is just an eye-test thing (which it isn't!  I promise!), Sanchez is either nibbling or just straight up missing his spots against lefties.  He's probably doing it against righties too, but the heavy movement is down-and-in to righties, and moves towards the barrels of lefty bats.  I guess my main fear is that Sanchez just doesn't really have a great secondary pitch that he can throw to lefties and get them out.

That can be backed up with numbers!  Which is good, because that's how we do things around here.  Some important things to note:  Sanchez has excellent, fantastic, wonderful overall numbers as a reliever this season, to the tune of a .241 opponents' wOBA.  It's a small sample, and I don't know of a way to separate that further into handedness, which is really what we're looking for here, but I think we're still going to get the point across.

Just looking at basic splits, we see a bit of an ugly trend:

Between teams loading their lineups to gain a platoon advantage (in his starts) and pinch-hitting with lefties (relief), it's pretty normal to have a guy face more opposite-handed hitters than same-handed, so it's not like he's just getting thrown in there to get lefties out and failing at it, despite that being exactly what happened last night.  It's not any less alarming, though, that last night's game was still within reach, and it was Sanchez of all people that was chosen to come in, simply because it was the 8th inning and that's when he pitches.  Too many hits, too many walks, and not enough strikeouts against lefties to really merit being thrown in to the situation that he was thrown in to.

Do I have an alternative?  Especially if we assume that Cecil was only to be used in urgent spots for last night's game?  He needs to get a day off somewhere, and I'd be shocked if he was available for tonight's game.  Do you dare go to Aaron Loup or Francis?  Or Osuna in the 8th?  I probably don't.  Mark Lowe wasn't available, but he or Hawkins is probably my go-to to start the 8th, given the lineup and the location within.  I don't think any of the options are ideal, but Lowe has been rather excellent overall, and has a .299 opponent's wOBA vs. lefties this year, and Hawkins has practically no platoon split for his career (.294 vs. .290 wOBA).

So the issue isn't really about Sanchez being right or wrong for the 8th inning role, it's more about the role itself, and there not being a second viable lefty option out of the bullpen.  Lowe has been excellent, but that trade kind of surprised me.  Moving Sanchez to the bullpen certainly stabilized it, and the emergence of Hendriks as a pretty good reliever did the same.  Aaron Loup has had a pretty bad season, so all of a sudden, the only thing the Jays really needed on deadline day was another solid lefty option.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Lowe is here.  But I'd have much rather found some random lefty sidearm shitballer, though I'm sure there wasn't one out there or AA'd have gone and found one.  The result is the reliance on Brett Cecil to get out of every situation that arises where a lefty bat comes up in a high-leverage spot.  He's more than capable of doing that, and that's not the problem.  The problem is that more than one of those spots comes up in a game sometimes, and Aaron Sanchez probably isn't the next best option.