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.